With that title, you expect anger — to be angry at something. It starts with a provocation: a gang of street kids, grimy faces and gappy smiles, enjoying a funfair. It’s punk. But the howl turns hoarse. Sickfuckpeople grinds you down, slowly, until you lose the will to fight. Then you give up. It leaves you at a dead end, iron and snow and grey skies above.
Juri Rechinsky directed it (a documentary, Ukrainian) over the course of a few years. It’s about street kids, living in shacks and basements. Squint and it’s a rites of passage: inter-titles include “Childhood,” “Mother,” and “Love.” But they’re all curdled. This is Boyhood (TMT Review) for dystopians, Trainspotting Jnr. Rechinsky’s right in there with the kids when they shoot up. One of them, Yegor, wanders about with a dreamy smile, narcotic-slurred speech patterns, a life lived just below 24 fps. His quest in part two is the crux, the revelation: through him we see that the people of his hometown — honest hardworking bigots — are the real Sickfuckpeople. There’s more of them in part three, and they work in hospitals, in the police force, they’re the sisters of a poor stoned girl called Anna forced into an abortion that she may not need. It’s a society bent in on itself.
You wonder where the line is, separating social responsibility from poverty porn. We know people live in shacks and basements, so what’s Sickfuckpeople adding to the sum total of cinema? Perhaps a rebuke. Not against bigots, bureaucrats, or the nation behind these little tragedies, but against escapism. The idea that we can transcend it all by submitting to the power of imagination is noxious. Rechinsky could have cut his images of doors locked and backs turned until he got something resembling hope, but he’s not Michael Moore. He might wield the same arsenal — captions, close-ups, cuts — but there’s one thing that’s real, one moment. In that hospital, when the nurses ask if he’s going with Anna… he films the lift doors closing, and lingers on them. It’s an admission that all a director can do is record. He has no power to change anything, except for the angle, the shot order, the edit, the soundtrack. He grants immortality but it’s a dismal kind, druggies captured in a tiny loop of pathetic behaviour.
This is cinema revealed for what it is. It’s not a force for good. It’s impotent.