Tomorrow (Zavtra): Berlin Film Review

Berlinale Film Festival
Micro-budget Russian debut entertainingly documents and celebrates Moscow art-anarchists.

The micro-budget debut from filmmaker Andrey Gryazev centers on Moscow art-anarchists.

One of the more talked-about and popular documentaries in a Berlinale not short of notable non-fiction, Tomorrow (Zavtra) is a briskly rough-edged but notable debut from Muscovite one-man band Andrey Gryazev -- who's credited with everything here bar sound-mixing and color-correction. A scrappily stealthy close-up portrait of Russian art-terrorists "Voina," the picture steadily builds from zero to a knockout finale. Accessible and thought-provoking, this topical take on contemporary Russian social issues is ideal fare for discerning, envelope-pushing TV channels and could even warrant selected arthouse play in receptive urban areas.

Multi-tasking filmmaker Gryazev -- who previous output comprises one short and two hour-long featurettes -- clearly 'embedded' closely himself within Voina ('War') in order to most intimately chronicle their larkish exploits. Initial impressions aren't promising, as we observe half a dozen scruffy thirtysomethings cheekily shoplifting like wayward teenagers. While these anarchic types would resist the concept of a "leader," the dominant presence is the imposing, poetry-declaiming Koza (Goat), real name Oleg Vorotnikov, who resides in a squat-type apartment with girlfriend Natalia Sokol and their precocious baby son Kasper.  

Only gradually do we grasp the scale and nature of Vorotnikov and Voina's ambitions. Outraged at the way Russia has become what they regard as a corrupt authoritarian state under the sinister control of  Vladimir Putin, they plan to upend a St Petersburg police-car and post the resulting footage on YouTube. Preparations for this rage-against-the-machine "action" form the bulk of Tomorrow's first half, hand-held video capturing the gang's bumbling rehearsals. But once the deed is done, the stakes quickly escalate for both Voina and Gryazev, as the group obtain national and international coverage -- and the avid attentions of the cops. 

The underlying question is at what point does Voina's activity become "art' -- if it ever, indeed, does so at all. Or rather, in filmic terms, when do Jackass stunts become Exit Through the Gift Shop provocations? The existence of Tomorrow itself -- and its exposure at film-festivals and the like -- is explicitly part of this tricky equation ("there's actions, and there's also lousy creativity," someone remarks), Gryazev's presence both validating and complicating the antics of Vorotnikov, Sokol and company. In terms of filmmaking craft, the documentary becomes rather more conventional in its second half as Gryazev records Vorotnikov's legal travails after he's arrested - with a colleague -- and charged with criminal damage.  

Throughout the film little Kasper is a regular scene-stealing presence, and while his chaotic environment has clearly done absolutely nothing to impair the bright toddler's physical or mental development, the 18-month-old's exposure to danger at flashpoint-studded demonstrations is decidedly troubling. Or is this also somehow part of Voina's overall design? Given the conceptual nature of their approach, pretty much anything can become part of their "actions," an element of an undefinable modern art-form which someone predicts "will have books written about it." Whatever happens, thanks to Gryazev there's already one pretty good movie on the subject -- wrapping up with a particularly spectacular public 'action' that even Putin might privately chuckle over.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Forum) 

Production company: Andrey Gryazev  

Director/screenwriter/producer/director of photography/editor: Andrey Gryazev 

Sales Agent: Andrey Gryazev, Moscow 

No rating, 89 minutes