Review: No Obvious Signs
by Vladan Petkovic
- Ukrainian filmmaker Alina Gorlova's second feature-length documentary is a harrowing account of one woman's PTSD rehabilitation
The second film by Ukrainian director Alina Gorlova, No Obvious Signs [+see also:
film profile], which had its international premiere at DOK Leipzig and won the MDR Film Prize for Outstanding Eastern European Documentary, is probably the most effective movie made so far about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Our protagonist, a Ukrainian Army major in charge of human resources, Oksana Yakubova, agreed for her rehabilitation to be filmed "as a warning to those who are going to war, and even more, to their families".
The picture starts almost like a thriller: Oksana is sitting in the passenger seat of a car, filmed from the back, holding her head, to Ptakh Jung's suspenseful music that keeps things incredibly tense all the way until the closing credits. Soon we start following her rehabilitation therapy, both psychological and physical. While the latter consists of the expected breathing exercises in water or walking to measure her level of stress (which is unusually high), the former is what really has a strong impact on the viewer.
Whenever Oksana is relating her experiences and problems to the psychotherapist in a Kyiv rehab resort, Gorlova trains her fixed camera exclusively on the protagonist, usually in medium shots or loose close-ups, never interrupting the flow of her speech. It is in the first half of the film that we hear how PTSD is affecting her, and her honest, broken delivery, coupled with the formally rigorous filming method, brings us painfully close to her feelings.
Oksana was not afraid of shelling in the war, nor did she cry even once during all of the difficult situations she was in – and there were many. In her position in the army, she was in charge of informing relatives of soldiers’ deaths and calling them to identify their bodies, sending them off to Cargo 200 (you may be familiar with this phrase from Aleksei Balabanov's 2007 movie), and then, after midnight, writing reports on the demise of comrades she had been sharing lunch and jokes with just a day earlier.
But it was when she returned home that everything came flooding through the gates she unconsciously built in order to be able to get through the whole ordeal. Now she is either lying in bed, staring into space, or crying uncontrollably for no particular reason, and is constantly scared of normal, everyday situations – for instance, she is frightened by the crowds in the subway and cannot stand the loud noises of trains.
Halfway through the film, Oksana goes back to her unit to resign. Narrative titles inform us that the crew wasn't allowed in, and that it took her a month to get her discharge papers. On her trip back, she is not depressed – she's outright livid, saying that now she sees in the eyes of the soldiers that they should all immediately go into therapy. But no commander will send them there, as there are "no obvious signs" – meaning no bodily injuries.
No Obvious Signs is a harrowing and indispensable film that warns of those consequences of war that are less prominent than devastating numbers of casualties, or great, heroic acts – but are by no means less important. It was produced by Ukrainian company Tabor, and its international sales are handled by Filmotor (Czech Republic).
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