Issue 45 (2014)

Aleksei Zhidriakov, Denis Klebleev, Dmitrii Kubasov, Askol'd Kurov, Nadezhda Leont'eva, Anna Moiseenko, Madina Mustafina, Zosia Rodkevich, Anton Seregin, Elena Khoreva: Winter Go Away (Zima ukhodi, 2012)

reviewed by Andrew Chapman© 2014

Winter Go Away opens with two middle-aged men, Vasilii and Vitalii, sitting behind a Communist-era banner, discussing the current state of Russian politics. They are classic relics of Soviet workers, apartment building managers who find time for a comfortable break in a backroom, enjoying a spread of food, and of course, drinking vodka. The men reflect on the evolution of politics in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, pessimistically recalling that, “in the 1990s [Russia] had an opportunity to build a normal political party system.” They look at an old Soviet history book, thumbing through the pages that begin with 1917, and lament that the book was thrown in the trash: “We could keep it for our children! Instead, we throw it away.” The remark sets the tone for the film, and shows that the deliberate act of forgetting history has consequences for learning in the present day. In an equally important moment, they discuss how political opposition is needed in Russia in order to prevent abuses of power. The most interesting takeaway from their comments is not about the opposition itself, but the muddled way in which they describe exactly what is needed:

— “But no fighting or shooting.”
— “A peaceful march, so that the government realizes we exist.
— “They need to become best friends.”
— “Best friends is taking it too far. Enemies would be better.”
— “We do not want to be friends, but just for them to listen.”
— “If they were our friends, everything would stay the same!”

The two have trouble articulating exactly how a healthy political dialog should operate. Winter Go Away illustrates this problem of how people interact in the current political landscape.

Marina Razbezhkina’s student-directed film was originally planned to cover just the December 2011 protests. The ten filmmakers spent almost three months, continuing into the winter of 2012, living together in the same apartment and shooting footage related to the upcoming March presidential elections. The film features different manifestations of the political opposition, from independent protestors and picketers, to organized actionist art groups, and finally to opposition leaders Aleksei Naval'nyi, Boris Nemtsov, and Garry Kasparov. The film begins with the December protests and takes the audience through the March election results.

Winter Go Away is one of a slew of recent opposition-minded documentary projects that focus on protest movements in Russia and beyond. Aleksandr Rastorguev’s, Pavel Kostomarov’s and Aleksei Pivovarov’s online projects The Term (Srok, 2012-) and Realnost (Real'nost', 2013-) have chronicled Russian protests since May 2012. Likewise, Sergei Loznitsa’s Maidan (2014) is the first feature-length film with in-depth coverage of protests in Ukraine. Winter Go Away follows this recent trend in post-Soviet documentary filmmaking, in which filmmakers are adopting more and more journalistic subject matter, providing a counterbalance to coverage of events on state television broadcasts. Also, just like The Term and Realnost, we find yet another instance of established filmmakers dispatching a group of upcoming apprentices into the field in order to document the Russian political scene. Razbezhkina’s ten students offer a multi-observer glance of simultaneous events, often from the street level perspective of the handheld camera.

The directors were questioned and criticized for being too closely aligned to the opposition. Roughly the first two thirds of the film focuses on the opposition, whereas a short ten-minute section gives voice to pro-Putin groups. The filmmakers defended this misbalance at question and answer screening sessions, noting that a greater number of opposition groups are in the film because they were more willing to appear on camera (Donina). While the film includes substantially more footage of opposition movements, it by no means takes their statements at face value or romanticizes their figureheads.

In a review in Seans, Boris Nelepo called Winter Go Away a carnivalesque film, “slapstick with political content” (Nelepo 2013). Also in Seans, Mikhail Iampol'skii called the film a grotesque portrayal of the protest movements (Iampol'skii 2013). The film is often set up as a playful exercise in contrasting episodes, which leaves the viewer to interpret a middle ground. For example, in one scene, two journalists from Lenta.ru discuss Naval'nyi’s prospects as president, with one worried about his nationalist bent and his anti-Semitic stance towards Jews. She says to elect him as president would be “a real fuckup” (“eto pizdets”). The film subsequently cuts to a scene visually introducing Naval'nyi for the first time, showing him strike a friendly pose for the cameras while raising a badminton racquet.  

zima ukhodiThese contrasting jests by the filmmakers provide much of the entertainment in the film, but it is the creative acts of lesser-known protestors that stand out.[1] The audience is introduced to several young activist artists, most prominently Dmitrii Putenikhin (alias Matvei Krylov), who was imprisoned for throwing water in a prosecutor’s face. Another young man, Vania, is filmed refashioning a stolen wooden doorjamb from a United Russia office into a pair of stilts for the Protest for Free Elections on 4 February. His revolutionary fervor is interrupted by his mother, who asks him if you would like some pancakes and tea. He sarcastically replies, “First we should save Russia, and then we will drink tea!” She tells him to put paper down, because the residual sawdust is making a mess of their apartment. Introductions with lower-level actors situate the protest movement away from the arena of spectacle, and grounds it in everyday origins.

