Roman Bondarchuk’s second film, “The Editorial Office,” begins with an explosive apocalyptic vision. We are hurled into southern Ukraine. The year is 2021, and the escalation of war is a mere six months away. Two natural history researchers, Yura (Dmytro Bahnenko) and Mykhailo (Oleksandr Shmal) drive through in pursuit of the sand dunes, where they are on the lookout for the endangered groundhog.

They have been tipped off about the sighting of the rodent in the particular forest. If they could verify it, they would be able to bring the forest under the auspices of the European preserves. The quest of the two runs into unexpected terrain and against a string of dubious sights. They encounter a bunch of schemers setting fire to the forests. While they are advised to turn their attention away from any random events and focus on what they had been originally sent out for, the integrity of the duo urges them to poke further into the orifices of a rotten society. That they decide to go ahead and prod at the wider visibility of what they’ve captured on their cameras might speak to their naivete, especially with all the corruption and manipulation that seem to have become normalized all around them.

They do not take into account the careless, casual machinations swirling around them that are common practice and power anyway. However, Mykhailo soon disappears, and it’s left to Yura to follow through with the expose-like report. Nobody at the museum where the two work has any idea where Mykhailo is nor pretends to be bothered about it. When he nudges his superior about the forest fires, he is asked to stay quiet. Yet, he is persistent about the legitimate proof of the fires being orchestrated being ushered into the public domain.

His doggedness pushes him into the newspaper rounds, one that reveals itself as unembarrassed about flashing circus tricks to garner readership and hunt for viral traffic. He is spurned by a reputable newspaper that stands imperiled by acute precarity. The working staff has dried up, and raids by masked goons are commonplace. The editor of the paper insists he goes to the other, more massively popular newspaper, Pektoral.

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The Editorial Office (2024) ‘Berlinale’ Movie Review
A still from “The Editorial Office” (2024)

As he lands there, he is confronted with the blatant fabrications which he is told are necessary to generate widespread interest and draw in readers. Sensationalism guarantees the instant hook; a woman jumping from her balcony to escape a predator becomes the stepping gun for vigorous, ridiculous debate on how to best spruce up a news story and position it in a manner that evokes maximum reader curiosity. How to get people talking is turned into the most sweeping excuse for fake news, inviting everyone to be blindsided in a collective denial.

Delusion seems to hold sway over the entire country, with its political landscape in open cahoots with a media perched on the anvil of collapse. As bad a joke journalism has turned into, so has the image of a leader. Yura’s mother (Rimma Zyubina) is dating the mayor’s advisor. There are rumours of the two powerful men having a greater intimacy than the official capacity, but as she tells him, such men cannot be measured by the yardstick of good and bad, they are far more complicated.

However, most of the powerful men we encounter are presented with an almost obvious repulsiveness. All the arms of the system are in perfectly engineered collusion with the public’s greedy and reckless digestion of clickbait and spurious narratives, allowing a stranglehold of lies to touch bewildering heights. Bondarchuk paints a damning portrait of a land and its people, having grown blasé to the cycle of violence and falsehood. The public is mired in deep apathy, and as the salacious-veering newspaper editor asserts, they won’t be moved to action until the very moment they see the Russian tanks rolling in.

Yura is battered by reminders of the futility of his righteous determination to publish his expose; an awareness of the pervasive decay surrounds him. The need to ride the wave of the market has all but drowned stray flickers of truth in a sea of lies and bullying. While the film confidently positions itself in situations where heightened absurdity has been licensed and accorded credibility, its latter flirtations with sequences around a cult-like gathering come off as derivative and unnecessarily bloated.

In spite of this, the director mostly manages to pack in frighteningly germane, compelling layers with a sure and steady grip on the film’s mercilessly bleak tone. There’s a crutch of chilling lessons here shining an urgent light on the road to a colossal moral abandonment that leads to disaster.

 The Editorial Office premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival 2024.

The Editorial Office (2024) Movie Links: IMDb, Mubi, Letterboxd
The Editorial Office (2024) Movie Cast: Dmytro Bahnenko, Zhanna Ozirna, Rymma Zyubina, Andrii Kyrylchuk, Oleksandr Shmal, Vasyl Kukharskyi, Maksym Kurochkin, Oleksandr Gannochenko, Serhii Ivanov, Serhii Stepanskyi
The Editorial Office (2024) Movie Genre: Comedy, Dramas | Runtime: 127 mins

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