Putin's Kiss

Putin's Kiss


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Born in 1989, Masha Drokova became a pin-up girl for the Russian self-proclaimed "anti-fascist youth movement" Nashi while still in her teens, being awarded a medal of honour - and that all-important kiss from Putin - when she was just 19.

Danish filmmaker Lise Birk Pedersen tracks this girl, whose impressions of Putin are that he is "very stong, charismatic, responsible", as she does what most young people do - discover that the world we live in, power and politics are rarely as simplistically black and white as we might originally think.

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At the same time, we are introduced to opposition journalist Oleg Kashin, who immediately tells us exactly why he dislikes everything that Nashi stands for and who, more gradually, goes on to describe the "story that changed my life".

There are complex machinations at work here - but there's always a sense of the surface being skimmed in favour of telling Drokova's story. There's little attempt to truly document the political landscape, save for the suggestion that democracy is failing and everyone should 'play nicely'.

Early, quite disturbing, scenes of a Nashi summercamp reveal the truth behind that "anti-fascist" proclamation, as we see hundreds of teens being subjected to high levels of pro-Putin propoganda in the name of a good time. Leading the charge for the hearts and minds of these voters of tomorrow is Vasily Yakamenko, a slick-looking Simon Cowell type, with added political clout, who fervently tells the youngsters how much they will be changed for the better. At the same time, there is a suggestion that Nashi's tactics in support of those in power go a whole lot further than peaceful protest, a stance underlined by early shots of someone clearly getting a serious beating - there are no prizes for guessing who is on the receiving end.

But instead of truly digging about in the background to find out exactly who Yakamenko is and what the extent of his influence, Pedersen sticks to the safe path of tracking Drokova's coming of age. Bitten by a failure at an election, she finds her journalistic career brings her increasingly into contact with liberals such as Kashin. This, coupled with Kashin's own story (also frustratingly under-explored), lead her to question her beliefs and to find out who her real friends are.

Despite some nice camerawork from Armadillo cinematographer Lars Skree - who won an award at Sundance for his trouble - there's a real staginess to scenes in which Drokova describes her feelings. This is almost certainly because these are re-enactments rather than instantaneously captured footage - which comes off as 'cheating' because there's no admission of it. Plus there's no indication whether that early scene of violence is recorded CCTV or just footage made to look that way. Some of the editing also suggests that innocent things, such as shots of Drokova looking in the mirror or on the phone, are being amped up to indicate stress by the use of snippets of conversation recorded on completely different occasions.

Though flawed, Pedersen's documentary is worth a look, if only for the insight it offers into the way in which many of Russia's young are being manipulated into unquestionable support of Putin, it's just a shame the scrutiny isn't sharper.

Reviewed on: 21 Feb 2012
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A leading light of Russia's nationalist youth movement, begins to question what they really stand for.
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Director: Lise Birk Pedersen

Starring: Oleg Kashin

Year: 2011

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: Denmark

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