Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

pussy riot

The documentary Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, currently being shown on HBO GO, provides a fascinating look behind the scenes at the feminist musical protestors who made international headlines last year. It tells the story of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (Nadia), Maria Alyokhina (Masha) and Yekaterina Samutsevich (Katia), the three young members of the Russian punk rock group Pussy Riot, who were arrested in February 2012 following their short protest at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Church.

Directors Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin are obviously pro-Pussy Riot, with their unflattering portrayal of the Russian Orthodox “Carriers of the Cross,” who resemble Hell’s Angels and casually refer to Nadia as a “demon” who would have been hanged in the “good old days.”

The choice to include this motley bunch of worshippers is interesting, as it highlights the swinging pendulum that is Russian religion: from being banned in the Soviet Union days to its union with the State today. At least, that is what the members of Pussy Riot believe is happening.

The film strips the Pussy Riot performance down to what it really was: not just a media ploy, not some attempt to Westernize Russia, but a feminist protest against the union of Church and State and against the repression of women’s voices. These women are artists, using performance as a way to project their feminist message.

Their actual “offending” performance was a quick and amateurish mess. It was a poorly organized and naïve display by the young women, making the punishments placed upon them—two years in intensive labor camps—appear even harsher by comparison. Out of this, the directors are able to show the growing maturity of the women’s court statements as their “show trial” cage inevitably provides them an international platform on which to express their views.

Heartstrings are predictably tugged as the film delves into the childhoods of Nadia, Maria and Katia. Their parents are interviewed, expressing their conflicting feelings of support for their daughters alongside their own feelings about the regime. It’s old era vs new, something that Russia is particularly conscious of, and it highlights how these women should have the right to express beliefs about the modern age—beliefs that are not to bring down Russia, but to encourage Russia to be the best that it can be. Pussy Riot are idealists at heart.

The courts faced difficulties in coming up with a charge for the three women, eventually settling on “hooliganism motivated by religious hate”. Pussy Riot have been the guinea pigs for a system that unfairly punishes harmless protest. Russian lawmakers have further confirmed this by introducing a law against “offending religious feeling“ in the wake of this case. At the moment it appears that the union of Church and State has triumphed.

Nevertheless, Pussy Riot supporters fight on and no doubt their ranks will be bolstered by this documentary. Let’s hope for a swift release for Nadia and Masha: mothers, feminists, fighters.

Photo of Pussy Riot by Wikimedia Commons user Denis Bochkarev under license from Creative Commons 3.0

Comments

  1. Putin has no intellect. neither do any of his fans. great interview with 2 Pussy Riot artists in The New Statesman. Pussy Riot are the finest artists in Russia- and it says so on Gothic Moon Records website. There`s also an interview with me on the subject in FixeMag-the art&music mag online. Viva Pussy Riot art!

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