Encompassing the years leading up to the war in Ukraine, Ruslan Batytskyi and Lesya Kalynska’s debut feature is a worthy study of one man’s journey from the Maidan Square Revolution to the current conflict. Though it offers little new insight into the politics of the war, A Rising Fury documents the life of one of many thousands caught up in Putin’s war.
Batytskyi and Kalynska’s focus is on Pavlo, a citizen of Ukraine who joined first the Maidan uprising of 2014 and later the nascent Ukrainian army. Pavlo met his partner, Svitlana who was also participating in the rebellion, and later supported the military against Putin. Pavlo and Svitlana make compelling subjects: Pavlo is charismatic and charming, his patriotism sincere and unvarnished. More time with Svitlana would be welcome, however, as we understand her only through her relationship with Pavlo.
Nevertheless, theirs is an astonishing story of resilience; the Maidan sequences in particular demonstrate the cost of resistance against tyranny with archival footage of Ukrainian authorities firing on their own citizens interspersed with interviews from Pavlo, Svitlana and their comrades recalling the bloody sacrifice the government made of their friends.
It was not so long ago that Ukraine was operating under a very different leadership – one far more sympathetic to Putin’s regime – and these scenes are a sobering reminder that justice is never granted from leaders but taken by citizens. Indeed, it is curious that such a vital part of Ukraine’s recent history is so absent in our conception of the current conflict. It’s convenient to pitch the (undoubtedly) heroic Volodymyr Zelenskyy – who supported the revolution – alongside Western leaders hoping for some of that heroic patriotism to rub off on them. It’s far less convenient to acknowledge that Zelenskyy’s authority derives not from flag waving and photo ops but the fires of revolution.
After Maidan, A Rising Fury moves on to Putin’s military annexation of Crimea and Donbas, an invasion that the film personalises through a devastating betrayal. Other than Svitlana, the major figure in Pavlo’s life until Putin’s 2014 invasion of the Eastern regions was his best friend Igor. The nature of this friendship is best left to the film itself, while the emotional consequences for Pavlo and Svitlana are hinted and more than explored in the film’s final third.
As A Rising Fury draws to its close – there is by the nature of the current situation little to conclude with – we are left with the sense of a nation still writing its story, deeply mired in conflict but bolstered by astonishing resilience. This is far from a perfect documentary Pavlo and Svitlana could have been presented with more depth. But it is also a resolutely personal film, with a bitterly painful close. Batytskyi and Kalynska’s title is bang on: there is profound fury here.