TIFF 2023 | In the Rearview (Maciek Hamela, Poland/France/Ukraine) — TIFF Docs

By Angelo Muredda.

Polish documentarian Maciek Hamela captures the devastation as well as the complicated hope of life in transit in In the Rearview, a record of his efforts to transport hundreds of Ukrainian refugees into Poland following the Russian invasion in early 2022. A spiritual cousin of sorts to Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten (2002), In the Rearview unfolds as a series of vignettes, as a rotating cast of passengers in the director’s van face the camera straight-on, some fiddling with their iPhones and caring for (and squabbling with) their children and pets, who’ve just packed up and left their homes under the most extreme duress, while others share stories of what they’ve endured and what they hope lies ahead.   

Self-serving as the concept of recording one’s own humanitarian intervention might sound, Hamela is a minor and self-effacing presence in the film. He tends to stay out of the way of his subjects, his presence felt only in occasional conversation prompts from the driver’s seat, or when he’s passing through fraught checkpoints. For the most part, the camera stays fixed on the passenger seats, apart from brief stops at safe houses and moments where it follows the passengers’ gaze to ruined cars and a bombed out bridge, acting as an extension for their anxiety about what comes next. 

Despite the sobering subject matter, Hamela has a light touch, allowing his subjects to set the tone in each vignette. Sometimes that results in anecdotes laced with gallows humour and absurdist observations (“Just the moment, right on time,” one says as her loved one fields a belated call from the bank mid-drive), and sometimes it ends in harrowing first-person testimonies of bare survival. Though they’re in some ways at the mercy of both their driver and the state that’s receiving them, the film’s warm and capacious energy effectively centres these subjects in the driver’s seat of their own refugee stories, whether they wish to stare forward in silence for their segment, or to reminisce about the beloved children, husbands, parents, and even cows left behind.