”I know what war is. I am not afraid to kill bad people”, says 14-year-old Sergey. In St. Petersburg’s military academy, the Russian boy from Groznyi is persecuted because he is considered to be a Chechen. Traumatized by war and living as an orphan in Ingushetia, 11-year-old Aslan on the other hand might be Russian by ethnicity, but identifies himself as a Chechen and a muslim. They are living on different sides of the same tragedy and learn to see each other as enemies.
Pirjo Honkasalo’s most internationally acclaimed and awarded documentary centers on children’s experiences of war. The effects of the Second Chechen War, which started at the turn of the century, are depicted on three different stages: in Russia, in Chechnya and in Ingushetia. The first episode of the film follows the education of young boys in Kronstadt’s military academy, located near St. Petersburg. The middle episode depicts the ruins of Groznyi, the capital of Chechnya, where everyday life is war and survival. The final episode takes the viewer beyond the border to Ingushetia’s countryside, among refugees.
The camera follows the life of its subjects from the sidelines, but closely. Pirkko Saisio’s narration is used sparingly. The film features recurring images of the children’s faces, always serious and frequently indecipherable – joy of life nowhere to be seen. Although delicate and ambient, even impressionistic, aesthetically executed and unbiased in its perception, the film has an important message: war is an enormous tragedy for everyone, especially for the children.
Suvi Heino (translated by Elina Huttunen)