Monday, April 1, 2013

HRWFF-Putin's Kiss

Masha Drokova is known as the girl who kissed Putin. An enthusiastic young woman who has her own apartment in Moscow, her own automobile and is a leading member of Nashi a youth movement that supports the Russian leaders Putin and Medvedev.  She is the face of the movement handling interviews at Nashi events and hosting a pro government talk show.

As the film opens Masha status in the movement continues to grow.  It's a Nashi summer camp with thousands of students. Masha is deep within the inner circle and close confident of her mentor, Nashi leader Vasily Yakemenko. The students sing positive songs for the motherland and chant Go Russia Go.  Danish Director Lise Birk Pedersen is very patient with his film. He follows Masha for 4 years and charts her involvement with the Nashi movement from the time she entered in her rural home town at age 16.

Drokova is part of a new Russian generation. She was born after the fall of the Soviet Union. Her generation is the future of Russia. This group sees Putin as a strong charismatic energetic and intelligent leader. The Country is in an unprecedented age of prosperity and growth that was not experienced by the generations before. The leaders and members of Nashi want to be part of this golden age.

Pedersen introduces modern Moscow with shots of the various billboards around the city showing modern western car ads, perfume ads and an ad for the Internet giant Google.  A clever technique to quickly establish Moscow as a modern city with all the advantages and wealth equal to any Western European, Asian or North American local.  Here we meet Masha Drokova's foil Oleg Kashin a cynical liberal journalist who is very anti-Nashi. He sees the danger in the movement as a political force for Putin; used to attack and demonize any opposition to the government. Pedersen also uses news footage of Putin along with still photographs of political meetings to deliver his message.  Kasin as narrator describes how Russia was at Masha birth; poor, rundown and without many institutions. He talks of Putin's plan to return Russia's superpower status in the minds of the world but more importantly in the minds of the ordinary citizens.  Kashin speaks about how under Putin the ordinary family could have a car and take a decent vacation.  Nashi the democratic anti-fascist youth movement was a Putin creation to help to take control of all political activity.  It's a very powerful organization with the ability to gather 30,000 youth to support Putin at an event and the public commitment to call out the opposition as enemies of Russia.  Vasily Yakemenko tells the youth at a Nashi Conference that you need to be enraged and ready to sacrifice your past way of life for the cause. If not you should not attend the movements meetings or events. Mashka as their spokesperson was out front with Putin's messages condemning the actions of leaders of breakaway republics and the members of the Russian opposition. The goal being to show massive support for Putin's policies and measures.

Pedersen employs hand held camera work in many sections of the film. At the Nashi summer camp, the convention as when he follows Nashi members on their campaign to remove food with expired dates from store shelves. This positive camera friendly part is lead by Drokova while on the other side is the Battle Wing that uses violence and threats against opposition leaders and journalist. Pedersen interviews one of the leaders of this wing Aton Smirnov a Nashi commissar. They monitor the oppositions actions attend and disrupt their meeting and rallies to be sure that they cannot change the political stability of the country. The Battle Wing also engages in direct physical attacks on opposition leaders.

The action of the battle wing shown through security camera footage shot with grainy video as the faction perform the rudimentary acts against opposition leaders and journalist.

Masha involvement begins to wane after Vasily Yakemenko leaves for an official government post which triggers an election between Masha and the other 4 appointed federal commissars of Nashi.
She begins to take up other interests and start to spend time with a mixed group pro and anti-Nashi journalist that includes Kashin.

The left wing section of her new circle engaged in some anti government activities and were very vocal of their actions that brought a strong reaction from the authority and forced Masha to make some real decision about her continued involvement with the Nashi movement.  This time the focus of the attack had not been some unknown enemies of Russia but people that Masha knew socialized and exchanged ideas with personally.

Putin's Kiss is a full look at the student movement in Russia. It touches on the positive effect that it has on Russian youth but also describes the function it has to suppress and marginalized the opposition using words, dirty pranks and on occasion real violence.

It is a documentary that tells the story of a government that bends the political potential of the countries youth in its direction.  A tactic that has been used by many governments in the past sometimes leading to horrific consequences. The result is a film that I can recommend.

*** out of 4

Putin's Kiss | Lise Birk Pedersen | Denmark / Russia | 2012 | 85 Minutes.

2013 Human Rights Watch Film Festival. 

Russia, Youth Movement,  Teen Activist, Fascism, Totalitarian, Dictatorship