Paris Film Fest Brings Pussy Riot to France

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Paris Film Fest Brings Pussy Riot to France

In July, Parisians are already trickling out, leaving a more sedate ambience in the capital, but the Paris Film Festival always brings plenty of cinematic excitement. From June 28 to July 9 the festival showcased a selection that was very international and eclectic, and funkier than at Cannes. The films were shown at a variety of major cinemas throughout Paris, often attended by the filmmakers. This year the program “Made in Belgium” honored distinguished films from the (half) French-speaking country whose movie-making talent is out of all proportion to its small population.

One event that moved the French to high dudgeon was the premier of A Punk Prayer, the documentary about the engagé punk group Pussy Riot. The French premiere (the HBO film has already been presented at Sundance) was held at MK2 Bibliothèque and was hosted by a trio of personalities from the world of politics, journalism, and human rights. Pussy Riot is the now famous group of young Russian rockers, all women, who wear colourful balaclavas while performing and/or protesting. Their cause is freedom and feminism, and their nemesis is Vladimir Putin. Like the Ukrainian activist group Femen, they specialize in acts that outrage the powers that be.

When they performed an anti-Putin pro-feminist rock mass at the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, the action provoked a furious reaction: they were arrested and given stiff prison sentences. One of the three members prosecuted was freed after an expression of remorse, but their struggle goes on, not just in Russia but in other countries where sympathizers have been shocked at the harsh punishment meted out.

The film, made by Mike Lerner and the Russian Maxim Pozdorovkin, crams a lot of fascinating footage into a stark chronological structure (sections are given titles like One Month Before the Trial). As this suggests, the documentary is pretty pedagogical. At times it explores the historical context of the controversy, showing how the original Russian Orthodox cathedral was demolished by the Bolsheviks before being replaced by a grandiose version during the Yeltsin years—explaining why many of the faithful feel extremely protective about the site.

The heavy moralism of the film-makers and some of the participants (on both pro and anti sides), is belied by the band itself. The three women (Nadeshda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich) have very distinct personalities, all of them very winning. If it wasn’t for the outrageousness of their acts and the brutal backlash they provoked, one would say that they were more a Russian version of the Spice Girls than the Sex Pistols.

Aside from the band-members, the documentary paints vivid portraits of a wide spectrum of Russians, from the sympathetic and sometimes befuddled families of the band-members, their troglodyte opponents, and of course Russia’s larger-than-life leader. As in a Russian novel, the characters overflow the Manichean conceptions of the filmmakers. For the most part, the individuals who moderated and attended the Paris premier conformed to a PC perspective, reminding us that the French débat isn’t quite the same as a debate. But there was certainly more energy and solidarity manifested here than at your typical summer movie.

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Dimitri Keramitas was born and raised in Connecticut, USA, and was educated at the University of Hartford, Sorbonne, and the University of London, and holds degrees in literature and law. He has lived in Paris for years, and directs a training company and translation agency. In addition, he has worked as a film critic for both print and on-line publications, including Bonjour Paris and France Today. He is a contributing editor to Movies in American History. In addition he is an award-winning writer of fiction, whose stories have been published in many literary journals. He is the director of the creative writing program at WICE, a Paris-based organization. He is also a director at the Paris Alumni Network, an organization linking together several hundred professionals, and is the editor of its newletter. The father of two children, Dimitri not only enjoys Paris living but returning to the US regularly and traveling in Europe and elsewhere.

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