Movie Review: Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer (2013, Dir. Mike Lerner & Maxim Pozdorovkin)

Pussy Riot a Punk Prayer

You know the basic story, right? This Russian punk band with a kick-ass name tried to make a video in a church, got arrested, and you’re supposed to be pissed about it.

British director Mike Lerner and co-director Maxsim Pozdorovkin paint a detailed picture about the three infamous provocateurs of Pussy Riot, Nadia Tolokonnikova, Katia Samutsevich and Masha Alyokina in Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer. Through interviews with their very supportive parents, we get to know how each woman discovered her radical predilections, and how their objective is to use music, art, or anything else to call attention to the despot they see emerging in Putin, and the destructive force the Orthodox church represents in Russian society.  The women intelligently articulate their cause in the explicit messages of their music, like killing all sexists and conformists, and their hopes for the future.

On the other side, the Orthodoxy henchmen in the mix see them as demented and having “deranged vaginas,” and long for 16th century times when the women would have been burned as heretics for behaving like Pussy Riot. “Without Orthodoxy we would be dead,” one religious woman cradling a framed picture of the Virgin Mary says. Pussy Riot counters that sentiment by claiming that with Orthodoxy control of culture and politics, we are already dead. An interesting caveat is that both sides fear a return to Bolshevism.

Through Russian TV footage of the trial, A Punk Prayer gives us a Kafka-esque glimpse into the uncertainty everyone has about the women’s culpability, the actual charges (some including “wearing inappropriate clothing”), what the protesters were actually protesting when they stormed the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and performed a political song entitled “Punk Prayer: Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!”, what a fitting punishment would be, and the public ramifications of the outcome of these proceedings. At one point, the women apologize for offending anyone by their actions. Wasn’t that the entire point? Whatever is going on, it is clear that the state deems it must be stopped.

It seems as though the real unsaid law that was broken was Pussy Riot taking their work out of the “safe” confines of art and using it to provoke cultural and political change. They attack the status quo by attacking one of the pillars of society, the church.  And they do this in part by wearing neon colored balaclavas (think ski masks), because, as the group puts it, the masks represent their freedom from conformity, which is a scary but worthwhile endeavor.

The trial ends with three guilty convictions, and artists around the world including Madonna salute the band and their efforts. Although appreciated by the women as they sit in their glass cage, it is clear that it is one thing to want change by exposing your bra and writing on your back in magic marker like Madonna did at one of her shows, but it is entirely another thing to go to jail for 2 years for doing something about it.


Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer is the opening film of HBO’s Documentary Summer Series, premiering on June 10th, 2013 at 9:00 PM.

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