By José Alberto Hermosillo
|A House Made of Splinters: And the Shattered Children of Ukraine|
“A House Made of Splinter” is a powerful and moving documentary of extraordinary beauty made in Ukraine before the invasion. Emotionally devastating.
The documentary chronicles the lives of several Ukrainian children inside a shelter where they find a sanctuary during the madness of the external world.
The mêlée in Ukraine occurs in the interior of every broken family, affecting the most vulnerable, the children.
Things seem to be running smoothly in a refuge for children in East Ukraine. Outside the facility, people still feel the prelude of war and remain inside their homes. This story elapses a year or two before the Russian invasion and during other previous incursions.
The facility’s principal describes the situation as overwhelming and challenging. The film juxtaposes her affectionate narration with distant images of the impoverished Eastern European country. She states, “Life was difficult, but the war worsened things. So many people lost their jobs. Now, every tenth door hides a broken family. When a family is broken due to alcoholism, violence, or homelessness, the social worker brings the children to our shelter.”
The Oscar-nominated docudrama exquisitely displays children actively interacting with their teachers and classmates. But the children miss their parents and still want to communicate with them, even if they know they are alcoholics and cannot be reached. The children experience the delights of friendship, their first love, then how their hearts get broken, loneliness, and hope.
The children narrate, in first person, their experience of domestic violence and physical abuse and even witnessed the murder of one of their parents. The unseen chaos living on the battlefields is brought inside their homes, causing anxiety, depression, and internal fights.
Transferring the children from the shelter to an orphanage or foster family is painful for some, mainly if they have siblings remaining in the center. Tearing families apart is always problematic and emotionally distressful for the little ones.
When the grandparents or one of their mothers visit or pick up one of the children, they become joyous, and their happiness is overpowering.
The extraordinary camera work of the cinematographer/director Simon Lereng Wilmont reveals an intimate concealment where the shelter’s occupants can interact naturally. Mr. Lereng patiently waited for the right moment to show the children’s most affectionate moments as they opened up with honesty and courage in front of the camera.
In “A House Made of Splinters,” every child’s story has a similar behavioral pattern – Sasha, Kolya, Eva, Zhenyia, Kristina, and Polina – most of them need professional help because it is devastating for anyone to have that feeling that nobody wants them. Those memories will stay in their hearts for the rest of their lives. No human being deserves to feel unwanted.
When a girl grows up, she also could become a mother, and she will be an alcoholic and could give up her parents’ rights to a foster family. For Ukrainian children, their future is not promising.
Another profound and analytical documentary on children’s psychology with mental conflicts is “El cuarto desnudo/The Naked Room,” directed by Nuria Ibañez, in 2013, which has similar portrayals of children who undergo a psychological evaluation and special treatment in a hospital with naked walls in Mexico City.
“A House Made of Splinters” keeps the audience hooked and wondering about the future of these vulnerable children who are not precisely victims of their parent’s actions or their violent environment. Still, of the circumstances, they have to live in their place and time.
The children must be loved as we all have to learn to appreciate the beauty and vitality as “hope does last.” The film closes with a lullaby, as we are left heartbroken, helpless, and powerless.
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