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Sundance 2013 spotlight review: Pussy Riot - A Punk Prayer

By Greg Ptacek Jan 25, 2013, 22:00 GMT

Sundance 2013 spotlight review: Pussy Riot - A Punk Prayer

A supporter of the feminist punk group \'Pussy Riot\' stands with poster in front of the Moscow city court in Moscow, Russia, 14 March 2012.EPA/SERGEI ILNITSKY

Filmmakers Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin were the breakout Indie stars at the 2013 Sundance festival with their documentary "Pussy Riot - A Punk Prayer."

The most shocking aspect of this documentary by directors Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin is not the girl band’s music or even their antics, all of it derivative of the Eighties punk scenes in the UK and USA.

This is far more disruptive: For playing 30 seconds unannounced at a cathedral in Moscow, three members of this group – more collective art project than a real band – are sentenced to three years in prison, and the silence from their fellow Russians about this travesty of justice is deafening.

Supporters of Russian girrrrrrl group Pussy Riot, subject of a documentary
bought by HBO during the Sundance Film Festival, make themselves known outside the historic Egyptian Theater in Park City, following a screening there on Thursday. Photo by Greg Ptacek for Monsters and Critics

Supporters of Russian girrrrrrl group Pussy Riot, subject of a documentary bought by HBO during the Sundance Film Festival, make themselves known outside the historic Egyptian Theater in Park City, following a screening there on Thursday. Photo by Greg Ptacek for Monsters and Critics

 

If that sounds eerily familiar, recall that in the 1930s Stalin stamped out the last gasp of socialist democratic values in the Soviet Communist Party through a series of mock trials prosecuting the leaders of the rival Troskyite faction, all in name of state security.

Fast forward 80 years or so and Pussy Riot posse are charged with violating article 2331, or is it 3213? Of course, it doesn’t matter because everyone in Russia knows the real reason they are shipped off to a penal gulag.

The band’s protests about the unholy alliance between church and state (the Russian Orthodox church and the vampirish Putin regime that simply will not die) was beginning to attract international attention.

Like most despots, Putin has a tin ear for these kinds of things, and the irony is that by putting three young women artists – one of whom has a toddler at home – on trial as “enemies of the state,” their cause celebre has attracted far more global awareness of the Kafkaesque nature of contemporary Russian politics than if the girls had just been given a slap on the wrist.

The film is neither polished or even very deep. We never get a sense of how Pussy Riot fits into the whole opposition movement there and specifically the artists engaged in agitprop and on the punk scene. The documentary has a raw, unfinished, first-cut feel about it, which, ultimately may be fitting as it reflects not only Pussy Riot’s music but Russian democracy itself.

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