Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Hope Factory (orig. Комбинат «Надежда» / Kombinat "Nadezhda") [2014]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing listing* listing* listing* listing* listing*

Voice of America (O. Sulkin) interview with director* article on film's controversy regarding profanity*

Argumenti i Fakty (N. Grigoryeva) review* (V. Lyashchenko) review* (A. Savenkov) review*
Komsomolskaya Pravda (D. Korsakov) review*
Novye Izvestia (V. Matizen) review* (M, Markov) review* (G. Rymbu) review* (O. Kasyanova) review* (I. Miller) review* (A. Kryukova) review*

The Hope Factory (orig. Комбинат «Надежда» / Kombinat "Nadezhda") [2014] [IMDb] []*[]*[]* (directed and cowritten by Natalya Meshchaninova [IMDb] []*[]* along with Lyubov Mulmenko [IMDb] []*[]* and Ivan Ugarov [IMDb] []*[]*) is a  remarkable "small RUSSIAN 'INDIE' FILM" that has pushed the bounds of contemporary Russian film making on MULTIPLE levels ;-).  As such I viewed / reviewed the film as part of my 2015 Russian Film Tour in which I sought to present / explore the _diversity_ of contemporary Russian film making a diversity that may annoy some within contemporary Russian officialdom and would probably surprise may Westerners used to traditional (and IMHO often quite bombastic) neo-Communist Russian fare that makes it to "art cinemas" here.

So why did this Russian "small indie film" attract such (sometimes unwelcome) attention?  Made (1) using NO PUBLIC MONEY, (2) on a shoe-string budget, (3) using local, generally not well known / amateur actors and (4) in a way at minimum suggesting the use of off-the-shelf consumer video/electronic equipment in its production (hence about as "SELF MADE" / "INDIE" as a film project, made anywhere in the world, could be), the film at least in its original form has gone largely unscreened in Russia (even at film festivals).  This is due to a recent (passed by the Russian Duma in 2014) Russian law that denies public screening licenses to films with "foul language" [].*  That the film hasn't played even at film festivals in Russia has come as something of a surprise because even a few months before the law's implementation, the Russian Minister of Culture, Vladimir Medina, had assured the nation's artistic / performing community that the new Russian anti-profanity law was intended for "mass screenings only" while film festivals were considered to be "areas of creative experimentation"  []*

Yet a law is a law, and can be invoked by authorities perhaps annoyed "by other things" (including here, that this film was made largely outside of their orbit / control). And indeed there is a lot in this film that at least _some sectors_ of contemporary Russian officialdom "could be annoyed with" ;-)

Indeed, despite the official controversy over "foul language" (and while the young Krasnoyarsk born/raised director _stridently defended_ her choice to have her youthful characters use offending language "to set the film's mood" []*, she had the foresight of preparing two versions of the film, one with the foul language and one without ;-), one gets definitely the sense that "foul language" was beside the point:

For the film (1) is set in the still quite isolated and quite notorious north Siberian industrial city of Norilsk (a city first built by Stalin's GULAG, was the site of the Soviet Era's largest and most extended prison revolts, and was the birthplace of Nadezhda Tokolonnikova one of the founding / once jailed members of the notorious Russian punk band Pussy Riot) and (2) is about a young woman named Sveta (played wonderfully throughout by Darya Saveleva [IMDb] []*), whose name, short for Svetlana (or Lucy), means "Light", who is about to reach maturity (turn 18) and who JUST WANTS TO LEAVE.

The whole film is one of obvious if gut-wrenchingly sincere youthful protest, and for its part, Russian civil society, notably in the form of the Russian Guild of Film Critics* has largely rallied behind it, giving it two awards last year: Best Debut Film of the Year and perhaps more poignantly, its Young People's Voice award []*[IMDb].

So this is one heck of a film, and though not particularly easy see, legally anyway, back in Russia (except perhaps in a sanitized version) thanks to wonders of the internet, gleefully rife with fans, hackers and no doubt a "helpful" Western intelligence service or two ... , it's not particularly hard to find (with English subtitles and all) online ... Just Bing or Google it ;-)

Excellent job!


Some notes about the north Siberian mining city of Norilsk where the film was set:

(1) Norilsk is the most northern city in the world with a population of over 100,000 and the second largest city, after Murmansk, north of the Arctic Circle.

(2) The city and the mines/factories that support it were built by Stalin-era GULAG concentration camps in the area.

(3) Among the inmates at said Norilsk GULAG (Norillag) was American born Polish descended Jesuit Missionary Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] in whose memoir With God in Russia [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] he actually describes the building of the copper smelting plant Kombinat "Nadezhda" after which the film was named. (He was there, he was one of the inmates who built the plant).

(4) The camps of the Norilsk GULAG (Norillag) became the site of a major uprising in the spring-summer of 1953 following the death of Stalin.  The uprising is also described at length in gripping first person detail by Fr. Ciszek, SJ [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] his memoir With God in Russia [GR] [WCat] [Amzn].

(5) Today Norilsk is one of the most pollution producing cities in the world, perhaps responsible for 1% of the world's sulfur dioxide emisions alone, and in 2010 was listed by the Russian Federal Statistics Service as the most polluted city in Russia producing six times more pollutants than Cherepovets which came in second place.

(6) In 2001, Norilsk returned to being a "closed city" (!) [BBC] to all foreigners (except for apparently Belorussians) nominally for "strategic mineral reasons." Given its past notorious history and present pollution issues, however, there's almost certainly more behind the Russian government's decision.

FINALLY (7) after such a surprisingly lengthy list of troubled "distinctions", would it really surprise anyone that Norilsk turn-outs to be the birthplace/hometown of Nadezhda Tokolonnikova, one of the members of the Russian punk rock group PUSSY RIOT who was jailed (for "hooliganism inspired by religious hatred") after the group's IMHO perhaps misguided but certainly effective / attention-grabbing guerrilla staging (inside the Moscow's Cathedral of the Divine Savior) of its "Punk Prayer: Holy Mary, Mother of God, put Putin out ..." [YouTube] 

So Norilsk is clearly a tough town, with a troubled past, with much to still resolve / come to terms with / be angry about ...

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser. 

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