Pipeline: Vladivostok Review

Pipeline Still H
An understated and illuminating documentary that reminds us that not all Europe is created equal.  

Russian director Vitaly Mansky travels the length of the Urengoy-Pomary-Uzhhorod gas line, from Siberia to Europe, in this subtle documentary.

A documentary tracking a single artifact or person from one community to another isn't a new concept to the form, but Vitaly Mansky's (Our Motherland, Patria O Muerte) chronicle of the disparate lives and experiences on the route of a Russian gas pipeline is as enlightening as it is novel. Veteran documentarian Mansky's epically minded (but without the epic running time) Pipeline takes an observational journey from Siberia, across Russia and into Europe along the Urengoy-Pomary-Uzhhorod gas line, and in doing so illuminates real life along the way. It's not the kind of feel-good or ironically infuriating doc that generally receives a wide release, but documentary festivals and similarly themed television outlets should show considerable interest.

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The wildly varied levels of affluence, infrastructure and comfort in the towns along the pipeline are at the heart of Pipeline, and for the most part it's a tough life at the very least. As he heads west Mansky proves that it's the pipeline indeed that connects the people and places, with several subtle and moving asides. From the reporter discussing a monument to gas workers in Siberia to reindeer herders and their games, and from a makeshift priest who's crafted a church from a derelict boxcar to a couple getting married on the border between Europe and Asia, the camera lets any hopelessness and disillusion speak for itself. There's no overt rage, but when the reindeer herders comment on the scores of dead fish they're catching, the pipeline and its payload looms larger than ever, however silently. Mansky steers clear of sermonizing or politicizing the material, but as with the fish sequence, it's hard not to draw one's own negative conclusions about the drastic inequalities and perhaps their root causes among the half dozen locations he stops in.

Aside from the residents living on the line, the star of the film is Aleksandra Ivanova's elegant and unadorned cinematography that makes the (sometimes) blistering cold and sheer vastness of the country palpable, while visually capturing what makes each location distinct.

Director-Writer Vitaly Mansky
Producer: Natalya Manskaya
Director of Photography: Aleksandra Ivanova

Editors: Evgeniy Izmalkov, Andrey Sirobaba, Andrey Paperny

No rating, 118 minutes