Thursday, August 13, 2015


It's easy to assume that the Russian revolution spread like electricity. It happened in Petersburg and the switch was thrown painting all ten time zones red. The proliferation took years as the agents of change went out in expeditionary teams to integrate the babel of local cultures with the rising Soviet force. This was harder the further away they went from the industrial and agrarian areas more familiar to them. This is the story of one such.

I say story but in effect that should read magic lantern show. After an introductory scene that serves to both tell us about the local resistance to the Soviet team and shake hands with the tableau approach that will make this film. We are then introduced to the team one by one as they are selected from the aspects of progress which will be used to lure the natives from their subsistence into the blinding light of the new. So, in addition to the cinegenic Polina we get a filmmaker, a doctor, a photographer, an industrial designer, a composer etc who head off to the wilds several time zones away to convert the people and vanquish their gods.

While not strictly non or anti narrative, Angels of Revolution takes its time to establish depth rather than sequence in its first half as we follow the team's recruitment and preparation. The sense of their mission being a non-returnable grows as we watch them training and playing like cosmonauts. Indeed, I was reminded more than once of Alexei German's sprawling Hard to be a God as the team set about bring the Inuit-like peoples into the modern world. We already know this will end well for them and here we witness why.

A sumptuous pallette, a great feeling for landscape and a strongly managed demonstration of the differences in culture either side of the divide, the bursting, assisted colour of the pre-Stalin Soviet world and the frosty primeval rites of the forest and lake peoples whose god-invested effigies might as well control the seasons and the yields of the land.

The home made hot air balloon is straight out of Andrei Rublev and there are many reminders of Dziga Vertov and Eisenstein all of which can only fail to win the Khanty and Nenet from their wooden magic. Only one thing might have done this and the sight of it dazzles with its elegant power: a film the team have made is projected on the smoke of a bonfire.

This is not an easy film to approach if your preferences run more to Dr Zhivago than Man With a Movie Camera. It is, nevertheless, made in the spirit of the thing it depicts, in ruminant recognition of its adventure and naivete. As such it is a fitting eulogy for the effort and a solid reminder of its built in disaster.

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