The thick of it

    RUSSIA: The youthful energy and optimism of Russia’s young opposition activists comes up against the cruel boundaries of an uncaring state

    What it lacks in formal structure and character arcs, Alexandra Dalsbaek’s debut feature documentary, We Are Russia makes up for in sheer energy and immediacy.

    Opening with scenes shot from within the frightening scrum of police confronting a Moscow pro-democracy demonstration, it swiftly establishes its territory: this is a film from the frontlines of Russia’s youthful opposition to the cynicism and corruption of a Russian state-dominated now for more than two decades by one man – Vladimir Putin.

    «Putin thief! Putin thief! Putin thief,» the youngsters shout as robocop riot police wade in with no regard for cracked skulls and crushed hands and feet.

    We Are Russia, a film by Alexandra Dalsbaek
    We Are Russia, a film by Alexandra Dalsbaek

    Inside HQ

    Dalsbaek, a young French woman of Russian origin, is always in the thick of it. Her camera is an extension of her eyes as she unflinching films angry confrontations between young activists and the police uniformed Cossacks random bile-filled passers-by. There is humour here too: a young woman chants «Russia without Putin» inches away from an elderly woman responding with «Putin is our president.» Eventually, the two smile and hug.

    There is little formal structure or narrative here, Dalsbaek – whom I know and have worked with – follows a group of three young people who are members of Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation in the months leading up to the March 2018 presidential election – a contest Navalny hopes to compete in before the Kremlin predictably nixes his candidature.

    Her camera is an extension of her eyes as she unflinching films angry confrontations between young activists and the police uniformed Cossacks…

    If you know little or nothing about Russian politics, We Are Russia offers scant support in understanding what is going on; even those with a long familiarity with the politics and the place may find it hard to follow. When Navalny’s HQ is occupied and barricaded from within by unknown men (who turn out to be masked police officers) and an overnight caretaker is kidnapped, Dalsbaek chooses to go with the confusion on the ground as events unfold. Some clarity is gained when the caretaker turns up in police custody, escorted into court, where he is charged with disobeying police orders (though he says he did not know who the intruders were and that they set about beating him violently without a word) and fined the equivalent of €7.

    The occasional onscreen comment, giving some guidance about Navalny’s campaign progress, flash up and are gone so fast that slower readers will . . .

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    Nick Holdsworth
    Our regular critic. Journalist, writer, author. Works mostly from Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.
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