Growing up in the US in the latter years of the Cold War, you were almost
brainwashed to believe that the USSR was simply wrong and dangerous – even
long before as they were referred to by Ronald Reagan as the original “Evil
However, if you grew up in Russia at the same time, certainly you would not
feel the same. In fact, looking back with a few decades of hindsight, isn’t
it possible that you might look back at the era with a bit of rueful
nostalgia? Things in communist Russia certainly weren’t perfect, but there
were some good parts, right? Kids went to school, played games and sang
songs, didn’t they? It wasn’t all evil Gulags and Siberia and the Red
Menace, was it?
course it wasn’t.
Well, it’s not the first time that Reagan was wrong (or lied) about
something, nor was it the last.
new documentary My Perestroika (“perestroika” is Russian for
“restructuring”) takes an intimate look at five average Russians who started
together in school in the 70s and are now in their 40s. They lived through
communism in their school days, dissent in their teens, revolution in their
20s and are now settled into different life paths that mostly have nothing
to do with politics.
structure of My Perestroika is not unlike Michael Apted’s landmark
documentary series, the Up series (7 Up, 21 Up, 35 Up, etc.)
which surveys the life and times of a group of British schoolchildren,
revisiting them every seven years of their life, now spanning 42 years. (56
Up is supposed to be coming in 2012.) Inevitably the new film doesn’t
have quite the breadth and scope of that long-gestating project; however
My Perestroika does have the added advantage of surveying the end of one
political era and the beginning of another.
Possibly the most fascinating part of this film is how much life in Russia
was like the US. Sure there were some basic differences, but much fewer
than you have been led to believe.
major difference that I noticed was that the Russians here were
almost constantly smoking and nearly as often drinking (or speaking of
drinking when not doing so). Of course, both are problems in the States and
granted, this is a limited sampling of the people, but it is striking,
American director Robin Hessman has had a good amount of experience with the
differences between the party line and reality of Russia, because she spent
much of the 90s there producing the Russian version of Sesame Street.
Her experience there led her to be open to hearing of this dramatic period
of history through the personal stories of a small group who experienced
There was Olga, once the school beauty but now a single mother still living
in the same apartment she grew up in with her sister and her son. She has a
job working for a billiard company that she doesn’t like, has little or no
time for a social life and spends much of her time worrying about money.
Ruslan is a street musician. After the fall of the old empire, he was
instrumental in forming a hugely popular punk rock band there called Naiv,
but he eventually left them when he decided they
had lost their hard edge and went corporate rock.
is Borya and Lubya, a couple of former revolutionaries who now teach at the
same school they went to, live in their parent’s apartment and are raising a
Andrei is the only financial success of the group, a young businessman who
has opened a series of upscale menswear shops in a country which had never
had them before.
These children grew up together and eventually took widely divergent paths.
My Perestroika is made up of a mixture of current interviews, old
home movies of the friends and footage of vintage Russian propaganda films.
These stories are in the people’s own words (in Russian, with subtitles) and
illuminate a lifestyle which has been kept in the dark for too long. Only
one of these former student friends is necessarily in a better place – at
least financially – than they would have been in the communist regime. Most
of them do believe that it was time for communism to end, yet almost all of
them do have wistful memories of a mostly happy childhood. When they were
growing up, they believed – much like the States – that the other country
was the aggressor and they were the ones looking for peace. And most of
them seem to think now that the new democracy is not necessarily all it was
sold to be.
But mostly, the
movie’s only political real agenda is to introduce us to the reality of a
world which has been shrouded in so much misinformation. My Perestroika
works because it is a fascinating look at some very ordinary people who
lived through some extraordinary times.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: April 15, 2011.