Ukraine-born, Moscow-based helmer Vitaly Mansky creates a different sort of road movie in the laconic observational docu “Pipeline,” traveling the course of Russia’s Urengoy-Pomary-Uzhhorod pipeline, which transports gas from Western Siberia to Western Europe, and looking at the mostly hardscrabble lives of the communities en route. Shooting in seven countries over 104 days, Mansky meanders from east to west, capturing ironies and wonders with distinctive camerawork. Although he eschews direct political commentary, the contrast between the haves and have-nots speaks volumes. Kudos from the Karlovy Vary and Sochi fests should spur further fest play for this digressive portrait.
At first, only the pipeline route seems to connect the people and situations filmed, but as the pic unspools, other, more poetic links become apparent. We see multiple festivals, feasts, funerals and musical performances. All manner of animals also preoccupy Mansky’s camera, as do various means of travel.
The film opens in subzero Siberia, as a perky reporter babbles on about the larger-than-life-size golden sculptures honoring the pipeline workers. Her lips are so cold that her mouth is unable to move properly.
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While extreme cold doesn’t present a problem for a group of indigenous Nenets reindeer herders, the fact that the pipeline may have killed the catch in their ice-fishing holes is troubling. Still they head off to the annual competition for herders, hunters and fishermen sponsored by the gas company.
Snowmobiles, sledges and trucks travel the frozen landscape. So, too, does a train with a car that doubles as an orthodox church, allowing an itinerant priest to perform baptisms — if he can find any locals that want them. Elsewhere, a male politician mouths platitudes at an Intl. Women’s Day program, promising to improve conditions. Cries of “liar” come from the audience.
Even as Mansky moves into warmer climes, his focus remains on the hardships and tedium of daily life. In a village where street names from Soviet times coexist with new names, elderly residents say that there is no work and no hope for the young.
The crisp, widescreen camerawork by Alexandra Ivanova, edited in leisurely fashion by Pavel Mendel-Ponamarev, is alert to everyday oddities. Clear, diegetic sound supports the you-are-there feeling. The addition of titles indicating place names would help Western viewers.