The Putin Youth

02/15/2012 4:00 AM |

Putin’s Kiss
Directed by Lise Birk Pedersen

Russia has a youth fetish, and it may be scarier than you think. In her new documentary, Putin’s Kiss, Danish filmmaker Lise Birk Pedersen tells the story of Masha Drokova, a 19-year-old member of Putin’s youth movement, Nashi. Nashi (“Ours”) calls itself a democratic, anti-fascist front, though it is not clear what forms of present-day “fascism” it supposedly fights. To expose the movement’s dark side, Pedersen interviews opposition journalist Oleg Kashin, who bashes Nashi as an above-the-law brainwashing machine. Undercover cameras show young people defecating on top of the opposition leaders’ cars (what Kashin calls sarcastically Nashi’s “anal fixation”). But mostly, Nashi is a well-oiled machine. Its organizers wreck opposition rallies, by filling streets with their own pro-regime troops.

Pedersen succeeds in getting a close glimpse of how the Russian Facebook generation views its country’s political wars: as one big reality show. Nashi rallies are large-scale media events. Its actions, such as displaying “shame posters” of Russia’s enemies (i.e. opposition journalists and human rights activists), are highly staged, theatrical premiers. Young people like Masha interpret the Nashi’s actions for the cameras and divulge them via the social media. At one point, a young organizer running for commissar proposes a political campaign consisting of comic books to expose Russia’s “anti-heroes.” Somewhat eerily, this post-1989 generation seems equally at home with technology, consumer goods and popular culture, as with an anti-western, nationalist ideology, preaching abnegation and self-sacrifice.

To Masha’s credit, she comes to question the movement’s authoritarianism. When she gets closer to liberal journalists, including Kashin, her allegiances to Nashi are tested. In the end, Masha cannot bring herself to whole-heartedly condemn the movement that gave her an apartment in Moscow, a Mercedes, and a scholarship; but when Kashin’s criticism of Nashi results in a savage attack on his life, she joins the picketers, demanding that his attackers be punished.

Putin’s Kiss is Pedersen’s first feature documentary. While at times the film loses its political bite, by sticking too close to Masha’s personal story, it does deliver a forceful message: the fight for the young Russians’ hearts and minds is far from over. As of 2007, Nashi reportedly had only 120,000 members, but its zealous search for enemies and “die for Russia” slogans make for a creepy if for now fringy trend.

Opens February 17 at Cinema Village