THE STORY – Forced to abandon their homes, Ukrainian refugees encounter numerous military checkpoints as they try to make their way to Poland.
THE CAST – N/A
THE TEAM – Maciek Hamela (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 84 Minutes
“In the Rearview” is an immersive documentary directed by Maciek Hamela, in which a small van carries Ukrainians away from the frontlines of the war as people leave behind their homes, possessions, animals, and family members. Because the film was recently shortlisted for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar, it is on many folks’ radar. While a similar documentary released in the same year – “20 Days in Mariupol” – has received more praise and notice, Hamela’s film is worth a watch, too. Of course, “20 Days in Mariupol” is much more harrowing on the ground, so “In the Rearview” is comparatively less impactful due to its very nature.
Hamela’s camera is mainly turned on the van’s passengers, with the occasional glimpse at the driver. Much of the film’s 84 minutes takes place in the van, with minimal time spent outside, usually showing people leaving and reuniting with family members. These passengers express sadness – both through dialogue and their expressions – when talking about the things, animals, and people they left behind. Most of the people featured in this documentary appear reluctant and sad to be leaving their homes, and one person admits that they “only left because of the kids.” It’s clear that their decisions to self-exile weren’t easily made; some pets and family members are left behind, often due to logistical reasons. There’s simply not enough room in the van at given times, although sometimes it’s nearly empty. The final moments show a fully empty van, perhaps emphasizing how many people had left Ukraine by that point.
Even though “In the Rearview” isn’t as harrowing and difficult to watch as “20 Days in Mariupol,” Hamela’s film is still tense at times. This is especially the case as the van approaches Russian checkpoints and deals with other roadblocks – sometimes literally, avoiding things like destroyed bridges and mines – that make the passengers even more anxious to reach safer destinations. These people have been through a lot, and while some are quiet, others are very open about their experiences. Those who lived on the frontlines of the war express their inability to sleep due to fear for the safety of themselves and their loved ones, and the near-constant threat of bombings has led them to hear explosions when trying to fall asleep. Of course, many are pessimistic and seem to have lost all hope, although they will soon be safe and out of harm’s way. Even some of the children are downtrodden, talking about not being in school and how they miss and want to go home. It’s particularly upsetting hearing this from the youth who are affected.
However, some evacuees are optimistic and hopeful of the future; one young woman dreams of opening a cafe when the war is over. Children are especially great at looking on the bright side as they look forward to returning to Ukraine. There’s even some humor thrown in there, with people making the best of their respective situations. It’s also a unique setting for strangers – people of all ages, backgrounds, and class statuses – to bond over their shared experiences. While most of the dialogue in the film is from passengers, family members, and the driver, we occasionally hear voice-overs from what is probably the radio. These reports on the war provide more context to what the people are going through. Additionally, there’s one especially touching segment when the van’s driver transports a Congolese woman (who was shot multiple times) to another hospital out of the country where she can receive the proper treatment. When the driver starts speaking to this stranger in French, it’s a prime example of how people can surprise you and how we cannot lose hope.
Even with its relatively brief runtime, “In the Rearview” can feel repetitive; while the people we’re seeing are different, many of their experiences are the same or, at least, similar. We also don’t see any violence or injuries, just reports of it from the van’s passengers. This is not necessarily a knock on the film, but when you compare it to “20 Days in Mariupol,” this one isn’t as devastating and can appear relatively muted. That said, “In the Rearview” makes a great companion piece to “20 Days in Mariupol,” especially if you’re seeking a full picture of the war in Ukraine (one that is still ongoing). All in all, Hamela’s documentary is worth the watch. It’s important to share what Ukrainian refugees have gone through and what they’ve left behind. War is traumatic for everyone, no matter where they’re from, and affects infants through the elderly.