×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Putin’s Kiss

Proving it pays to stick with a docu subject for the long haul, "Putin's Kiss" tracks four years in the life of a firebrand member of Russia's ultranationalist Nashi movement who eventually has a Damascene conversion of sorts.

With:
With: Masha Drokova, Oleg Kashin, Irina Drokova, Aleksandr Drokov, Valentina Kulneva, Victor Kulnev, Jenya Shevchenko, Viktoria Drokova, Ilya Yashin, Ilya Azar, Vasily Yakemenko, Gleb Kraynik, Sergey Mikaev, Anton Smirnov, Oleg Sokolov, Shushkevich Vitaly, Liza Menschikova, Evgeniya Milova. (Russian dialogue)

Proving it pays to stick with a docu subject for the long haul, “Putin’s Kiss” tracks four years in the life of a firebrand member of Russia’s ultranationalist Nashi movement who eventually has a Damascene conversion of sorts. Danish helmer Lise Birk Pedersen’s debut feature has structural flaws, and auds might wonder how much the presence of her crew affected some of the events recorded, but the pic still tells a riveting story about contempo Russia’s darkest side. Since its IDFA premiere, the docu has been kissed with Sundance selection, and should travel far, especially in the wake of growing social unrest after Russia’s recent election.

Born in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell, Masha Drokova was drawn as a teenager to Nashi, a cult-of-personality youth movement started by Vasily Yakemenko in 2005 that pledges unswerving support for President Vladimir Putin and all his policies. Although nominally “anti-fascist” and pledged to organizing nonviolent protest marches and the like, the organization not so covertly promulgates racist views and encourages its members (estimated to number around 120,000) to harass and attack “enemies of the state,” such as journalists who have criticized Putin’s regime or rival political parties. Members of Nashi have been linked to brutal attacks on such enemies.

Drokova achieved nationwide fame for being filmed kissing Putin at a rally, and quickly ascended the ranks of Nashi, becoming a spokesperson for what some have likened to the Hitler Youth movement. Photogenic and seemingly rational, she was willing to engage in TV debates with anti-Putinists, such as journalist Oleg Kashin, in order to defend her views and encourage more recruits.

But when she loses an internal election for Nashi’s leadership, Drokova begins to have doubts about her commitment to Nashi, and is cruelly belittled by Vasily Yakemenko (now promoted to Putin’s Minister of Youth) at a rally, a sequence helmer Pedersen was uncannily lucky to catch oncamera. Drokova starts to build tentative friendships with Nashi critics, although she insists on defending the organization. However, when Kashin is brutally beaten by “unknown perpetrators,” Masha starts to have a genuine change of heart.

Pic’s strongest suit is that its subjects are all such strong, vivid characters, particularly Drokova, who in the early going, recalls Reese Witherspoon’s Tracy Flick from “Election” with her prim schoolgirl outfits and ruthless ambition. But by the end, she becomes more admirable as she sticks to her principles no matter the cost. Still, some might have doubts about her sincerity, especially since scenes in which she has heart-to-heart talks with two of her sisters seem so obviously staged for the docu’s benefit. Indeed, there’s something a little too good to be true about the narrative’s neat trajectory.

Kiss” could benefit by having some rough edges smoothed out, such as the clumsy way it foreshadows that something awful happened to Kashin, but then takes half an hour to reveal what it was. Otherwise, tech credits are OK, if a bit cheesy in a smallscreen sort of way. It will be interesting to see whether the pic is shown on Russian turf at all, especially since the recent docu “Khodorkovsky” (about someone Nashi would certainly describe as an “enemy of the state”) has been confined to just one cinema in Moscow.

