Berlinale 2024 Review: A Groundhog Casts a Long Shadow in Roman Bondarchuk’s Sharp Satire “The Editorial Office”

“Everybody wants to be a mayor these days,” Vitalii (Maksym Kurochkin), the editor of the daily newspaper Pectoral tells Yura (Dmytro Bahnenko) in “The Editorial Office,” an aspiration that the young man in front of him does not hold. In fact, Yura isn’t really looking for a job at all when he is offered the social media manager positional at the paper in Kherson, Ukraine, simply there to deliver some news after bearing witness to some forest fires being set with the long lens camera he uses to take pictures of a rare groundhog. Six months before the full-scale invasion of the country in 2021, no one is where they want to be in Roman Bondarchuk’s surreal black comedy that connects the dots between an ill-informed public, the erosion of democracy and the rise of unchecked power both in government and among the wealthy in a way that hasn’t quite been nailed on screen before.

Yura doesn’t know that shortly before stepping into the office, Vitalii has opened his door to a pair of campaign advisers for the current mayor, who has inconveniently fallen into a coma in the midst of a reelection campaign and needs some help staying alive in the eyes of the public. Vitalii doesn’t think twice about working on a deep fake video to show him dancing, but he also wastes no time in agreeing to publish Yura’s pictures, explaining to the latter crudely yet with chilling accuracy the balance of promotional coverage needed in the publication to get even a fraction of real reporting into the paper. Yura was sent to Pectoral only after his first choice The Truth of the Steppe was literally under siege during his visit, with police eager to claim the real estate from its idealistic editor who no longer has any staff but himself. Well before countless other Ukrainians are pressed into duty, Yura is obliged by his conscience to share what he saw with the public, but any clear line of communication has been destroyed and if he needs any evidence of how a lack of quality news has reached the public, he only needs to look at his mother’s (Rimma Zyubina) increasing interest in cryptocurrency long after he knows not to trust it himself.

Falling somewhere between Aki Kaurismaki and any given episode of “Barry” in terms of its comic sensibilities where the lingering expectation of tragedy makes any eccentric behavior seem like the most natural response, “The Editorial Office” follows Yura down a rabbit hole of increasing disillusionment as Vitalii sends him out on increasingly unethical tasks – at one point chastising him for treating a promotional call as if it were actual news – without publishing the pictures that brought him to the job in the first place. Bondarchuk may extend himself a bit too far at times as Yura climbs the rings of power in his haphazard investigation, joined by a similarly principled and malcontent coworker Lera (Zhanna Ozirna) to begin looking into all the rich men around town seemingly untouched by the chaos around them and the film threatens to become as overstuffed as its overindulged villains when it enters the more perverse corners of how they’ve turned their imagination into reality.

However, the director, working from a script co-written with Dar’ya Averchenko and Alla Tyutyunnik, impressively never loses the thread of tracing the desecration of a free press to a greater unraveling of society, observing how a certain order is preserved out of long ingrained traditions and image preservation but without accountability, the most shameless have been allowed to run amok, making Yura’s previous life scoping out wildlife not all that different from the animal kingdom he sees before him in a ravaged Ukraine. The knowledge of the catastrophe that’s about to strike may have a specific cultural and historical resonance, particularly with a gut punch of an ending, but the ground Bondarchuk covers extends far beyond the borders of his own country and like his lead, it takes sifting through layer upon layer of artifice to get to the truth, but once he does, it can’t be denied.

“The Editorial Office” will screen at Berlinale on February 17th at 5:30 pm at the City Kino Wedding, February 18th at 3 pm at the Cinema Betonhalle@Silent Green, February 22nd at 6:30 pm at Arsenal 1 and February 25th at 8:15 pm at the Delphi Filmpalast.

Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.