Tribeca 2024 Review: Soldiers of Song

Ryan Smith’s Soldiers of Song starts off as if we’re about to watch a trailer for the documentary that’s going to follow. It’s a very quick-cut approach, giving us glimpses of what has happened to Ukraine since the Russian invasion, and how some people – in this case, musicians – have reacted. Once the title card appears, the documentary then focuses on select people and how they are able to cope with the ongoing chaos and destruction that is taking place in their country.

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When the invasion initially began in February 2022, there were several musicians who reacted in a way to help elevate not just their spirits, but also those of the people around them. Rather than completely discard their profession, they continued to sing; they continued to perform their instrument of choice; and they continued to find some way to bring peace to a torn nation. Through their music, they were able to raise awareness of the war and to also raise funds for humanitarian and military aid, and they became an important factor in Ukraine’s culture.

One of the most haunting moments is when the documentary takes us inside a bunker to show how the musicians could still find time to practice in the midst of battle. It’s an eerie scene, but it’s also a great representation of the closeness this group has.

Some of the musicians are given the opportunity to showcase their talent, with one giving a fantastic rendition of Metallica’s “Noting Else Matters.” But Smith also does something that few documentaries do. The musical components come to life as if we’re watching a music video in the middle of the documentary. A bit jarring at first, especially since the genres range from pop to metal to classical. But it becomes more welcome when one realizes how the liveliness of the performances and the way they’re captured have left a huge impact on the Ukrainian culture.

Select subjects that are interviewed recall where they were when the invasion began and compare it to where they are now. One performer discusses how their family grew during the war and how their newborn is being raised while this is ensuing. Some talk about losing loved ones, and you can’t help but feel the pain they’re experiencing.

Smith gives viewers a raw glimpse into what Ukrainians have witnessed and how their lives have been impacted. Close-ups of injuries and amputated body parts make this tough to watch in some parts. But it’s also important not to hide those details. While flawed in some creative choices, Soldiers of Song shines a light on a different part of the Russian-Ukraine war that not many news outlets discuss. It’s a captivating insight into how music brings people together, especially during an ongoing war.

David Wangberg

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