Sarajevo Film Festival 2024

Russia inside

YOUTH / For many young Russians, anyone older than 30 is a cunt.

In times when ideological block-thinking celebrates its triumphs, and whole populations are reduced to enemies or friends, aggressors or resistant friends, films that offer a more detailed view behind the gates on daily life questions and problems of all the people not-in-focus are precious contributions. In How to Save a Dead Friend, Marusya Syroechkovskaya takes a camera in her hand and starts to film her life «in the darkness». She documents up from the beginning the self-destructive ambience of common life. At the age of 14, she lost some friends around her through suicide. Her comment: «When anyone says Russia’s exclusively for Russian, I think bullshit. Everyone knows Russia’s for the depressed».

How to Save a Dead Friend, a film by Marusya Syroechkovskaya
How to Save a Dead Friend, a film by Marusya Syroechkovskaya

Make no mistake

From the beginning, she makes no mistake in showing where the story goes. The first sequences show dull serial house architectures, while the following sequence is already the funeral of her first love. Still, she wants to document how everything started and how it finished. Maybe this is her will to document, take a step back, and save her own life.

She flows from concert to party to home drinking, and always drugs are around, all kinds of drugs in different mixtures. She listed them one time as nearly 20 different ones.

The voices she captures tell her: there is no work, no money, just survival and the wish to escape to the inside door. An overdose is the best way to get out. Not to feel anything is the best we can expect. In consequence, death is a not feared solution. We can also find the mental ground to explain national soldiers’ atrocities here. It should be reminded that Nazi atrocities, the apocalyptic challenge of a final victory, couldn’t be substantially understood by ignoring Friedrich Nietzsche’s analysis of the upcoming nihilism as a consequence of the breakdown of religious orientations systems. The last remaining «valour» to live and die for was the motherland, the German Reich. Dying in a Wagnerian apocalyptic movement is the better option, as an unsupportable life without sense. The same works for soldiers, partly just paid for killing, partly just set on drugs, mostly alcohol, to be ready for complete destruction because there is nothing to live for back home.

An overdose is the best way to get out.


A turning point on her way down is the meeting with Kimi, who himself is also a helpless self-destroyer, but sensitive and able to reflect and estimate possible changes to his destiny. At least the two youngsters spend some happy time together, even get married, save some moments of tenderness and breathing quietly.

For Kimi, self-determination is the only valour still active. He likes Alexander the Great, the man without limitation. But his self-determination is limited to his body and what he can do with it, for example, a life-risking jump from a bridge. He feels tenderness for cats. Having a cat together with Marusya replaces a possible child.

Marusya Syroechkovskaya got, surprisingly, in the first separation from Kimi, while still quite young, relocation and new life in Brooklyn. Her film doesn’t give a hint of how this was made possible. She decided to have a healthy life there, but she felt nostalgia for her home. She decided to return and film her «love story» up to the end. Evidently, her cinematographic style can only be fragmented and amateurish. Still, she captures the intimacy of daily life, the destiny of a mother who suffered too much to give space to her pain, and Kimi’s brother. He all along kept his lifestyle along the borderline of a final disappearance. Marusya captures the corporal details, the destructive transformation as a consequence of the drug consumption, like losing teeth and skin hardening, which persists, even if Kimi tried to get help from therapy, but ultimately not seriously, as it was just one more drug for free.

Music like Joy Division and some «heroes» like Ian Curtis, who hung himself aged 23, are orientation sets. The rule: Everybody who is older than 30 is a cunt.

The only moments of collective joy documented by Marusya are those of the street enthusiasm on the occasion of an international football success. She didn’t mind omitting the New-Year TV speeches, for example, in 2013, when Putin celebrated Russia and requested people’s «heartfelt, noble feelings toward our motherland, development, and advancement of its 1000-year-long history». Again, the emphatic programming of a Great-Russia ideology still works to establish the state dictator on burned ground. As well known, an enemy outside is the best way to establish a dictatorship inside. The instrument is the «motherland ideology. A rotten inside needs something to stand up for to avoid final implosion.

How to Save a Dead Friend, a film by Marusya Syroechkovskaya
How to Save a Dead Friend, a film by Marusya Syroechkovskaya

Selective solidarity

Facing the extraordinary international solidarity against the massacres in Ukraine, we only regret that the same solidarity hadn’t been applied to protecting people in Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, and Iraq recently. But this was US-led wars. Only in Iraq did at least 500,000 die by US bombings. And there were no sanctions at all. Will the international community learn from now to establish a peaceful global society through sanctions equally beyond commercial interests? Otherwise, autocracies will surely find the kind of legitimisation to sell to their people to transform them into «defenders».

In the last images, Marusya Syroechkovskaya includes a wonderful text by Kimi, a kind of love declaration in which the hope of a better future is expressed. Aesthetically she counterpoints the rudeness of the living ambiences with a horizontal doubling mirror effect, projecting the sky as a ground. The night shot of the buildings enhanced their flying, liberated from gravity in a future landscape, a fragment of hope, and a way to save a dead friend.

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Dieter Wieczorek
Dieter Wieczorek
Wieczorek is a film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

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