Like Ma, this film was a little challenging to enjoy as it made no concessions for the knowledge-base, or lack of it in my case, of its viewers. Made entirely of found footage with no narration or explanation, we watch the events unfolding in Leningrad in 1991 as the Soviet Union collapses.
I know now that in August 1991, a coup d’état, known as the Putsch, led by hard core communists failed to topple the government and, instead, brought about the end of Soviet rule. While it was happening, Gorbachev was detained and the state-run media was taken over, with Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake endlessly broadcast instead of news. The population congregated in the streets to protest.
As a capsule of time, the film’s black and white footage is interesting. The camera weaves through crowds of thousands who have flocked to the central square, uncertain as to what the future holds. We hear official speakers, broadcasts, the occasional conversation, shouted slogans and Tchaikovsky. We see placards against fascism and so many faces of young and old, furtively glancing as the camera passes, some waving, smiling, self-consciously adjusting their hair. Only 25 years ago but it seems like another world.
The promotional material for this film says it poses some questions: “What was the driving force behind the crowds on the Palace Square in Leningrad? What exactly are we witnessing: the collapse or the regime or its creative re-branding? Who are these people looking at the camera: victors or victims? ” Providing the footage only with no personal accounts, viewpoints, context nor explanation, this film fails to provide any answers.
Bechdel test – fail