‘In the Rearview’ Review – Backseat Dissenters / Available On Streaming Rental or Purchase

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Iconic French actress Catherine Deneuve, the heart of the official 76th Festival de Cannes poster, opened the festival with a poem by Ukrainian Poet Lesya Ukrainka: “I have no happiness, and I am not free. There’s only one hope left for me: To return to Ukraine once again.”

In February 2022, the world got the news that Russia was invading Ukraine. Since then we have struggled to comprehend as a society the loss, the pain, and the destruction that has affected hundreds of thousands of innocent people. In commemoration, making its debut at Cannes this year, is the film In the Rearview, from Polish director and producer Maciek Hamela. The documentary is a distinctive and extremely raw look into the Ukrainian refugees’ experiences on their journey to seek safety.

Hamela is a heroic, class act. Not only does he serve the doc as director but also as the driver of a vehicle taking families to the Polish border. The film starts eerily with a family quiet in the back. “Putin is a dick,” one of them says, as we see soldiers with large guns pulling them over seemingly to check documents. This family left everything behind—their home, their belongings, even their dog. There is a sense of calm that is also filled with exceptional anxiety. While they share a moment of laughter, you know it’s just a coping mechanism, and that if they don’t laugh, they might not stop themselves from crying. The authenticity of their emotions is thanks to the work of a single camera and the film’s non-invasive use of audio and music.

Sure, this is a documentary about a war that continues to rage on. But there’s real heart not only in every individual in the back seat of Hamela’s and his fellow volunteer’s van, but in every citizen of Ukraine affected by these inhumane acts. “I’m leaving you what’s most precious to me. It’s going to be okay, I’m joining the army tomorrow,” a husband of one of the passengers says as he prepares to say goodbye. Moments later, as their journey to the border begins, his daughter declares, “Such beautiful buildings, not bombed at all.” Through news outlets and generalised media we only see what they want us to, which is a divide between two countries and the tearing down of a country doing no wrong. But In the Rearview allows those directly affected to have a voice, to provide true meaning to the images of suffering—whether it’s of a family being divided and the excruciating sadness that follows uncertainty, to the representations of war through a child’s eyes.

Maciek does a great job presenting both reality and horror, while also enabling a crucial sense of hope. These families are ready to stand up in a way that could have only been provided by Maciek and other aid workers who have participated in voluntary transportation work. Because of the documentary’s simple structure and honest discussions—simply in the back of a car—as an audience we are gifted with these conversations necessary for us to better understand human cruelty. How would I feel if I was in their position? What can I do to help? Are we being force-fed by the media? We see the hurt, we see some families being reunited, but by the end the car is empty.

In the Rearview isn’t your ordinary documentary; through its raw cinematography and its subjects, we get to acknowledge the honest brutality of how the Ukrainian people are suffering. Of course there’s anxiety, but it’s mixed with relief in being given the opportunity to have their voices heard about the unimaginable things they’ve had to endure over the past year. Their voices provide the realest form of understanding.

Read our exclusive interview with Maciek Hamela here.

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