Take a Drink: every time a kid smokes (I was gonna make it a Shot, but…)
Take a Drink: for each new leap in time
Take a Drink: for music
Take a Drink: for ironic political juxtaposition
Do a Shot: whenever Putin is name checked
By: Henry J. Fromage (Five Beers) –
I lived in Russia last year, in Russia’s third largest city- Kazan. Living in the city itself, outside of some dodgy water and electrical utilities, was a fairly comfortable, modern experience. Once you left the cities, however, your train chugging past shanty-like “summer” dachas that are really primary homes for many, especially the elderly, a different picture of this huge nation emerges.
And it doesn’t look like this
Something Better to Come examines the lives of a group of Russian citizens who can only aspire to a drafty clapboard dacha- the denizens of the Svalka, Europe’s largest landfill situated just outside Moscow. In particular, it follows the struggles of 10 year old Yula to escape a place which no one should call home.
This film touches on much more than just these unfortunate souls, including the 2002 Moscow Theater terrorist response catastrophe and the sheer length of the Putin regime- in many ways its Director Hanna Polak’s State of the Union for her home country. However, centering these disparate threads around Yula is a smart choice, because through this young girl’s eyes and experiences we learn so much more about the crushing hopelessness of a situation like her and her mother’s, and, in the end, when the timeline speeds up dramatically to show what’s become of her in the years since, the emotional punch is well-earned and incredibly powerful.
Watching somebody getting to do a shitty job has never been this tear-jerking
Make no mistakes- this is a brutally harsh film, full of a simply staggering lack of respect for the value of human life on many fronts, from (clearly) the government, to the wisecracking bulldozer drivers who’ve all accidentally run over more than one person, to the very inhabitants of the trash heaps themselves. As Barry Crimmins said in a recent interview, though, “If people who can live through, survive, or be wronged by such things, we can muster up the courage to at least tell about it.” Hanna Polak clearly has that courage.
What she doesn’t have is a great deal of subtlety. There are scenes, like when a mother leaves her child behind in a hospital while the camera lingers in the room… cut to squalling baby, then cut to the next scene, where you have to call bullshit from a documentary perspective. Likewise, we never get much of an eye into the economics of their situation- where do the hair dye and unending packs of cigarettes come from?
You know smokers aren’t throwing away entire packs of cigarettes…
When the documentary ethics are clearly shaky, it unfortunately casts a shade on some of the political commentary as well. Is that actually Putin’s inaugural address playing over the radio some kid’s just turned on in his family’s makeshift shack? These are questions a documentarian should avoid like wildfire, but which Polak invites with some of her more obviously massaged sequences.
I’m not sure I’d call Something Better to Come a good documentary (but if Searching for Sugar Man has an Oscar…). However, it’s unquestionably an incredibly moving film.