Putin’s Kiss – Movie Review

In the end, the viewer sees that life in Russia is a complicated morass of political dogma and tough ethical choices. Not completely unlike the USA.

There is a growing knowledge in the complacent West that not all is what it seems in Russia. Glasnost spawned the biggest gang controlled theft-fest since the sacking of Rome and Russia now sports some of the richest persons on the planet.

Putin ended up on top and has stayed there through a series of innovative political machinations. He is now running for the top spot once again and the odds are in his favor. At least as long as he keeps ultra-rich and politically connected Mikhail Khodorkovsky in jail.

One of the sub-machines in Putin’s combine is the youth organization Nashi. Formed to train and nurture the future Russian political elite, Nashi has developed into a tool of repression and ideological brainwashing. The group holds book burnings and specializes in occupying demonstration sites and breaking up anti-establishment publicity events.

Smells like teen spirit, with a generous dash of fascism. Nineteen-year-old Masha Drakova rose to the top of Nashi and Mr. Putin rewarded her with a prestigious youth award and the eponymous kiss; the kiss that keeps on giving.

A tireless political activist since the age of fifteen, she is full of energy, beams with optimism and has a political instinct that would put the US political machine to shame. She knows how to raise a crowd of supporters and she knows how to disperse a crowd of opponents.

One is as important as the other in the free for all that is Russian street politics. She lives with her family in a nice apartment in the Moscow suburbs and drives a nice car. A nineteen-year-old female driving a nice car in Russia is a rarity, especially when the money does not come from her family.

It is not certain she has those things now. She made a big mistake when she did what is unthinkable inside any fascist youth party: she grew a conscience. The reason for her rebirth as a thinking person was the brutal beating of reporter Oleg Kashin. Kashin won fame and enmity when he became one of the most successful critics of the make-believe democracy in Russia.

Publishing story after story about the intermixed mobster/politician cadres he became too successful for his own good. The film includes graphic security camera clips of the assault that left him hospitalizes for weeks. Some of his injuries may never heal completely.

Masha debated Oleg on national TV with a skill and precision that would make any politician envious. She has a smile like Newt Gingrich, it never goes away. Her combination of skill and optimism makes her a powerful leader among Russian youth. In spite of their differences, Masha developed a grudging admiration for Oleg. After the assault on the reporter (thinly disguised as a robbery) she started to question the morality of the legion she led.

This film is a powerful political documentary that pokes aside the curtain of secrecy surrounding the Putin regime. It is a surgical examination of Russian politics and a brilliant essay on controlling popular thought. There are lesson here for current and future political leaders around the world.

Emerging documentary film director Lise Birk Pedersen is one of the brightest stars in Denmark’s film community. This year’s Sundance jurors nominated her film for the Grand Jury Prize. Award winning producer Helle Faber is the head of Danish production company Made in Copenhagen.

A powerful documentary on the moral and ethical choices facing youth, today, audiences should reflect on their country’s political leadership as they take in this documentary. The choices are more complicated than ten years ago and getting more complicated, at a faster rate, all the time. The transformation of Masha Drakova is something that can, and does, happen to young adults in every country of the world.

At some point the light shines through no matter how many cars, houses and TV appearances the party in power showers on the golden one. It would be an earth shaking success if the people watching this film could put themselves in Masha’s place. Then they could ask themselves if they would have the guts to make the decision she made.

Like all great documentaries this film concentrates on the explicit display of the facts and holds back on the outright criticism, leaving that to the audience. In the end, the viewer sees that life in Russia is a complicated morass of political dogma and tough ethical choices. Not completely unlike the USA.

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Directed and Written by: Lise Birk Pedersen
Featuring: Masha Drakova and Oleg Kashin
Release Date: February 17, 2012
MPAA: Not Rated
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Country: Denmark / Russia
Language:  Russian
Color: Black and White

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