FRIDAY, MAR. 9:
Putin’s Kiss ****
Director: Julia Leigh.
Stars: Oleg Kashin (journalist), Masha Drokova (former pro-Kremlin Nashi spokeswoman)
Country: Denmark, 2012
Running Time: 85 mins
A timely examination of the realities of President Vladimir Putin’s Russian democracy.
Timely because this documentary will be screened at the Bermuda International Film Festival just after Putin has been elected for a third term, amid accusations of election fraud.
This week Russian police arrested hundreds of people at opposition rallies in Moscow and St Petersburg following Sunday’s election.
Although police have released many of the protesters, international bodies such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have urged the authorities to investigate claims of election fraud.
Putin’s Kiss won the 2012 Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Documentary Cinematography Award, and anyone interested in Russian politics will enjoy this film.
As well as being a grainy portrait of the political landscape it follows a young pro-Putin activist’s rite of passage, from idolization to growing disillusionment.
The documentary spans four years in the life of Masha Drokova, a teenage spokesperson and poster girl for the pro-United Russia youth organization, Nashi (Ours).
Its title refers to her famously kissing Putin on the cheek when he awarded her a Medal of Honour at the age of 19, in 2007.
Initially we meet her as a wide-eyed teenager. She idolizes Putin as a “very strong, charismatic and intelligent man”, a hero to lead her generation forward.
She soon rises through the ranks of Nashi to become the head of its Moscow headquarters. Along the way she earns the trappings of a young celebrity — her own apartment, car, a university education and her own TV chat show.
We are also introduced to Oleg Kashin, an independent journalist who is critical of the government.
He tells the viewer: “I want to tell you the story about modern Russia”.
The reality of Putin’s democracy, says Mr Kashin, is that this charismatic leader rules with an authoritarian fist, controlling all political activity.
And Nashi — which describes itself as a ‘Youth Democratic Anti-Fascist Movement’ — only serves to “cripple young people’s morality”.
Founded by politician Vasily Yakemenko, Nashi emerges as a sinister propaganda machine, likened to the Hitler Youth.
Thousands of young people are bussed into Moscow to take part in pro-Putin rallies and marches.
Footage of one ‘Russian March’ on a Day of National Unity sees them marching in formation holding up placards of the ‘enemies of Russia’ — journalists and human rights activists.
This documentary also features an interview with Anton Smirnov, a Nashi commissar, in which he admits he is one of 20 activists who monitor opposition activities, organizing Nashi occupations of city squares to thwart anti-government demonstrations.
Putin’s Kiss also interviews opposition politicians. Ilya Yashin says he suspects Nashi followers may be responsible for defecating on his car.
Amid the political intrigue, we follow Ms Drokova’s growing disenchantment with her raison d’etre.
As her friendships with Mr Kashin and a group of liberal journalists grow, so does her questioning of the political provocations around her.
When Mr Kashin is attacked by unknown assailants in the night she is forced to examine her own morality against her politics.