By José Sarmiento Hinojosa
Behind the crisp cinematography of Aleksei’s Paluvan latest documentary Courage (2020), lies the story of an underground theater group in Minsk, surviving through times of Alexander Lukashenko’s dictatorship of over 20 years, in the middle of a fraudulent election to further prolong the last communist regime in Europe. This peaceful act of resistance is channeled through the staging of different plays, as symbolic pieces that represent the current state of affairs, and the possibility of rebellion through the performative body.
The role of the theater group, with its leader on exile, and their own uncertainty about the future is portrayed here as an active role of a collective, performers and theater people behind their role of communicators, of political individuals which openly protest the acts of their state preparing for an underground play, a staging years in the making about the role of totalitarianism in their country. It’s not a passive act of resistance, but it is a peaceful one, an act through the possibilities of art and the different roles behind the political actors in the country, looking behind their menacing gaze, unveiling an apparatus of horror and control.
The aggressive repression and police brutality by Lukashenko’s government is met with articulated efforts by a population that grows tired of state totality. But beyond the violence, lies a cry for reconciliation in a fragmented country. The reaction against the front line of the government (police and military groups) doesn’t just lie in a recurrent reaction of escalated violence, but in a quiet embrace that calls for union, of recognizing that Belarusian people in and out of the barricades are the same individuals, with a common goal. In one moment of the film, we see people rushing to embrace a soldier who receives a white Lilly in his shield, and tears flow out of his face. This unique moment of connection reveals the desperation of the other side, which is completely involved in the maintaining of the regime, but which also struggles with their own decisions.
And it’s not about romanticizing the humanity behind the role of police and military in the film, it is not about romanticizing the inherent tension between two sides of the population and the position of peaceful resistance. Courage is a film about finding a common ground in the middle of a violent resistance movement. Like a Brechtian silent scream, the documentary captures the struggle of an entire country against decades of Europe’s longest dictatorship, of stifled voices, of an inherent violence and repression from its government, of white lilies and the urgency to call out compatriots from the other side of the blockade, urging them to understand the necessity of building together.
Tear gas, courage, encounters, the desperation of thousands to reconcile their country, to resist against state corruption, and the role of art as a pivotal agent of resistance.
Director: Aleksei Paluyan
Cinematography: Tanya Haurylchyt, Jesse Mazuch
Editing: Behrooz Karamizade
Sound: Vensan Mazmanyan
Producer: Jörn Möllenkamp