The world’s biggest country, in a magazine. Since 1956.
Directed by Maria Yatskova
This is quite simply one of the finest documentaries of this decade on life in Russia. Director Maria Yatskova uses the pretext of a beauty pageant held at a women’s prison outside Novosibirsk to examine the lives and fates of a handful of women caught up in the Russian prison system.
What results is a searing portrait of a grim archipelago, a touching look at the women’s families and communities, and a deeply nuanced portrait of Russian justice.
The cinematography and editing is brilliant, from the opening scene, where a woman in a Cinderella dress smiles and admits she is in for assault, to the Eisensteinian shots of administrators, to the calm panning of prisoners’ faces. Miss Gulag has a determinedly understated quality, capturing revealing details in a matter-of-fact way, without judging – from the contestants’ outlandish costumes, to visiting day, to the mundane details of one prisoner’s release.
Order this film online and/or contact your local PBS station and tell them they need to air this documentary.
Reviewed in Russian Life: Sep/Oct 2010