Published Feb 22, 2013Starting with a brief history of political change in Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Lise Birk Pedersen's Putin's Kiss sets up a story that encompasses politics, economy, ideology, philosophy and worldly disappointment. Deceptively, it seems specific to Russia's current socio-economic climate, detailing the inner-workings of the very powerful nationalistic youth organization, NASHI, but can apply to any number of social misdeeds internationally or historically.
The issue is that of collective thinking. NASHI, a youth group linked to Putin and nationalist protests, operates much like a cult, taking in the young and impressionable, or socially abject, and giving them meaning and place in exchange for advocacy and blind faith. It offers solace in the face of annihilation anxiety, giving a false sense of certainty where doubt normally lies (something that would surely make Bertrand Russell snicker).
Pedersen's thrilling, smartly crafted documentary juxtaposes the stories of Masha Drokova, a 16-year-old NASHI spokesperson, and the outspoken journalist Oleg Kashin, a known critic of Putin's regime. While Masha champions the sense of community and opportunity the group brings to youth, often regurgitating their political platforms on talk shows and rallies, Kashin discusses how such an organization cripples the thoughts and potential of youth, indoctrinating them into complacent acceptance and suppressing their core discernment.
But as Pedersen's doc progresses, the story becomes even more complicated with disturbingly fascist NASHI members defecating on cars and committing violent acts in the name of political ubiquity. As horrifying twists occur throughout the story, the nature of perception and ideological framework defining one's peer group pops up, especially when Masha starts socializing with journalists that see NASHI as an oppressive cult that supports a totalitarian government that uses force to silence those that seek equal democratic voice.
If there is any fault in Pedersen's riveting film, it's that the perspective is quite obviously not pro-Putin or NASHI. But her narrative is more interested in the nature of political oppression and the dangers of enforcing a collective ideological framework.
Throughout history, all wars and conflict have stemmed from the lack of individual accountability and reason that comes from assimilative groups, whether they be religious, political or social. What's fascinating is that the overall human thought seems to be that there's a "right" way to view the world and politics, leading to cyclic variations on the same theme, rather than admitting that perhaps it might be better if everyone merely accepted that every living creature dies alone and that certainty is only for fools and fanatics.
Though none of Pedersen's subjects seems to understand the futility in trying to force shared perception, the film itself has an idea of how terrifying it is to socialize people to feel empowered by fitting in. It's rare that a documentary manages to work on so many levels, taking a compelling story unto itself and applying it to Russia's illusory democracy and the greater human experience. There's even a touching coming-of-age story within, as young Masha starts to see that the world isn't quite as simple as she once perceived it to be. (Monday Productions)