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Friday, April 26, 2013

Sean Kelly

Hot Docs 2013: My Thoughts on Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer

Pussy_Riot

It would be understandable if someone assumed that Russia was better place, more than two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union.  However, when Vladimir Putin once again became president of Russia after a change in the law removing term limits, you have to wonder if Russia just exchanged communism for an ultra right wing dictatorship.  This is where the punk rock activists Pussy Riot come into play.  Formed shortly after Putin resumed the presidency, Pussy Riot are a group of feminists, who don multi-coloured balaclavas and perform politically motivated punk rock songs in public places in Moscow.  One day Pussy Riot chose to perform in the Moscow cathedral to protest the mixing of state and religion.  It turned out to be the excuse the authorities need to arrest, Nadia, Masha, and Katia – three of the main members of Pussy Riot – and put them on trial.  The case would go on to receive worldwide attention and public support.

I have to admit that I am not the biggest fan of activism and believe that there are better ways to make your opinion heard than public disruptions.  That said, throughout the course of the film, you really get to sympathize with why Pussy Riot do what they do.  While Valdimir Putin is still technically an elected president, the fact that he has removed the limit for how many times he can be re-elected has made him one step closer to becoming a dictator.  Then there’s issue of the church and it control over the Russian government.

Religion in Russia is actually quite complicated, since religious practices were outright banned in Russia in 1917, only to be reinstated after the fall of the Soviet Union.  As such, there are many people in the Russian public, who are happy to have the right to practice religion.  However, the Russian orthodox church leaders have very old-fashioned conservative viewpoints and at one point they say that, Pussy Riot member, Nadia is a “demon with a brain” and she “would have been hanged if this one the 16th century.”  Even though I consider myself to be a religious person, I was shocked and appalled by the thought of these religious leaders, who look more like bikers than priests.

Much of the second half of the film is spent on the trial of Nadia, Masha, and Katia, while also providing background information on how each got their start in activism.  The trial was the main highlight of the film for me, since it revealed how broken the judicial system in Russia is, with the defendants being “guilty until proven innocent.”  There is also the belief by some that Pussy Riot caused irreparable damage to Liberals in Russia, since they may be viewed fascists as a result of their actions.  At the same time, there was also growing support for Pussy Riot, especially from celebrities such as Yoko Ono and Madonna.  I also thought that it was great that the cameras were there to capture the drama in the courtroom and I have to say that Nadia’s closing statement is probably the most heartfelt and wrenching moment of the film.

Overall, I have to say that, as of this writing, Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer is the film to beat at this year’s Hot Docs film festival.  Whether or not you agree with Pussy Riot’s politics or methods, it is a very excellent examination of the current state of Russia’s political situation and judicial system.  The fact that Russia is quite possibly worse post-communism is definitely a scary thought to consider.

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Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).