Monday, 5 November 2012

PUTIN'S KISS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Love, Russian Style

Doc earns marks for sticking with its subject for four years, but ultimately feels like it's been overly contrived to present a full narrative arc for a young, beautiful former poster child for "Nashi", a Russian Hitler-Youth-styled group devoted to the glories of Vladimir Putin, Russia's most vile ruler since Josef Stalin.

Putin's Kiss (2012) **1/2
dir. Lise Burke Pedersen

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Russia has almost always been ruled by thugs. Call them Czars, Communists, Dictators, Stalin or the Mob. They're one and the same.

Other than the Butcher Josef Stalin, there is no greater gangster to have taken the helm of the Russian Motherland than Vladimir Putin. Whereas relatively recent rulers like Mikhail Gorbachov and, to a certain extent, Boris Yeltsin, both worked towards democratizing the Soviet Union during the transition from Communism to the post-communist era; addressing the economy, allowing for freedoms of the press and cultural expression and forging greater ties with the west, Putin has instituted a reign of insular Totalitarian nationalism (masked as democracy) and a subtle, insidious return to Soviet-styled colonization of free states (Ukraine being the prominent example).

Out of Putin's thug rule was born the Hitler-Youth-Styled group called Nashi which has been an overwhelming force in extolling the glories of Putin, the superiority of Russian purity, a perverse form of Manifest Destiny (Russian Style, of course), the restoration of Russia as a dominant Eastern world power, the rejection of Western influence and among other heinous activities, spying on rival movements, instigating hooliganism within rival events, not tolerating any criticism of Putin and by extension, the suppression of a free press.

Pure and simple, this is a movement designed to instil the same dangerous nationalism amongst Russian youth and future generations of the Motherland that will, no doubt, see a return to the Stalinist-style terrors of forced Russification in vulnerable states on its borders, colonial control over independent countries like Ukraine, purges and genocides (like those that led) to the extinction of millions of people, the suppression of free thought, a free press and any cultural expression that is NOT Russian and/or toting the thuggery of the Putin line.

In fact, the Nashi movement (the English translation of the word is "OURS!", exclamation mark included) was formed in response to the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine that resulted in the eventual election of Victor Yuschenko (after his poisoning at the hands of Russian thugs) and briefly scuttling Putin's attempts to place one if its puppets, Viktor Yanukovych in control of the former "colony" of Russia.

Nashi, has recently undergone organizational difficulties, but prior to its current state, the Motherland's Hitler Youth held a huge rally around the Ukrainian embassy in Moscow to congratulate Putin's right-hand thug in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, who imprisoned all his political rivals on trumped-up charges (including Yulia Tymoshenko) and finally stepped into the leadership role after a series of fixed elections.

Lise Burke Pederson's feature documentary Putin's Kiss is a worthwhile effort that examines the phenomenon of Nashi through the eyes of one of its most loyal followers, Masha Drokova, the dynamic young poster child of Russian Youth who became a sensation after receiving a public smooch from Putin himself. Pederson had the means and tenacity to follow Drokova for four years and charted her idealistic beginnings, her rise to power (including a whole whack of perks from the Putin purse-strings), her rivalries with anything or anyone even vaguely anti-Putin and eventually entering into a tentative friendship with Oleg Kashin, a virulent anti-Putin writer. When Kashin is brutally assaulted and left for dead by Nashi thugs, Drokova begins to re-evaluate the man and the movement that was once her very lifeblood.

One can see why Pederson was drawn to following Drokova - she's smart, lively and gorgeous. The camera loves her. What made Drokova valuable to the likes of Putin and Nashi is pretty much the same thing that made her a compelling subject for Pederson's documentary eye.

Alas, what is of value initially, also becomes a flaw the movie doesn't quite recover from. Drokova's appeal is ultimately skin-deep and her rivalry and eventual friendship with the journalist Kashin signals a shift in the picture. At first, it's a welcome one, both narratively and politically, but it becomes clear that Kashin is probably a far more interesting and intelligent subject. While he is not imbued with the strength of a narrative arc as defined as Drokova's (he begins anti-Putin, continues to be anti-Putin and remains anti-Putin), his commitment and intelligence overwhelms the film's primary subject and by keeping its focus on Drokova, the movie feels like it's spinning its wheels.

In fact, Drokova comes across as an actress - a personality born to work the camera. Her gradual change feels false - as if manipulated by the filmmakers, or worse, as if she decides to control this shift herself for the benefit of the cameras. The latter might have been interesting, but it never feels like something Pederson is consciously aware of and/or interested in pursuing.

The movie is ultimately disjointed and unintentionally disingenuous. It's not without revealing moments of yet another shameful period of Russian history, but by its conclusion, one feels cheated with what appears to be an obvious manipulation and somewhat empty-bellied from a mere taste of far more interesting subject matter than the film ultimately delivers on.

The movie would want us to believe it is the story of a woman succumbing to Russian patriarchy and eventually breaking free of the shackles to be her own person.

As in life, however, wanting to believe in something can often be a bigger falsehood than wanting to believe in nothing at all.

"Putin's Kiss" is part of the Hot Docs subscription series "Doc Soup" at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. For more info, visit the cinema's website HERE.