Crystal Swan: On divisions in modern Belarus

Daily News Egypt
4 Min Read

It’s Belarus in the 1990s. The Soviet Union is dissolved – no more big brother. Young DJ Velya, is in a pub where communist figures are present, and where a Vladimir Lenin statue is right behind her, though the comrades have lost their prestige. Velya dreams to travel to the US and find a place for herself in the house music scene.

From that point on, she enters a journey which exposes the present conflict between individualism and communalism, and between democracy and totalitarianism.

She starts her journey at the US embassy, as she knows that she has to prove she has a strong connection with her mother country in order to get her visa. She fabricates a story of her working at a crystal factory, so the embassy asks for a letter from her employer. Velya travels to a village to pursue them to confirm her fake story and support her with the letter.

Subsequently, Velya learns a lot of things about the village, finding contradictions apart from the freedom she had in the city. In the village, she sees people who are still committed to the old regime, thinking it was better since it was providing some aspects of social solidarity and welfare. They do not accept Velya, nor treat her well, but she stays there in order to achieve her dream, despite the price she will have to pay at the end of the journey.

Velya manages to create some changes in the mindset of the village. While some people refuse her and even get her to follow their orthodox old rules, others accept her ideas. The youngest son in the family accepts Veya as his mentor: he listens to her thoughts about life, her critical decisions, and as such he creates a link with the future and hope.

Velya represents the current freedom of Belarus while the people of the village are prisoners of the old regime, such as the older generation – including Velya’s mother – who deep inside support totalitarian ideas, oppose democracy, and individualism.

Director Darya Zhuk succeeds in showing the contradictions in contemporary Belarus on several levels. For instance, Velya listens to music in her Walkman cassette headphones, while her mother listens to classical music on the radio. Velya is interested in house music, a genre considered to be very modern at this time, while her mother works at a museum where she teaches about the great history of Belarus from her nationalist point of view.

The film won the Grand Prix at the Odessa International Film Festival 2018. It was also nominated to receive several awards, including
Best Feature Film at the Milan Film Festival 2018, the East of West award at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2018, and the Cinema Extraordinaire award at the Bergen International Film Festival 2018.

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