Yelnya, a small town 400 kilometres west of Moscow. Here the Red Army won a first, extremely costly yet only temporary, victory against the Germans in World War II. Today few contemporary witnesses remain and yet memory of the war is omnipresent, resulting in a military-patriotic coloured everyday culture.
Sergey searches for the remains of weapons and ammunition in the forest and sells them to collectors. The 16-year-old Masha sings patriotic songs in historical Red Army uniform. The days of remembrance follow in quick succession, taking the form of theatrical performances and youth army military exercises carried out in case of invasion. Man-to-man struggle, discipline, Putin and love for the motherland are the foundations of society in this economically deprived region. The victory over Nazi Germany is rightly celebrated and the military feats glorified. Pro-Western eastern Europe is despised as "ungrateful"; after all, Russia (and when speaking of Russia they mean the Soviet Union) liberated Europe from fascism. The film maintains a close proximity to its protagonists without making exhibits of them. When asked whether there is something that she thinks is beautiful yet has nothing to do with war, Masha breaks out in tears. In the end Sergey, too, is more caught up in the myth of war than actually enthusiastic about its prospect: "We are no longer actually alive, we just survive." WMH
Dmitry Bogolubov, Anna Shishova-Bogolyubova