My Perestroika: movie review

As the USSR collapses, ‘My Perestroika’ follows its upheaval on five Russian children coming of age.

By , Film critic

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    Young Pioneers, Moscow, 1977, in a scene from ‘My Perestroika.’
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What was it like for a generation of Soviet schoolchildren to confront the brave new post-Soviet world? Director Robin Hessman, who lived as a film student in Moscow in the 1990s and later was a producer on the Russian "Sesame Street," spent five years recording the lives of five Moscow schoolmates from the last Iron Curtain generation as they passed through glasnost and perestroika and emerged, in various states of disillusion, on the other side.

In some ways, especially in its use of then-and-now home-movie footage and period newsreels, her documentary "My Perestroika" is a companion piece to Michael Apted's "Up" series.

Olga is a single mother working for a billiard table rental company; Ruslan, once a punk rock icon, became fed up with the commercialization of the music business and now plays for spare change in the subways; Andrei, who still regards himself as anti-establishment, runs a chain of high-end menswear stores.

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Perhaps most fascinating of all are Borya and Lyuba, married public school history teachers. They had to undo years of indoctrination only to discover that, in the Putin-Medvedev era, the new history textbooks are once again expunging the "bad stuff." (There is a saying that in Russia, it is the past that is unpredictable.)

The openness of these people is often astonishing – and a sign of hope. Lyuba says that Stalin may no longer be championed in Russia but that Lenin, who is still revered, "was just as much of a cannibal."

Borya says that no matter how revisionist the current chronicles of history, his young son is part of a generation that can get around any firewall. "With the Internet," Borya says, "it's impossible to have a monopoly on information." Grade: B+ (Unrated. In Russian, with subtitles.)

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