In the Best Documentary category of the Oscars last month, "A House Made of Splinters" surprisingly made the cut, beating out strong contenders. The film is now available for streaming and has a limited theatrical release. Those who have seen the film should not be taken aback by its nomination, as it is a poignant and timely work that is both accessible and moving. It was filmed at an orphanage in Eastern Ukraine just before the outbreak of war in February of last year, and the film leaves viewers pondering the fate of the children and their caretakers. Director Simon Lereng Wilmont and his team did not anticipate what would happen in Ukraine, but they captured the impact of violence and trauma, which will affect this region for generations.

At Lysychansk, a Ukrainian facility where parents can leave their children for up to nine months, the film "A House Made of Splinters" takes place. The premise is to provide children with a place to stay while their parents deal with issues such as alcoholism or abuse. However, these problems often persist longer than nine months, and sometimes parents never return for their children due to addiction.

The children who are followed in the film are more aware of their situations than one might think. They talk about their home lives, and the audience sees how they struggle with homesickness, trauma, and fear. Sometimes they lash out at each other or the adults, with one boy even cutting his arm and defacing the facility with a marker. The documentary reveals how situations like this trickle down across generations. Social workers who worked at the facility as children now bring their offspring there.

Director Simon Lereng Wilmont is careful not to dwell in misery, showcasing how much joy these children find in their daily lives. It is moving when a girl is heartbroken over not being able to reach her alcoholic mother, but seeing her play with bubbles with her friend in the following scene is even more powerful. Kids need to be kids and need to laugh, even during consistent grief. This emergence of joy is where "A House Made of Splinters" gets its strength. It is tragic how play has become an even rarer commodity in Ukraine since the filming of the documentary.

Filming childhood trauma is a tricky line to walk, as a child can only give so much approval for such moments to be part of film history. The documentary is lean in terms of form, at times over-reliant on private emotion, but director Wilmont is careful not to cross the line as much as other filmmakers have done. He respects the trust the children have placed in him by allowing private moments to become public. Instead of overdone music or too many close-ups of tears, Wilmont gets the most out of mere observations, such as capturing a troubled young man laughing with his friends or framing the light behind two kids playing behind curtains. The documentary portrays that every kid plays, even if they know they might get a splinter in the process.

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