The continued conflict in Ukraine has resulted in a litany of horrors, a few of them lately documented in Mstyslav Chernov’s sterling 20 Days in Mariupol. But the nation’s conflict-instigated tragedies didn’t begin with Vladimir Putin’s newest marketing campaign.
Happening shortly earlier than Russia’s February 2022 invasion and set within the nation’s east—which was ravaged by conflict since 2014— A Home Product of Splinters affords an intimate and wrenching view of a nation collapsing beneath the load of insufferable traumas, and of the younger youngsters who’re the prime victims of that pressure.
A Home Product of Splinters is nominated for the Academy Award for Greatest Documentary Characteristic, and received the most effective director prize within the World Cinema Documentary Part of last year’s Sundance Film Festival, (It’s now obtainable on VOD forward of a theatrical run in March and a premiere on PBS this summer season.)
The movie situates itself in a residential middle for kids whose mother and father can not look after them. Within the particular person instances detailed by director Simon Lereng Wilmont, alcoholism is the first cause these children’ moms and dads can’t fulfill their duties. These tasks, consequently, are assumed by the three ladies who run the middle, striving to search out new foster houses for his or her adolescent and teenage residents or, no less than, to offer them with the fundamental requirements—literal and emotional—that they’ve been so heartbreakingly denied.
“Drunk dads are all loopy, and he is at all times drunk,” remarks a boy to his buddies as they huddle beneath a blanket, their faces illuminated by a shining mild. Far scarier than any tales about strangers lurking beneath their beds are these real-life tales of inebriated fathers and moms who’ve fallen into disrepair.
Sasha was left alone in her dwelling for days on finish to fend for herself whereas her mother launched into the newest in an extended line of benders. Delinquent Kolya additionally has a mother who’s hardly ever sober, thus relegating him and his two youthful siblings to the middle, the place Kolya has turn out to be a bitterly offended, defiant child who scrawls hostile issues on his arm, steals cash, and shrugs off the police’s warnings in regards to the path-to-prison he’s charting. Requested a couple of assembly with one visiting officer, Kolya spits, “He talked numerous bullshit.”
Kolya is essentially the most broken child featured in A Home Product of Splinters, however just about each youngster right here has been scarred by their upbringing. Although Kolya acts out, he additionally clings tightly to his doting brother and sister, frightened of being taken away from them in the identical method that he’s been separated from his mom, who visits him as soon as (stinking of booze) after which proves unreachable by telephone.
Sasha is equally fearful of being alone, and is subsequently elated when she strikes up a friendship with Alina, a fellow lady whom she interacts with by way of each hugs and wrestling. Sasha and Alina’s hostile play-fighting, which is mirrored by Kolya’s roughhousing along with his mates, is a stark snapshot of the teachings these youngsters have discovered from their abusive function fashions and surroundings, the place even love is expressed through violence.
Director Lereng Wilmont sticks intently to his topics on this overcrowded constructing, the place grade-schoolers sleep in bunk beds, eat at lengthy tables, and cavort in hallways, working about and performing TikTok dances to rapt-with-attention toddler audiences. One of many ladies who manages this institution delivers considerably pointless narration that merely articulates truths which are plain for all to see.
Nonetheless, her voiceover modestly contributes to the movie’s air of desolation, which is overpowering from the get-go, when a lady named Eva weeps in an administrator’s arms over her want to have her mom as soon as once more get sober. The next sight of Eva popping airborne bubbles just isn’t solely a imaginative and prescient of recognizable adolescent enjoyable, however of an harmless futilely making an attempt to seize the insubstantial and elusive.
A Home Product of Splinters fixates on Eva, Kolya, Sasha, and Alina’s countenances as they attempt to forge relationships, contact their mother and father on the middle’s frequent telephone, and deal with unsure futures. The middle can solely home children for 9 months earlier than sending them to foster houses or a state-run orphanage, and the strain that state of affairs breeds is burdensome, particularly for Kolya, who—within the aftermath of his buddies departing for the state facility—fears that he’ll be break up up from his siblings.
Abandonment is an ever-present risk and weighs closely on their minds as they navigate this limbo, caught between unfit mother and father they each love and worry, a makeshift middle that’s akin to a waystation, and unusual and horrifying new foster locations.
Be it photographs of a boy leaping from one prime bunk to a different, or of ladies leaning their heads on one another’s shoulders, A Home Product of Splinters locates poignant poetry on this hardscrabble milieu, if little lasting optimism. The chance for escape does exist for a few of these children, but it stays attainable that the injuries they’ve suffered are so deep as to be everlasting. Even after they’re enjoying collectively behind a sheer curtain, pretending to be ghosts, Sasha and Alina’s fantasies flip to the macabre (“We’ll kill everybody!”). And after studying his brother and sister The Scorpion and the Frog, Kolya pronounces that the fable’s main lesson is, “By no means belief individuals.” In these and different cases, it’s tough to not despair.
That conflict leaves smash in its wake is not any nice revelation. Nonetheless, A Home Product of Splinters is full of small, shattering interactions and reactions, whether or not it’s Sasha making an attempt to placed on a courageous face as Alina departs for doubtlessly happier environs, or Kolya’s sister hugging him in a protracted farewell after which drawing an image of him on a blackboard. Tasked with dealing with an endless stream of damaged and battered children, the middle’s heroic workers can solely soldier onward, endeavoring to assist as many as time and sources will permit.
“Hope dies final,” certainly one of them intones on the movie’s conclusion. As their very own actions verify, it hasn’t died but in Ukraine—this regardless of the lingering, horrifying thought that, since Lereng Wilmont accomplished his documentary, issues have solely gotten worse for everybody on this area.