Splicing together footage from the ten different directors, the transitions between segments in the film are somewhat problematic. I question whether or not the film is driven by visual aesthetics, or if it is structured through a collection of slogans and opposition propaganda. The film does not celebrate the spectacle of mass protest, but slogans in the film are ubiquitous. They are shown as participatory acts in which people on their respective sides unite. Slogans such as “Russia without Putin,” “Thieves must go to jail”, “Stop the dictatorship,” and finally a Bob Marley inspired chant of “No Putin, No Cry” deeply permeate the film.

zima ukhodiWinter Go Away traces how these messages are distributed, following numerous activists who hand out leaflets, hang banners, and perform public stunts. In one scene, activists don Guy Fawkes masks, a recently popularized revolutionary symbol by the dystopian comic series and Hollywood adaptation V for Vendetta (2005). They travel through the Moscow Metro and public tram system, riding past the Kremlin while casually reading newspapers with the headline “Power to the millions, not millionaires.” In another scene, cameras follow activists dressed as gastarbeiter, as they plan to hang a large “Putin, go away!” banner on top of a building. The film itself is named after a derivation of this utterance; a Maslenitsa-themed song is chanted by protestors while they burn an effigy representing what is “old and bad.” Although the film’s title briefly appears in this scene, chants of “Putin go away” happen throughout the film, forming an obvious connection.

The political slogans are muted by the film’s end. In one of the closing scenes, cameras witness the vote-counting process, in which candidates’ names are read. The subdued reading of the name “Putin,” “Putin,” “Putin” conveys a different power of the word, countering the slogans we have heard throughout the film. We get the sense that performance of the protest movement, even with all of its creativity and public displays that foster awareness, are rendered irrelevant. Protestors are arrested in one last demonstration, with one person unsuccessfully trying to reach his megaphone.

zima ukhodiAbove all, the film’s most interesting contribution is how it highlights the difficulties of communicating distinct political stances in Russian politics. One scene features a young woman protesting on a street corner, holding a sign that reads, “I want a different president.” She is approached by an older man, who questions her sign. They exchange questions, “What is wrong with him?” and “What is right with him?” and engage in a debate, in which the man says that Russia needs a strong leader, and that she should judge the inefficiencies of local bureaucracies rather than central power. Agreeing to disagree, they conclude that at least they are “free to discuss [their own] personal opinions.” They finally ask one another whom they support, and realize that, curiously, they are both supporters of Gennadii Ziuganov. The scene abruptly ends.  

The film shows that Russia needs to establish its own working dialog for how it discusses politics. Slogans do not allow for dialog. They form steadfast stances and do not allow for responses. The film also criticizes both Russia’s and the world’s essentializing of Russian politics. One person asks, “If you do not support Sarkozy, does that mean you are an enemy of France?” Likewise, if one does not support Putin, they should not be treated as a traitor to the country, which would be a step in the right direction of creating a healthy political dialog in Russia. Russian politics, no matter how antagonistic the relationship is between the state and its opposition, does not enter into a productive dialog between groups, where any real understanding would be possible.

zima ukhodiThe final scene of Winter Go Away returns to our two workers of the bygone Communist era, creating a bookend structure for the film. They naively juxtapose the public celebrations of 1 May, International Workers’ Day, with the street protests of today. Their elegiac tone reflects their perceived change between a society that marched proudly along with its state, to one that now marches against it. The film ends on a curious note. Vitalii gives a gift to the cameraman: an old pin celebrating Iurii Gagarin’s first spaceflight. He is the last respected Soviet figure amongst these two men. The gesture has a two-fold purpose in the film: It clearly shows the purported leadership of the Soviet Union extends over fifty years into the present day Russian Federation. Perhaps more importantly, giving the cameraman a pin of Gagarin, signifies a call to filmmakers to venture out into the uneasy landscape of protest crowds not just to document its heroes, but also to become heroes themselves through the act of filming. 

Andrew Chapman
Dartmouth College


Notes

1] In one of the few clips where original footage is not used, the directors find room for a brief interview with Pussy Riot. Part of the unedited footage of their 2012 “Punk Prayer” performance in Cathedral of Christ the Savior is also included.

 

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Works Cited

Donina, Daria (2012). “Cinematryoshka: ‘Winter, Go Away.’” Russia&India Report, 20 December.

Iampol'skii, Mikhail (2013). “Otkrytki iz strany durakov.” Seans, 10 January.

Nelepo, Boris (2013). “Chto ne tak na kartinke?” Seans 4 June.

 


Winter Go Away, Russia, 2012
Color, 79 minutes
Directors: Aleksei Zhidriakov, Denis Klebleev, Dmitrii Kubasov, Askol'd Kurov, Nadezhda Leont'eva, Anna Moiseenko, Madina Mustafina, Zosia Rodkevich, Anton Seregin, Elena Khoreva
Sound: Iurii Geddert
Artistic Director: Marina Razbezhkina
Producers: Marina Razbezhkina, Mikhail Ugarov, Dmitrii Muratov
Production: The Marina Razbezhkina and Mikhail Ugarov School of Documentary Film and Theater, with assistance from Novaia gazeta and Dmitrii Muratov
Awards: Best Director at International Trans-Baikal Film Festival 2012, Best Russian Film at Tekstura 2012, Best Debut Work Award at the Lisbon and Estoril Film Festival 2012, “Otkrytie goda” Prize from the Russian Guild of Film Experts and Film Critics at “Belyi slon” 2012, Prize in the name of Georgii Zhzhenov at the International Film Festival of Films on Human Rights “Stalker” 2012

Aleksei Zhidriakov, Denis Klebleev, Dmitrii Kubasov, Askol'd Kurov, Nadezhda Leont'eva, Anna Moiseenko, Madina Mustafina, Zosia Rodkevich, Anton Seregin, Elena Khoreva: Winter Go Away (Zima ukhodi, 2012)

reviewed by Andrew Chapman© 2014

Updated: 06 Jul 14