Proving that when it comes to art, materials may be expensive but chutzpah is free, Russian docu “Tomorrow” pays tribute to the main players in the Voina (“war”) collective — activist pranksters whose stunts have won them fame, admiration and scads of YouTube fans, but who may face jail time soon for their efforts. Andrei Gryazev, a former ice-skating champ turned helmer, multitasks behind the camera to build an affecting, timely but scrappy,microbudget portrait of firebrands taking audacious if arguably irresponsible risks in a semi-police state. Further fest play looks assured tomorrow and beyond.
After an intriguing disclaimer that some of the events seen may or may not have actually happened, the 2010-set action starts with the protagonists — bearish Voina leader Oleg Vorotnikov (also known as “Vor,” Russian for “thief”); his feisty partner, Natalia Sokol (aka “Koza” or “goat”); and their scene-stealing 18-month-old rugrat, Kasper — purloining food and diapers from a local Moscow supermarket.
When Vorotnikov and Sokol aren’t bickering like any other young couple with a baby, they plot out their next “piece” in cahoots with their fellow collectivists, such as Leonid Nikolaev. He was recently filmed disrupting Moscow traffic by walking over a nameless oligarch’s car with a blue bucket on his head, thus spoofing the illegal use of blue sirens by the rich to circumvent traffic jams. For its next trick, the gang plans to roll one of Kasper’s balls under a police car and then flip the vehicle to retrieve it, a stunt that will obliquely make a statement about defiance and the need for grassroots action against the repressive state apparatus. Also, as Kasper demonstrates by mimicking the car-turning trick at home with a toy, it’s a lark.
The venture is successful, and by splicing in footage from local TV stations, Gryazev shows how it provokes a national reaction. Unfortunately, the police are less than pleased, and Vorotnikov is arrested. Sokol copes as best she can with Kasper while her man is incarcerated, and eventually the family is reunited, but no sooner is Vorotnikov out on bail (his bond was paid by the British artist Banksy, although curiously the pic doesn’t mention this fact) than they’re back protesting on the streets. This time, both Vorotnikov and Sokol are arrested, and a panicked little Kasper is temporarily taken into care, which may challenge audience sympathies with his parents.
Pic amusingly includes Gryazev’s footage of Voina’s most notorious project: drawing a 60-foot phallus in white paint on a St. Petersburg drawbridge. Oddly, the docu neglects to point out the weirdness of the fact that the Russian Ministry of Culture itself went on to give the Voina collective an art prize worth $15,000 for this stunt, a sign that Putin’s puppets might be trying to show the regime isn’t so oppressive after all (there’s an election coming up).
It also goes unmentioned that the protagonists are unhappy with the film, say they didn’t realize Gryazev was making so personal a feature about them, and claim the end result contains stolen footage, accusations which surfaced just as “Tomorrow” was unveiled as part of the Berlinale lineup. Pic admittedly doesn’t paint them in the most flattering light — literally, in fact, since the cruddy quality of the cheap HD format coats everything, especially the duo’s squalid apartment and motley clothes, in a Dogma-style dinginess. But only the hardest-line supporters of the current regime could fail to be impressed by the collective’s moxie and willingness to risk personal freedom for the sake of a wacky strain of politicized, Situationist silliness.