89 minutes

Many contemporary documentary filmmakers are making the leap into what has generally been described as "fictions of reality" - the applying of narrative techniques from traditional narrative cinema to non-fiction material. Polish director Jerzy Sladkowski's Russia-set feature is a strong example of this presentation of real-life footage within a narrative framework: at its heart lies a disenchanted, rather gloomy portrait of contemporary small-town Russia where people make ends meet stoically as best they can while the bright lights of the big city Moscow woo from a distance.

     Mr. Sladkowski presents it through the tale of twenty-something vodka factory worker Valya, a single mother who dreams of stardom as an actress in Moscow and neglects her young son from a brief, ill-advised marriage in order to pursue her dreams of fame, whether taking belly-dancing lessons, making a photographic portfolio, going out on benders with friends or enrolling in acting classes for which she is painfully ill-prepared. All the while, her long-suffering, hard-working bus-conductor mother finds herself often stuck with the boy, and Valya's colleagues at the factory alternately lecture her on the dangers to which she is voluntarily offering herself and bemoan their own inability to leave Zhigulevsk. But what is better - to take risks and leave for other pastures, risking delusion for the sake of a far-fetched dream (and it's far too obvious that, beyond her desire, Valya seems to have no special talent that will allow her to make it), or just stay in this smalltown where nothing ever changes (as one of Valya's co-workers says, "we've rusted in this factory")?

     Mr. Sladkowski gives no answer and merely lays out the quandary in a series of disturbingly raw sequences, borderline intrusive, where we see the dead end street Zhigulevsk can be seen as, and the serious choices many of these young women take on lightly, almost irresponsibly. It's worth wondering how this is all going to end, but the fact that this isn't a narrative but rather real life, adds to Vodka Factory an added punch. A punch that takes a while to be felt but that, when it does, makes us look at all the Russian internet brides and immigrant prostitutes in a whole new way.

Directed by Jerzy Sladkowski; produced by Antonio Russo Merenda; music by Henryk Kurniak; director of photography (colour), Wojciech Staron; sound recordists, Shamil Ismailov, Alexei Moisenko; film editor, Agnieszka Bojanowska.
     A Hysteria Film presentation/production, in co-production with ARTE G. E. I. E., Swedish Television and Polish Television 1, with the support of the Swedish Film Institute and of the Polish Film Institute, in collaboration with YLE. (World sales, Hysteria Film.)
     Screened: DocLisboa 2011 advance screener, Lisbon, October 20th 2011.


Anonymous said…
nice review!
E., Helsinki

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