March 01, 2011

Perestroika, Molotov and Dachas

Robin Hessman follows the lives of five students of a single Moscow school through the tumult of perestroika. And these five subjects’ stories offer a surprisingly rich representation of Russia’s millions.

With brilliant editing and wonderful directorial restraint (no voice over or commentary by knowledgeable historians), Hessman lets the subjects speak for themselves. They allow us into their lives, and we join them around the dinner table for tea, vodka, a meal. Through their stories we begin to understand what it meant to live through those difficult times, why it is, despite all the awful aspects of the Soviet system, they still long for the more settled, predictable times of their childhood.

Anthropologist Melissa Caldwell admits to having had a hard time convincing professional colleagues that it was “field work” to follow Russians to their dachas, relax with them in the banya, drink tea on the porch and hunt for mushrooms and berries. But, the reality, she says, is that there is no rest at the dacha. It is all work, but an exhilarating, rejuvenating work, and one that is central to Russians’ sense of self, community, leisure and nature:

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