PUSSY RIOT: A PUNK PRAYER

★★★

ART v POLITICS

THEATRICAL REVIEW
By Daniel Lammin
7th October 2013

For Australian artists, the idea of being censored or imprisoned for your artistic expression is an abhorrent one, the kind of act that threatens the role of art in a society and alters a country’s view of art itself. When Russian political punk band Pussy Riot was arrested in 2012 for a protest performance at a popular church, the international community responded with so much outrage that the facts of the case became muddied in hysteria. Thankfully, filmmakers Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin have crafted a tight and powerful examination of the case with ‘Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer’.

At the heart of the documentary are the three members of the band who were arrested following the Punk Prayer performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow: Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich. The three young women were charged with hooliganism for performing on the altar of the church in an attempt to highlight the corrupt relationship between church and state following the reinstatement of President Vladimir Putin. For both the women and the Orthodox Church, this event became indicative of the problems facing Russia. For Pussy Riot, it was a corrupt government leading an already fragile country closer to destruction. For the Church, it was the desecration of a building and a religion that had been violently denied to them during the Soviet Era and one that many had died to protect.

SWITCH: 'PUSSY RIOT: A PUNK PRAYER' TRAILER

Nothing about the Pussy Riot case is black-and-white, which works very much in the film’s favour. Rather than rehashing information we already know, ‘A Punk Prayer’ offers a surprisingly balanced and objective perspective on the case and those involved. Some facts are without refute; the trial of the three women is clearly inadequate, and their logical and well-constructed arguments fall on deaf ears. However, rather than simply siding with the band and its politics, the film gives just as much voice to those in support of their imprisonment. As a piece of filmmaking, ‘A Punk’s Prayer’ doesn’t have the spit-and-polish of the likes of ‘We Steal Secrets’ or ‘The Imposter’, but Lerner and Pozdorovkin have constructed a lean, snappy documentary, employing talking head interviews, archival footage and fascinating guerrilla footage captured during the arrest and trial. They also make great use of one of the most important elements in the Pussy Riot case, which is the internet. Without it, these women would not have found each other, their politics wouldn’t have garnered attention and, most importantly, the international outcry and the ‘Free Pussy Riot’ movement would never have taken off. Rather than bypass or ignore the online side of the story, the film embraces it as an historical document which, while not as thrillingly represented as in ‘We Steal Secrets’, sticks with the simple, clean and slick visual look of the film. It might not be particularly cinematic, but that doesn’t make it any less gripping.

At its heart, the film is about Russia itself, a country still recovering from its dark Soviet past, trying to assert for itself what Russia actually is.

In the end, though, ‘Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer’ isn’t really about this rag-tag political punk band with their rainbow knitted balaclavas. At its heart, the film is about Russia itself, a country still recovering from its dark Soviet past, trying to assert for itself what Russia actually is. If this documentary shows anything, it’s that Russia stands on a precipice, and considering the radical and horrifying political turn the country has taken in the past few months, ‘Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer’ now has a more chilling subtext, and makes the fight of this group of artists, and these three women in particular, all the more powerful.

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