Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the mellow spot for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. I hope you’ve had a pleasant week so far. I know you’ve made our week more pleasant by joining us. Come on in, grab a table and cool off. The place is in a good mood tonight. Bring your own beverage.
BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.
The Cubs beat the Nationals, 4-2 today. So that’s good.
Last time I asked you if you thought that Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge could break Roger Maris’ American League home run record or even Barry Bonds major league record. Well, 44 percent of you don’t think he’ll even make it to 60 homers.
Here’s the part where I write about jazz and movies. You’re free to skip ahead to the baseball question at the end. You won’t hurt my feelings.
Tonight we’ve got legendary bassist Christian McBride and the Christian McBride Trio playing a cover of the Johnnie Taylor R&B classic “Who’s Making Love.”
I know it’s not traditional for me to write about 21st-century films, but that’s all I’ve watched over the past week. And the only one that impelled me to write something about it was 2018’s Donbass, directed by the Belarus-born, Ukrainian-raised and German resident director Sergei Loznitsa. It’s certainly a film that has gained added attention this year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Although most Americans didn’t notice what was going on between Russia and Ukraine until the full-scale invasion this year (or maybe during the first Trump impeachment hearings), the two nations have really been at war since 2014 when Russia seized the Crimea and “separatists” in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (collectively known as the Donbass) declared their independence from Ukraine. Donbass is a series of 13 slightly-interconnected vignettes of life in the Donbass, mostly in territory occupied by forces loyal to Russia. It’s a black satire of the situation in the region that elicits few laughs because. . . well, the situation just isn’t very funny. Of course, that’s the point.
The word I would use to describe Donbass is grotesque. It’s a grotesque satire of a grotesque war being pushed by a brutal, imperialist regime. But Donbass really isn’t about the whys and wherefores of the war in the Donbass. If you go into the film looking to learn something about the invasion of Ukraine, Loznitsa just isn’t interested in educating you. Instead, he wants to parody what life is like for the people living through a war. The war affects the way they live, certainly, but it goes much deeper than that. These are people’s whose very souls have been warped by violence and propaganda. Donbass will make you despair that there is any hope for a peaceful ending to the current atrocity in Ukraine.
The comedy that is in it is mostly the kind that we used to hear coming out of the old Soviet Union—not really that funny but more wry commentary on a miserable existence. The film starts in a makeup trailer with a group of actresses complaining about various mundane problems before they get called out onto the set. The “set,” however, is a staged bombing and the actresses are there to give “eyewitness testimony” to the act of terrorism that is being used as propaganda.
Some spoilers here—but it’s not really a plot-driven movie:
Then there is the bureaucrat who gives a long-winded lecture to a group of silent employees of a maternity hospital about how he’s going to put an end to all the thefts of supplies, only to reveal after they’ve left that he’s the one who’s been stealing them all. There’s another Kafka-esque scene in a town hall in Occupied Ukraine that involves a man trying to get his stolen car back.
The scenes go on and on like this. Background characters from one scene become the main players for another and vice versa. That “news report” that we see in the opening scene is seen playing on a television in the background of a later scene, for example.
There are 13 of these little vignettes in Donbass, and all of them are shot in a kind of documentary style. (Loznitsa is better known as a director of documentaries, although this is not his first scripted film.) Perhaps the most disturbing episode involves separatist security forces escorting a captured Ukrainian soldier, only to tie him to a pole while they go do something else. The locals see the man with a Ukrainian flag draped around his neck tied up there and begin to insult him and call him “fascist.” Eventually the name-calling evolves into spitting, pushing tomatoes in his face and finally, old women beating him with large sticks. All the while the younger people record this on their phones and in the next scene, which takes place at an ugly wedding ceremony, the young men show up among the well-wishers and everyone laughs as they watch the torture on their phones during the reception.
Spoilers, such as they are, are over.
The film can be quite confusing at times, especially if you’re not up on the intricacies of the war in Ukraine. While the film is subtitled, it doesn’t tell you whether the characters are speaking Russian or Ukrainian, so you don’t always know who is doing what to whom. It’s clear that Loznitsa’s sympathies are with Ukraine—he refers to the area of the Donbass as “Occupied Ukraine” and not the separatists’ preferred name of Novorossiya or “New Russia”—but he also sees the occupiers as victims in a way as well. (Loznitsa was recently kicked out of the Ukrainian film organization for opposing their ban of Russian films, saying that Russian filmmakers should not be punished for the actions of their government.) He saves most of his ire for the petty officials that are driven more by greed and ambition than by any ideology.
Donbass is not an easy film to watch. It’s disorienting as the characters come and go and we get little to no explanation of who is who. But of course the most difficult part of it is to watch the atrocities of war and to see a people, whom I assume were once decent, become twisted into ogres by the situation they find themselves in. You will despair that there could ever be a resolution to the horrible war that is going on over these lands. And of course, today we watch the film with the knowledge that the crimes committed in the Donbass from 2014 to 2021 are minor misdemeanors compared to what is happening during the invasion of Ukraine these days.
Here’s the trailer for Donbass. It is currently playing on the Criterion Channel and can be rented through other sources as well.
Welcome back to those of you who skip the jazz and cinema.
We’ve done this story before, but Ken Rosenthal is stirring the pot again by saying in his podcast this past week that the Cubs “will” get one of the elite free agent shortstops on the market this winter. With the way that Nico Hoerner is playing you wouldn’t think that the Cubs would need a shortstop, but Hoerner can always move over to second base and Nick Madrigal can always move to the bench or to another team. Or maybe one of the shortstops the Cubs sign is willing to move to third base.
The four big-name shortstops available include the Twins’ Carlos Correa and Red Sox’s Xander Bogaerts, both of whom are widely expected to opt-out of their contacts this winter. The other two who will be available barring a shock last-minute contract extension are the Dodgers’ Trea Turner and the Braves’ Dansby Swanson.
I’m not going to ask you who you want the Cubs to sign. Today, I’m going to ask you to peer into your crystal balls and deal your tarot cards and tell me which one of these four players the Cubs will sign this winter. Remember, Rosenthal said that it’s going to happen.
So who is it? Who will be a Cub next season?
Which shortstop will be playing for the Cubs next season?
This poll is closed
None. Rosenthal’s wrong.
Thank you again so much for stopping by. I hope you cooled off some, listened to some music and celebrated a Cubs win. Please check around your table for anything that’s yours. If you checked anything, we can get it for you now. Be sure to tip your waitstaff. Get home safely. And join us again next week for another edition of BCB After Dark.