Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

If you think you know about this feminist punk group from the media coverage of their trial, and Madonna’s flashes of solidarity, that’s not the half of it. Filmmakers Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin, who won a special jury award in Sundance for this documentary, have forged a riveting account of the court case. But most of all, they have composed an fascinating and credibly heroic portrait of the three Pussy Riot members who go to trial. For all their collective bravado, they emerge as distinct and formidable personalities, who seem to be undergoing a personal transformation as the camera rolls—especially the mesmerizing Nadia (Nadezhda Tolokonnikova), who combines movie-star magnetism with insouciant wit and a sophisticated view of conceptual art. The film includes video clips of the the group’s hit-and-run performances and interviews. But their most revealing moments come from their candid conversations as prisoners behind the glass of the court’s media scrum. Like animals in a zoo, surrounded by a phalanx of cameras, they use their trial as a stage for impromptu performance art. Supporting players range from biker-like militants of the Orthodox church to the girls’ anxious but tolerant parents—notably Nadia’s father, who co-wrote lyrics for the punk anthem that landed them in jail after its fleeting performance in the church.

When this documentary was first released a year ago, the members of Pussy Riot were still behind bars and their situation seemed dire. A what was most shocking to Western eyes is how little support they seemed to have among the people. Between the paltry turnouts for protests against their arrest and interviews with average Russians, the film makes it clear that these riot girls failed in winning the masses to their cause. In the West, however, they became celebrities. And now that Putin has released them in a burst of Olympic glasnost, they’re finding an audience on U.S. talk shows, preaching to the converted. If they could only make it as a girl band in America, the Russian people may start paying attention.

-BRIAN D. JOHNSON, MACLEAN’S

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