Surematu [Immortal] (2019)

Director: Ksenia Okhapkina
Writer: Pauls Bankovskis, Ksenia Okhapkina, Kersti Uibo
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 27.10.2019

Apatity, a town in the Murmansk region of Russia, used to be a gulag. After the system change and the dismantling of the gulag, many of the people who were forced there at first, opted to stay and continue their lives in town. The documentary looks at the life in town as it approaches the Heroes of the Fatherland celebration.

Immortal is a very calm documentary that offers no real dialogue, no explanations as it investigates the town, mostly at night. It allows for many insights, but I’m afraid that it was a little too slow and way too pessimistic for me – I struggled.

The film poster showing a group of boys dressed in red uniforms.

The documentary is short – just over 60 minutes long – and it does manage to put a lot of it in that short time-frame, despite feeling slow, calm and measured. It doesn’t focus on any single person to tell its story, but rather on a system that indoctrinates ideologically as a matter of course.

Of course, all the boys join the youth branch of the army and learn how to handle guns at a very young age. Of course, all the girls spend their entire time training for the ballet. The adults, almsot all of whom work at the apatite mines in the area, seem to have little to no dreams of their own, no ambitions, no real will to change a thing. But not because they are happy. There is a depressing resignation to them that invites an apatite – apathy pun that I’m only barely resisting here.

A tree decorated with lights in the darkness in front of a huge apartment complex.

Nevertheless – and that is probably more to do with the grueling festival schedule than with the film itself – I struggled to stay awake during the film (in fact, I’m pretty sure I lost that fight a couple of times, but given the meditative quality of the documentary, it’s hard to say).

What was more difficult for me, the film felt a little suffocating in its pessimism, if not to say nihilism. I’m not demanding a happy-go-lucky look at a former gulag, but even in the most oppressive system, there is still some wiggle room – and it would have been nice to get more of that. That being said, there really is a lot of interesting analysis in this documentary and Okhapina captures everything in really gorgeous images. So. it’s definitely worth giving it a try.

A group of girls taking ballet lessons, dressed in black.

Summarizing: interesting but heavy.

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