Review: ACT & PUNISHMENT, Pussy Riot's Journey from Art to Prison

Contributing Editor; Cairo, Egypt (@bonnequin)
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Review: ACT & PUNISHMENT, Pussy Riot's Journey from Art to Prison

In 2012, punk activist group Pussy Riot staged a performance of their song “Punk Prayer: Mother of God Drive Putin Away” in Moscow's Church of Christ the Savior. Three members of the group - Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Mariia Alekhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich - were subsequently found arrested and found guilty of hooliganism and jailed for several years. Their rebellion against the state became something of a cause celebre in the West, with the trio becoming symbols of the fight against the totalitarian state.

Director and writer Evgenii Mitta brings their story to the screen in the documentary Act & Punishment, telling the story of how Pussy Riot was formed, how their activism formed, and what they endured during their trail. Parallel to this is stories of historial protests and the role of art in highlighting political issues.

The film operated on the basis that most viewers will have only that knowledge of Pussy Riot that was found in western media: a cursory overview of their political aims and acts, and what they suffered during their trial and inprisonment. Mitta seeks to enrich our understanding of the group by looking at their origins and philosophy: interviews with the group members, their friends, loved ones, and fellow art students.

These interviews reveal the care and intelligence with which the group approached each of their seemingly anarchic and chaotic acts, and how they were ever mindful of their political and feminist roots. These events were not randomed, but carefully planned and thought-out not only in performance, but intention and truth behind that intention.

And Pussy Riot are also placed within a particular historical context of disobedience and dissent. Interviews with are and cultural historians show that the group is not merely rioting for the sake of it, but participating in the type of anarchy that was a part of Soviet culture, and indeed has been part of the culture of the Russian empire, for centuries.

All these interviews and perspectives on Pussy Riot and their place in contemporary and historical context, with archival footage and photographs to add a personal touch. And it certainly helps to expand knowledge of and understand the group, its core members and their philosophy, and this particular Russian mindset of how to rebel. But Mitta perhaps gives the group more credit for affecting global politics and attitudes; I have no doubt that their actions within Russia have had tremendous effect, but I fear that, at least apart form underground movements, as such dissent is more tolerated in other western countries, their tactics wouldn't have quite the same resonance elsewhere.

For anyone with an interest in the group, this is a must-see documentary that will give personal insight from the women themselves, far beyond what you might have seen or read in mainstream media, and an interesting look at the origins and consequences of standing up to the state.

Act & Punishment will be released in the USA on VOD platforms on January 23, 2018, and on DVD February 13, 2018.

Act & Punishment

Director(s)
  • Yevgeni Mitta
Writer(s)
  • Yevgeni Mitta
Cast
  • Mariya Alyokhina
  • Alexander Cheparukhin
  • Ekaterina Dyogot'
  • Boris Groys
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Yevgeni MittaMariya AlyokhinaAlexander CheparukhinEkaterina Dyogot'Boris GroysDocumentary