Any documentary about the Russian performance art collective P***y Riot is guaranteed to be worth your time. Anyone who can get under the steely skin of Vladimir Putin is bound to be fascinating. I watched the new film Act & Punishment on my iPhone, and it’s still captivating.
The women who make up P***y Riot have been covered by countless media outlets around the world and in Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin’s enlightening and engrossing P***y Riot: A Punk Prayer.
“…anyone who can get under the steely skin of Vladimir Putin is bound to be fascinating.“
The film not only covered the controversy they created but explained how recent Russian history led three of the members to be sentenced to two years in a prison colony for performing (actually lip syncing) their tune “A Punk Prayer” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior on February 21, 2012.
Because Christians had been mercilessly persecuted during the Soviet era, their act of potential sacrilege, hit a nerve with Orthodox Russians. The Church is now close to Putin’s state, and the marriage has made others feel marginalized. For outsiders to Russia, however, the punishment seems horribly disproportionate to the crime. Furthermore, how qualified are judges and prosecutors to decide what sacrilege is worthy of imprisonment.
In Act & Punishment, however, director Yevgeni Mitta includes fellow Russians who argue that Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova, Ekaterina “Katya” Samutsevich, Mariya “Masha” Alyokhina, and the women who’ve performed with them are carrying out the old Russian tradition of the “Holy Fool.”
“…film also benefits from having Tolokonnivoa, Samutsevich, and Alyokhina speak for themselves.”
Throughout the country’s history, men and women have confronted the powerful in a seemingly buffoonish manner, revealing those whose crowns or priestly robes were the ones who were really damned. Female “fools” who attracted the pillars of Russian society have been persecuted mercilessly, but the nation’s folklore celebrates these women.
Mitta includes the fact that western artists and journalists have stood up for P***y Riot. That’s old news. What isn’t is the fact the Russian activists hold up a handwritten letter Sir Paul McCartney has written on their behalf. The film also benefits from having Tolokonnivoa, Samutsevich, and Alyokhina speak for themselves. They were still in prison during the last documentary, so it’s helpful to finally hear from them. These women also haven’t disappeared since they left prison and have challenged hypocrisy in Russia and the West, so it would be worthwhile to see some of their more recent actions.
In addition, Mitta’s finest moments come from letting Russians explain the group and their impact. One devout Orthodox Christian defends them saying “A Punk Prayer” speaks to him. Mitts also has several montages showing how their simple balaclava masks show up all over Russia in balloons and other unlikely places. Act & Punishment gets a little repetitive, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to put on a ski mask and challenge authority.
Act & Punishment (2018) Written and Directed by Yevgeni Mitta. Starring Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova, Ekaterina “Katya” Samutsevich and Mariya “Masha” Alyokhina.
7 out of 10