Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

"This film does not claim to be historically accurate. Some of the events depicted may or may not have happened."

Following this text, we see a group of people shoplifting goods from a St Petersburg supermarket and evading capture. Next we see them going through a skip in search of clothes and toys for their infant Kasper. Then they attempt to tip over a parked car chosen at random. When they fail, they piss on the car. Later, back at their squat, a conversation makes it clear that the car-tipping is a rehearsal for what one of them calls "a contemporary art action".

Copy picture

Perhaps it will be political in nature – after all, we have also seen them insert chewing gum into the door lock of a post office dedicated to Putin. Afterwards, they successfully tip another car, again chosen at random, and tear a Militia Day banner down. Finally the day comes for their big action, in which they film themselves tipping a police car outside the State Russian Museum. This incident, and their video, make it onto the television news.

To the casual viewer, all this might appear to be a transgressive filmic prank akin to Harmony Korine's sociopathy-celebrating pseudo-documentary Trash Humpers (2009) – but in fact, filmmaker Andrey Gryazov is following Kasper's parents Oleg 'Vor' Vorotnikov and Natalia 'Koza' Sokol, as well as Leonid Nikolaev and others who, as the anarchist art collective Voina (or 'War'), renounce any use of money and stage performance pieces in protest against the State's apparatuses.

One of their actions – seen at the end of Gryazov's Tomorrow even though it actually preceded the car-tipping incident by several months – involved painting a giant penis on the Liteiny drawbridge besides the St Petersburg Federal Security Bureau headquarters, and would earn the group a State prize for Innovation in the Visual Arts from the Ministry of Culture. Vorotnikov, the group's founder, has been in constant trouble with the law, while two members of Voina's Moscow faction, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, would controversially be arrested and sentenced in 2012 for 'hooliganism motivated by religious hatred' after singing anti-Putin songs in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour under the banner of the punk-rock collective Pussy Riot.

Unfortunately, all this background context is missing from Gryazev's film which, in focusing so myopically on the group's acts of clownish larceny and vandalism, makes it very difficult to sympathise with them, or to understand their cause. Natalia's subsequent claymation re-enactment of the police car eversion seems far more artful than the actual, more wilfully destructive event that it reconstructs, while footage of Natalia being seized by police at a public demonstration and separated from Kasper is neutered of its impact in the absence of any explanation as to the nature of the protest or the reason for her arrest.

This brings us back to the film's disingenuous opening disclaimer, which may have been intended as an arch deconstruction of the bridge between performance and truth, but which instead serves to distract viewers from the realities underlying Voina's aggressive, arbitrary-seeming antics. When a journalist is so embedded, a bit of historical accuracy and broader perspective might actually have helped.

Reviewed on: 18 Nov 2012
Share this with others on...
Documentary about Russian artists' group Voina.
Amazon link

Director: Andrey Gryazev

Writer: Andrei Gryazev

Starring: Natalia Sokol, Kasper Vorotnikov, Oleg Vorotnikov, Leonid Nikolaev

Year: 2012

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Russian Federation


BIFF 2012
London 2012

Search database:

If you like this, try:

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Trash Humpers