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My Perestroika

  • Film
  • 5 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

A documentary filled with lovely, unlikely ideas, My Perestroika wastes no time confounding expectations: "I was completely satisfied with my beautiful Soviet reality," recalls Lyuba, now a schoolteacher and mother, without a trace of irony. We see the grainy footage of massive parades, uniforms and smiling citizens of the "country of happy childhood." Apple-cheeked ice skaters skim through the 1970s, a boy learns how to ride a bicycle, pageants celebrate the start of the school year. It all looks like tons of fun. Agrees Lyuba's husband Borya, "Everything somehow seemed better."

The scrim of nostalgia doesn't blind these modern-day subjects, who came of age just as the system was collapsing. Rather, the tone here is light and nonjudgmental, rare to sociopolitical docs. Lyuba and Borya share their home movies with their geeky son, growing up in a Russia of Pizza Huts and cell phones; subtly, through a haze of cigarette smoke, the pragmatism of their cramped apartment brings them closer.

Director Robin Hessman, an American who traveled to Russia in 1991 as a Brown freshman and ended up staying there for a decade, builds her multiperspective profile with no narration, just well-chosen archival footage and an ear for tender parental exchanges. (Hessman is also responsible for producing Russia's Sesame Street.) Ruslan, once the leader of a popular punk band, reassures his nervous kid that he, too, will be cool one day; meanwhile, Olga, the school beauty, lives a lonely life, resigned not to self-pity but to that distinctly Russian sense of cynicism. Thus comes My Perestroika's most sophisticated idea: Day-to-day family struggles have a way of trumping even the most profound political change. Don't miss this.

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Written by Joshua Rothkopf
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