Sunday, November 28

“Servants of the People” series

Strictly speaking, has much changed in the life of Vasyl Petrovich Holoborodko? Well, the man was elected President of Ukraine by surprise. Until recently he was an underpaid history teacher at an ordinary school in Kiev. His candidacy for the highest office in the state was merely a symbolic act. His students had urged him to do so. A video that the most rebellious among them had secretly recorded of Holoborodko when he got into an angry speech against corruption and mismanagement plays the decisive role. However, the 39-year-old did not actively campaign. Surveys have not even seen him among the ten most promising applicants.

But apart from the fact that he has changed his job, everything remains the same for Holoborodko: He continues to be patronized, just no longer by his parents, his sister, his niece and the caretaker, but by the Ukrainian apparatus of power. It includes a great number of people who mean to him how to walk, how to smile, how to dress. And above all: what he has to say in public.

The Ukrainian series Servant of the people von 2015 tells a crazy story on different levels. The most bizarre leads into the current political reality of the country, because Volodimir Zelensky, who invented and also plays the character of Vasyl Holoborodko, is now President of Ukraine himself. And is thus even in the mills of a system that he has already fictitiously described and which crushed him within a very short time. If Zelensky ever had pure intentions, there is hardly anything left of it.

The oligarch Kolomoisky supported Zelensky’s political rise

He has to – maybe he wants to – come to terms with the oligarchs in his country who control the economy and politics of Ukraine. In the Pandora Papers, a leak of secret data from tax havens, Zelensky and his closest circle appear with some mailbox companies. The money in their accounts may come from a gigantic looting of the private bank by the oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskij at a time when he and a business partner owned the bank.

Kolomoisky promoted the rise of the actor and comedian Zelensky despite his criticism of oligarchy. His TV station has 1 + 1 Servant of the people broadcast. Zelensky’s election campaign was organized by Kolomoisky’s lawyer, and the oligarch provided the current president with bodyguards and cars.

Volodimir Selenskij shows this influence of the power apparatus to make everything possible at any time Servant of the people. The series can now be seen for the first time as the original with German subtitles in the Arte media library. The crucial difference between this fiction and reality is: President Holoborodko is definitely an honorable man, his sincerity is as honest as it is naive. It will take serious damage as the series progresses. Nevertheless, it develops a force that will ultimately change some things for the better.

Fiction anticipates a future that has not yet occurred in reality

Servant of the people is wonderfully out of date: On the one hand, the series has already been overtaken by reality as far as the first episodes are concerned. On the other hand, in its second half it is still reaching ahead into a future that has so far not actually occurred, since Zelensky is still in office and his political legacy cannot be foreseen.

What can be said with certainty about Volodimir Zelensky, however, is that he has obviously penetrated the mechanisms of how politics works in Ukraine very well. And he also carefully analyzed how society ticks under these premises. Servant of the people is occasionally with House of Cards compared. But nothing of the cold cynicism of the US series can be found here. In Holoborodko you are much more likely to discover something of the anarchic chaos with which Roberto Benigni’s film characters, for example, often react to the unreasonable demands of life.

The pilot episode of Servant of the people, at 45 minutes twice as long as the rest of the episodes, is masterful. It introduces all the important characters and already sets most of the subplots in motion without even being overloaded. Rather, the scenes all mesh organically.

Wassyl Holoborodko has been living with his parents again since he divorced his wife, with whom he has a son. The father, taxi driver and bon vivant, thinks little of his studied son, the mother suffocates him with her care. In short: neither of them take it for granted. The shared bathroom seems to remain locked to Wassyl forever, especially his niece, who also lives in the apartment, blocks it to a large extent. So he cannot even assert himself in the little things of everyday life – and now he is supposed to lead Ukraine.

There are some surprises in the President’s bathroom

The bathroom is also a good example of how Zelensky’s comedy works: like a jack in the box, people keep coming out of it and directing the scene that is taking place in the hallway in front of it in a new direction. Selensky often takes advantage of such comic situations, and he also appreciates running gags. One of the victims is Belarusian President Lukashenko. Sometimes you can guess the punch lines Zelensky is heading towards. But then again and again he adds a surprise.

The real joke, however, lies in the grotesque gap between the reality of Holoborodko’s life, from which he never escapes even as president, and that in the circles of power. Zelensky’s punching partner is the actor Stanislaw Boklan. He plays Jurij Ivanovych Chujko, troubleshooter and a kind of nanny for the new president. Chujko makes use of the inexhaustible and often perverse possibilities of a potentially dictatorial system as a matter of course. Whoever has power, ruthlessly exploits it.

The series declines this mechanism through the entire population. Above all, the father allows himself monstrous things in the trust that his son will take care of things. Conversely, the subservience of the unprivileged is gutted. Volodimir Selensky has succeeded in creating a satire in which the subtle and the brute coexist in the best possible way. And that hits the real core over and over again.

Servant of the people, Arte-Mediathek, from November 19, 2021.

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