FILM REVIEW: PUSSY RIOT: A PUNK PRAYER

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Peaches wrote and sang the song “Free Pussy Riot!” Madonna almost got into trouble for dedicating her performance in Moscow to the guerrilla-style-performing, feminist collective of political activists. Pussy Riot fuses riot grrl power with a raw and gritty performance art style. They first came to prominence in early 2012 when they were imprisoned after their fifth gig and Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer is a documentary that feels like a good telling of the first few chapters of this story.

The film covers the rehearsals and planning that went into the girl’s most infamous gig and the subsequent fall-out. It shows that things had been brewing for a while-they’d performed their previous show at Red Square and sung the self-penned, “Putin P***ed Himself.” We’d learn that these women- Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alyokhina had been involved in performance art and socio-political causes for some years.

On 21 February 2012 these three young women along with two others who remain anonymous (reports indicate they were not arrested and fled the country to avoid capture) entered the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow. It’s the largest Russian Orthodox church in the city. The women would don bright, balaclava-like ski hats, sleeveless dresses and tights. They would attempt to deliver their “Punk prayer”. This music had occasionally muddled lyrics that protested the union of the church and the state plus promoted feminism; protested Russian President, Vladmir Putin; and generally rallied against the authoritative Russian regime and increase in nationalism.

Naturally, the church-goers took exception to this. The Pussy Riot members known as Nadia, Katia and Masha would come under fire for wearing inappropriate clothing plus they were seen to be trespassing, disrupting the service, inciting religious hatred and engaging in all-out hooliganism. The three girls were charged with these misdemeanours and faced up to seven years imprisonment.

They were eventually sentenced to three years at a labour camp and one was later released on appeal. The film follows the case in detail with footage from the bail, court and appeals hearings. There are also police interviews with the three members, as they were unable to be interviewed by the filmmakers, directors Mike Lerner (Hell and Back Again) and Maxim Pozdorovkin.

The film shows how the story broke in the more “tolerant” West. There, the band received lots of support, especially from musicians and other people in the arts. In some countries, such an act would be nothing more than a crime against taste. But in Russia some of the more religious extremists (who are also given air-time in this documentary) liken the act to a desecration as bad as taking a dump on Russia and their talk makes the trials sound more like a Salem Witch hunt than a judicial process.

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer attempts to be comprehensive by offering some background information about the girls’ lives. Both Masha and Nadia are mothers and Nadia and Katia were former members of the political street art collective, Voina. Some of the girls’ conflicted but supportive parents are interviewed and this often proves more interesting than the farce that is their trial. The women are shown to be ultimately very clever, passionate, opinionated, strong-willed and articulate.

The documentary is a lot like their music. It’s rough-around-the-edges and full of messages but it could be better executed. The fact is that this anti-establishment tale is only the initial chapter and we are none the wiser about the collective’s other members (How many are there? What are their plans and philosophies, etc). But despite leaving some things unexplained, this documentary offers a sympathetic view of the women and provides some important information about their trial by media. It’s great, but we all know that the more exciting stuff is yet to come once they’ve all been released.

Originally published on 17 June 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/reviews/sydney-film-festival-pussy-riot-a-punk-prayer-russia-uk-2013

Visit The Au Review’s homepage at: http://www.theaureview.com/

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