Putin's Kiss

Denmark

Production: A Monday Prod. production in association with Made in Copenhagen, in co-production with DR, ITVS Intl., with the support of the Danish Film Institute, Nordic Film & TV Fund, NRK, UR, YLE, Yes-DBS, VPRO. (International sales: DR Intl., Copenhagen.) Produced by Helle Faber. Executive producer, Martin Dalgaard. Directed by Lise Birk Pedersen.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W, HD), Lars Skree; editors, Janus Billeskov Jansen, Steen Johannessen; music, Tobias Hylander; music supervisor, Peter Albrechtsen; sound designer, Peter Albrechtsen; second unit camera, Constantin Postnikov, Maxim Chernyaev, Dmitri Rudakov; Reviewed at Intl. Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (competing), Nov, 20, 2011. (Also in Sundance Film Festival -- World Cinema, competing.) Running time: 84 MIN.

With: With: Masha Drokova, Oleg Kashin, Irina Drokova, Aleksandr Drokov, Valentina Kulneva, Victor Kulnev, Jenya Shevchenko, Viktoria Drokova, Ilya Yashin, Ilya Azar, Vasily Yakemenko, Gleb Kraynik, Sergey Mikaev, Anton Smirnov, Oleg Sokolov, Shushkevich Vitaly, Liza Menschikova, Evgeniya Milova. (Russian dialogue)

More Film

  • Brie Larson

    Brie Larson on Diversity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: 'We Gotta Move Faster'

    While Brie Larson is thrilled over the success of the female-led “Captain Marvel,” the actress wants more diversity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Larson sat down with Variety’s Marc Malkin for the first episode of Variety and iHeartMedia’s new film podcast, “The Big Ticket.” “I’m happy to be on the forefront of the normalization of [...]

  • Mammoth Films Festival to Open With

    'In Fabric' to Open Mammoth Lakes Film Festival

    Director Peter Strickland’s “In Fabric” starring “Game of Thrones” star Gwendoline Christie is set to open the fifth Mammoth Lakes Film Festival, the organization has announced today along with their film lineup. The festival in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., will take place May 22-26 and feature several films’ U.S. debuts. In addition to the narrative feature [...]

  • Kristen Stewart'JT LeRoy' Film Premiere, Arrivals,

    Kristen Stewart: 'Charlie's Angels' Reboot Is 'Woke' but Still 'Funny and Weird'

    “Charlie’s Angels” has made the jump to 2019. Kristen Stewart, who stars in the Elizabeth Banks-directed reboot as one of the Angels, says the classic ’70s franchise has been updated to modern times without losing its pulpy action. “At one point I think we said it was woke and grounded, and everyone was like, ‘Wait, [...]

  • Calamity Jane

    Indie Sales Acquires Remi Chayé's Female-Driven Animated Feature 'Calamity' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Paris-based company Indie Sales (“My Life as a Zucchini”) has acquired Rémi Chayé’s animated film “Calamity – The Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary,” the French helmer’s follow up to his critically acclaimed feature debut “Long Way North.” “Calamity – The Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary” tells the story of the 12-year-old Martha Jane who must [...]

  • Scarlett Johansson on 2020 Election, Avengers

    Scarlett Johansson on Running for Office: 'Maybe at Some Point'

    President Scarlett Johansson, anyone? While she may not be running for office at the moment, Johansson says a campaign may be in her future. “Maybe some time in the future,” she says when asked if her political activism has inspired her own aspirations. “I think the greatest way to effect change is in local politics. [...]

  • Circus of Books

    Netflix Acquires Tribeca Doc 'Circus of Books,' Exec Produced by Ryan Murphy (EXCLUSIVE)

    Netflix has acquired worldwide rights to the documentary “Circus of Books” ahead of its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. Rachel Mason wrote and directed the pic, and also produced it along with Kathryn Robson, Cynthia Childs, Camilla Hall and Adam Baron. Ryan Murphy, Josh Braun, John Battsek, Rhianon Jones and Gerald Herman executive produced. [...]

  • Santa Fe Studios Netflix

    Santa Fe Studios Competes With Other New Mexico Stages for Streaming Business

    Albuquerque Studios entered the spotlight last October when it was purchased by Netflix. While the complex is clearly the jewel in the crown of New Mexico’s production infrastructure, with eight soundstages totaling 132,000 square feet, 100,000 square feet of production offices, a large backlot and support space, it’s not the only modern studio facility in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content