Director Yeva Strielnikova's debut film Stay Online is a poignant exploration of the impact of the digital age on the terrible realities of war. Set against the backdrop of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the film delves into the lives of ordinary citizens immersed in a conflict they didn't intend, highlighting their struggles, resilience and the connections they make through technology.
The story revolves around Kate, a volunteer living in Kiev, who finds herself embroiled in a digital network of events that transcends geographical boundaries. The film makes masterful use of the screen life format, a technique that capitalizes on our contemporary dependence on digital devices. Through a visual journey that unfolds across computer screens, smartphones and social media platforms, we witness Kate's commitment to the war effort and her unwitting involvement in a mission to reunite a young boy with his missing parents.
The intelligence of the story lies in its ability to blend macro and micro perspectives of the war. While global headlines describe the Russian invasion, Stay Online shifts its focus to the intimate realm of individual lives and their digital interactions. Kate's experience, conveyed through a succession of chat conversations, video calls and online updates, reflects the real-life situations faced by countless citizens who play their part in the war through the unyielding gaze of technology.
The film aptly illustrates the omnipresence of the digital age in our lives, showing how technology serves as both an information channel and an emotional connection. Social media feeds become means of disseminating information, while video chats enable personal connections and emotional support, even when physical distances are insurmountable. The cacophony of alerts, tickers and screen transitions serves as a visual metaphor for the constant flow of information that shapes our understanding of events beyond our immediate environment.
Liza Zaitseva's captivating portrayal of Kate is at the heart of Stay Onlin". Zaitseva deftly captures the range of emotions Kate experiences - her initial boldness, her transformation into a compassionate lawyer, and her ultimate emotional unraveling. Kate's interactions with Sava, the young boy whose parents have disappeared, are particularly heartbreaking. The juxtaposition of innocence and the harsh reality of war creates a poignant emotional resonance that strikes a chord with viewers.
While the life-on-screen format reinforces the film's authenticity, it also has its limitations. We note that the narrative sometimes seems limited by the digital frame, and at times a change of format could have brought a welcome change of pace. What's more, the film's pacing seems to waver, with some sections seeming to wander off without adding any significant depth to the story.
Nevertheless, Stay Online is more than just a cinematic experience in form; it's a reflection of our contemporary world, where the boundary between virtual and physical realities is increasingly blurred. The film's portrayal of online activism, of its ability to foster connections even in the midst of chaos, and of individuals forced to act despite their physical limitations are all themes that resonate deeply with our interconnected lives.
In many ways, Stay Online is an exploration of the many facets of modern warfare. The film deftly captures the emotional nuances of individuals affected by conflict, navigating a landscape where physical battles are intertwined with digital struggles for connection, information and survival. The use of technology, rather than distancing the viewer from the characters' experiences, paradoxically brings us closer to their emotional turmoil.
Yeva Strielnikova's Stay Online is an innovative and thought-provoking film that offers a unique perspective on the experience of modern warfare. Through digital communication, the film transcends its format to highlight the resilience, fear and determination of those living through conflict. Liza Zaitseva's powerful performance as Kate anchors the film's emotional core, allowing viewers to empathize with the struggles faced by citizens in times of crisis. Although Stay Online sometimes struggles with the pace and constraints of its chosen format, its thematic resonance and topical message make it a fascinating cinematic project that challenges our perception of war and connectivity in the digital age.
Directed by Eva Strelnikova
Produced by Anatilii Dudinskiy, Marina Kvasova, Alla Lipovetskaya, Anton Skrypets
Written by Anton Skrypets, Eva Strelnikova
Starring Ekaterina Kisten, Oleksandr Rudynskyy, Anton Skrypets, Elizaveta Zaitseva, Olesya Zhurakivska
Cinematography : Eva Strelnikova
Running time: 110 minutes
Viewed on 01 August 2023 (Fantasia press screener)