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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
The Kiss from Mr. Goldfinger, Pretty Girl, Is Cold
by Donald Levit

The “kiss” of Sundance-selected Putin’s Kiss comes early, a European hug and mutual buss on the cheek and, like Nashi, is little known outside Russia. Nashi, “Ours,” the not pro-democratic Youth Democratic Anti-Fascist Movement, has not received foreign coverage, either, and indeed is keeping a low profile leading up to March elections.

The eighty-five-minute nonfiction, however, offers a sobering portrait of the world’s troubled resurgent largest country, in particular of its pliable rising generation that has come up after the fall of Communism and, as seen here, is divided into those advocating liberal freedoms and others close to right-wing skinhead nationalists.

Speaking afterwards with Sasha de Vogel, Danish first-feature director Lise Birk Pedersen disclosed that central Masha Drokova was only “fifty-fifty [after viewing] this film which is difficult for her, too much to the liberal side.” Though she has left the rah-rah movement, she fears it may damage her career and remains loyal to the strongman Prime Minister as well as to Vasily Yakemenko, the group’s former leader who still pulls its strings as head of the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs.

Along with filmed gatherings in restaurant-bars and interviews, most prominently with Masha and her friend and polar opposite anti-government journalist-blogger Oleg Kashin, there is archival footage so convenient in its content that some have mistakenly believed it staged or recreated. This goes not only for National Unity Day stomping on opposition placard likenesses, but also scenes of ultras defecating on automobile windshields and engines and, near the beginning and explained later, black-and-white surveillance video of two toughs pummeling and kicking someone.

Short but athletic, charismatic and arrogant -- like Putin -- Yakemenko does not recoil from Hitler Youth comparisons, asserting rather that the movement incorporates the best of that Nazi fount and China’s enforcer Red Guards. Viewers may also see suggestions of our well-scrubbed evangelical right, as in the flag-waving “Go, Russia, Go!”-chanting, outdoorsy healthy 2009 Nashi summer camps.

The organization does have its public civic-minded main wing, Masha among them. There are anti-alcoholism and –prostitution programs as well as others to, for instance, stop the sale of food beyond sell-by dates. Technically legal tactics, on the other hand, are not always ethically or morally so clear. And then there is the carefully underpublicized sector, called the Steel, whose Anton Smirnov backs off after initially speaking freely and proudly to the camera, as in outlining the method of preempting protests by arriving earlier and occupying spaces.

Masha’s personality is discussed by Kashin and shown in talks with her sister Vika and friend Jenya but mainly is revealed in her own words. She is entrepreneurial-oriented and conservative. She endorses destroying a political book which contains homosexuality but happens to have left before a birthday-party burning of a copy (the film leaves a false impression of mass book-burnings). At fifteen she is brought to the capital, rises as spokesperson poster-girl and is given an apartment, new car and scholarship to university. The Nashi leader’s rebukes for interrupting his and his wife’s nap and for moving up a meeting by a half-hour do not dent her slavish loyalty, for which in her teens she is rewarded with her own TV talk show, where she first meets Kashin and others whose politics diverge from hers.

She has escaped the drudgery and unemployment of a suburb. Not so permanently blessed are the thirty thousand young people given cash and bussed into Moscow for rallies (as happens elsewhere, too, as with ETA “demos” in Basque Country). Orchestrated from above in the new Russia where apathy is on the upswing, such support movements are government hedge against a homegrown Ukrainian Orange Revolution or a Georgian backlash. The Kremlin has just switched the directors of radio Ekho Moskvy, indicative of its control of media, and the film indicates its slander campaigns against and physical intimidation of opposition, carried out by “persons unknown.”

Masha herself falters, not in beliefs or steadfastness, but in her failed reelection bid within Nashi. Suspect on account of her new liberal friends, and anxious to pursue an independent career, she worries that her new trajectory will be impeded by those who view her as apostate. Like unsettled Russia, she is part fierce nationalist and part individual on her life’s path.

(Released by Kino Lorber; not rated by MPAA.)

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