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19-year old Masha is a spokesperson in the government friendly and strongly nationalistic Russian youth organization, Nashi. The movement aims to protect Russia against its 'enemies'. Masha was seduced by the high energy of the movement by the age of 15 and has got a lot of benefits in return for her loyalty. But then she starts seeing a group of critical journalists. Among them is the well-known blogger, Oleg Kashin, who compares Nashi with 'Hitlerjugend'. Masha is defending her movement, but she starts recognizing how harassment and dirty provocations against the Russian opposition by 'unknown perpetrators' is going on around her. When Oleg is getting seriously beaten up and nearly dies, Masha has to take a stand for or against Nashi. Written by
Drama delivered, political promise insidiously unfulfilled
Putin's Kiss (shot and edited so as to situate it midway between documentary and Reality TV show) follows Masha Drokova, a rather naïve 19-year-old who eventually rose to prominence in Nashi, a pro-Russia, anti-fascist, thug-infested political youth organization. ("Nashi" is presumably derived from the Russian word for "nationalist" similar to the way "Nazi" was derived from the German term for National Socialist.) Nashi offers members "summer camps" reminiscent of both the Young Pioneers in the Soviet Union and the Hitler Youth. It proves to have a nasty, violent side that Masha ideologically blinds herself to. For Masha, though, Nashi held more immediate benefits (new car, spacious digs, a meeting with the head of the Russian state, the hem of whose garment she touched).
That gradually changes as she gets to know Oleg Kashin, an opposition journalist who figures prominently in the film. Masha reflexively dislikes him, as her Nashi affiliation requires. True-believer Masha thus serves as foil to Stalwart Oleg, who endures much for his commitment to journalistic professionalism. He has chosen a lonely life of hardship and injury, and we are all glad of it.
Oleg appears as one of two credited cast members on the IMDb "full cast" listing. (Masha's name is curiously not present.) The other cast member being ... Vladimir Putin, formerly a lieutenant colonel in the KGB and now (again) President of the Russian Federation and de facto strongman leader since 1999. (If you watch closely, a secondary theme may emerge: Here's yet another short man who entered public life to make a right pest of himself so as not to be overlooked.)
Actually, the film, set in Moscow, shows hundreds of other political militants as well (thousands, if you count the political rally scenes). A few of them are captioned during public appearances and motivational speeches.
For those who still believed Russia to be a fledgling but functional post-Soviet-era democracy, the film will hold upsetting revelations. One of them is that political leaders see no downside to saying one thing and doing another a tendency yielded to with even more relish and gusto in Russia than in chaotic corners of the EU or in the corporation-beholden US Congress.
Another is how PR-savvy Putin has become in his dealings with the public and the media, the better to put a palatable, modern face on Russia while consolidating absolute control and entrenching the Russian police state. Putin has, for example, cannily overseen the creation of a range of political organizations that act as clubs for Russians young and old, affording them relatively harmless, socially sanctioned, toothless outlets for their nationalism.
But there's little in Putin's strategies that can't be found in countries the world over. Putin just has fewer qualms about making dissidents offers they can't refuse.
For those who even cursorily follow international news, Putin's Kiss will flesh in some details about how the Russian political machine operates. Otherwise, it could prove a yawner after the first half-hour or so. Had this film been made in the West, the full cast would have included a few dozen informants and interviewees. But that's not in the cards in Putin's Russia.
And so, while admiring Oleg's bravery and Masha's political maturation, viewers over, say, age 30 will be left wondering why the film was built around the well-intentioned but bland Masha (including childhood photos of her and other biopic trappings). Is it primarily a self-aggrandizing compensation for political disillusionment? She was likely well placed to arrange for its production via contacts she'd developed as a Nashi figurehead.
Russophiles will find material of interest in Putin's Kiss, as may those who have just begun delving into political studies.
Others ... probably not so much.
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