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Poetic fairytale documentary shows harsh reality in Russia

Ksusha in A Russian FairytaleDuring my youth I spend a lot of time in Russia and the Ukraine, both beautiful countries with lots to offer. Welcoming people, beautiful landscapes, lovely food and always an adventure or two. But unfortunately the country that provided this big high also showed a big low.

I, and everyone who has ever been to Russia, have seen the extreme poverty and failing social back-up systems. Moscow is one of the richest cities in the world yet the country it represents is in many ways one of the poorest.

When the USSR broke up and borders opened, the industrial trade that was responsible for feeding many a family started to disappear. The money that was first (somewhat) divided over the nation’s hard workers started to dry up in thin air, only to appear again in the pockets of the 1 per cent that is in charge.

Extreme poverty, suicides and alcoholism became prevalent and domestic violence grew along with it. State childcare went from one of the best in the world to one of the worst, with beatings, starvations, medical neglect and abuse being just some of the fears a child faces when it is orphaned or taken out of its parents’ care.

A Russian Fairytale follows the lives of a group of youngsters growing up in this new Russia.

The film’s main subjects; Irina, Kolya, Ksusha and Denis, all describe their lives as living in a romanticised fairytale. They are free from their past demons, they are together and they live by their own rules.

The derelict home that they inhabit in Perm (some 1200km from Moscow) they lovingly call Skazka, the Russian word for fairytale. Ironically nothing could be further from the truth, the house is falling apart and in between selling their bodies, begging, the freezing temperatures (often hitting minus 35°C) and harassment from the police, they use dangerous cheap drugs such as glue to get through their days, block out their troubles and escape into their fantasy.

Their friendship is what seems to pull them through. Unable to beat the odds though, the strain proves to be too much for them to keep their friendships lasting forever. Amid hunger, health issues and the suppressed desires for ‘normal’ lives, their relationship starts to show some serious cracks while the film is being shot.

It is a beautiful though utterly sad portrait and filmmaker Jake Mobbs, staying true to the intention of a documentary, has done a fantastic job creating an objective, observational portrayal that highlights a serious issue.

Though the ‘fairytale’ in the title stems from the way these youngsters describe their lives, the term could equally have come from a description of the film’s cinematography (by Nicolas Doldinger) and its fitting graphics. Sometimes the harsh words uttered by the youths clash with the beauty of the film, however, when analysing what it is that you are presented with that beauty fades. It reflects the sad reality that these young adults, for a brief period in their lives at least, were happy to be living together in their fairytale house, escaping no doubt – hence the drug induced highs – but at least they felt free and secure, for a while.

A Russian Fairytale will premiere as part of the DocHouse Thursdays series on 31 January 7.15pm at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, to book tickets please visit the DocHouse website. To find out more about the film, its subjects or background, please check out the film’s website.

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Alexandra Zeevalkink is a Dutch-born journalist living in London who founded DocGeeks in August 2011 in order to have a legitimate excuse to watch every documentary under the sun. She freelances for various publications and writes mainly about documentaries and the film production industry. When she is not blogging or watching films, she enjoys theater, photography and reading loads of books. She is always on the look out for potential partnerships with other creative minds.

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