Motherland is a film about Belarus, a society permeated by violent militarism, where ordinary people seek justice by protesting in their own ways, both authorised and unauthorised. It tells two stories, both of which connect to the Belarusian armed forces and the monopoly on violence. Svetlana is a mother whose son died as a victim of violence in the army. Svetlana continues her life in the countryside while seeking justice to her son’s murderers. In the second story, Nikita, a young man living in the city, prepares for military service, living his last carefree summer. The nihilism and violence of the army are astonishing, but gradually Nikita adapts.
At the same time, the people rush to the streets to protest electoral fraud in the presidential election. The appalling violence of the police against peaceful protesters tells the same story as the brutality of the army. The motherland demands sacrifices, the citizens have to choose sides – but why? Draftees are also ordered to stand up against the demonstrators. Nikita’s friends ask whom he promised to serve in the military oath. “The people,” goes the answer.
Belarus is a barred and censored country, from where documentaries like Motherland are rarely seen. The film lives completely in this time: immediately after its shooting, the war in Ukraine began and even the last vestiges of democracy were suppressed. Beneath the raw realism of Motherland, however, there is hope, a tenacious light that glows in ordinary people.
Salla Nazarenko (translated by Inari Ylinen)
Content warning: violence