Eight-millimeter home movies and statist hymns from the Soviet past haunt Robin Hessman's documentary of a contemporary Russia pocked with international logos, in which five Muscovites recall their lives and, in the process, 40 years of national history. A married couple, teachers Borya and Lyuba Meyerson, testify for the camera alongside Borya's grade-school classmates, now middle-aged: Andrei, a well-off clothier; Olga, a single mother working for a billiard-table rental company; and Ruslan, a retired rock star not reconciled to the new world. Each tells a parallel story of mandatory youth-group membership during the Brezhnev '70s, the disorder of perestroika, the optimistic euphoria of 1991's demonstrations, and the subsequent onset of adult pragmatism and disillusion—the latter clearly evident after the election of Putin's appointed successor, Medvedev. The subjects, plainspoken and insightful, attempt to extract the objective lessons of the political past from their subjective fortunes. This struggling to untie the personal/political knot makes for compelling oral history, even as Hessman occasionally overreaches to create anticapitalist anxiety, as when loading a scene of Andrei dictating company dress code with ominous significance. Adaptable Andrei thrives, as he probably would in any circumstance, while reactionary Ruslan shelters good-old-days memories from the reality of his still-gigging "sellout" ex-bandmates. The oddest evidence of Soviet-era cultural totality, however, is vintage footage of the band barking doctrinaire anti-authoritarianism, party-line punk.
The Young Pioneers, pictured in 1977.
Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., May 27â€“Thurs., June 2. Not rated. 84 minutes.