DVD Release Date:
25th November 2013 (UK)
Mike Lerner, Maxim Pozdorovkin
Mariya Alyokhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova
Buy: Pussy Riot - A Punk Prayer [DVD]
“They walked into the heart of Russia and took a shit”. So comes the damning opinion of an elderly Russian lady stood outside a Moscow church. She is not alone. Surrounding her are large groups of protesters, holding banners, clutching at rosaries and collectively chastising three women who have long since been imprisoned. Opposite stand another, younger group, worried about the way the rest of the world will now perceive their nation. A protest against the protest all stemming from an original protest on the spot this face-off takes place.
On February 21st 2012 three members of the feminist punk group Pussy Riot donned their now iconic balaclava’s, entered the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and performed around 30 seconds of their number ‘It’s God’s Shit’. Security stepped in along with members of the visiting public, forcing them back into retreat. By now you’d be troubled not to have a vague understanding of what followed; public outrage, heavy-handed state intervention and Nadia, Katia and Masha now locked up inside the Putinist Russia they so vehemently protest against.
Some back-story is needed and Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin’s documentary adequately provides it, rolling through the band’s birth, ideals, and other, less news-grabbing performances. The band was formally conceived the very day Putin returned to office for at least 6 more years following his sole rival’s withdrawal of candidacy. That catalyst spawned a reaction, one unfamiliar to the nation at large. One aspect of the Pussy Riot story that Punk Prayer shines a light on is the landscape into which they launched their brand of protest art. The years of communism under Soviet reign has led to something of a cultural gap in Russia’s consciousness, leaving a country largely oblivious to Pussy Riot’s main calling cards – punk and performance art. You sense the communal outrage comes from confusion; a misunderstanding of their actions and a fear of their motives due to their ways seeming so other worldly to swathes of locals, especially those holding the Church is some high esteem.
Pussy Riot, far from being a trio of chancers armed with three chords and a job-lot of balaclava’s, is a collective infused with art and political ideals. They release call to arms video’s urging other to join their cause, write songs against Putin, feminist anthems and choose the locations for their performances carefully. The headlines came after their attack on the union between the Church and the state that forms the Russian Orthodox Church. It was a song written to be heard at large and performed at the home of the nation’s church where they mounted the sacred, male-only alter and landed three members behind bars.
As noted by Nadia’s boyfriend, the Pussy Riot case is curiously the highest profile court case Russia has witnessed for decades and A Punk Prayer provides an intriguing overview of its ins and outs. The greatest achievement is the level of access which we are treated to. The camera’s are there to take in the prosecution, defence and statements of the court case as well holding interviews with family members, fellow ‘rioters’ and providing footage of previous art projects undertaken by the incarcerated trio. The other side is represented by the Church’s supporters, those gathered to protest against the band and the cross carriers who, decked out like members of an aging biker gang, dismiss the women as ‘witches’ and ‘demons’ who would have been burned in times past.
This all leads to a greater understanding of the argument from both sides without ever really moving the genre forward or unveiling any great revelations. A rather balanced synopsis of a case that caught the world’s attention. Where the film could be accused of not going far enough is to examine aspects that are touched upon but never investigated. The prosecution lawyers who laugh at the claims of Putin’s personal involvement in the case are never questioned why the rumours persist and there is no real effort to look further into the shadowy regime that the band hold in such disdain. There is a moment too when Nadia’s father is grilled by rival supporters, genuinely fearing for his safety yet, despite multiple interviews with him this isn’t a subject breached throughout.
A flawed but fascinating take on a case likely to run and run providing an excellent entry point into the culture clashes at the heart of Russia.