It does without saying that the head of government in any country affects the lives of the citizens of any country. That’s all the more true in Andrei Kutsila’s When Flowers Are Not Silent, covering the 2020-2021 Belarussian protests. For ten months, tens of thousands of people protested against the unfair elections that gave Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office. The authorities are giving these protesters a difficult time even after detainment. Here in Canada, where some people protest baseless causes and the police give them a welcome mat. Meanwhile, the protesters in Belarus face arrest, torture, and starvation. One of these participants is finally home with her mother and son and she, through a voiceover, talks about being unable to eat. Being a detainee in Minsk’s Okrestino prison means food deprivation and the body acclimating to those conditions.
Flowers competently shows how ubiquitous torture is as an experience for a typical Belarussian citizen. The film gets its name for when the camera shows the bouquets of flowers lying on any street. Here in North America, a person can see those as a memorial for someone who dies of a bicycling accident. In Minsk there are more of those bouquets, signifying a place where a protester meets their death. That’s because of Lukashenko’s shoot to kill policy for police to ‘defend themselves’ against protesters. These rubber bullets sometimes hit protesters’ legs, leaving one of the film’s participants with a disability. One of the film’s participants also interviews another woman who was a detainee in Okrestino. She lets the latter tell her story of defying the police even during her most vulnerable moment.
The only flaw Flowers has is that yes, it highlights the personal stories of the average Belarussian but it also doesn’t say any of the participants’ names. From what I gathered, the single mom’s name is Oksana and the man with the broken leg is Dzima, and I’m not sure if any of those are right. There’s a possibility that the production didn’t want to highlight names. That’s in case the Belarussian government uses this film to incriminate these protesters but still. Regardless, there’s a simplicity to the aesthetic here, especially with the film’s choice to use black and while cinematography. It’s a way to symbolize, albeit blatantly, this dark chapter in Belarussian history. And if anything, this film exists to educate people outside of Belarus about the atrocities their people faced and how they nevertheless persisted.
When Flowers Are Not Silent plays at the Revue starting August 28.