Only two years after the 30-second concert that sent three members of Pussy Riot to jail, the band’s circumstances have changed radically: They are symbols for all oppressed groups in Russia and famous all over the world.
Then again, the establishment continues to fight them: just a few weeks ago, Nadya Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were whipped and pepper-sprayed while performing at Sochi.
The documentary Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer only covers the period up to the sentencing of Nadya, Maria and Katya Samutsevich, but that’s interesting enough. The trial pitted two visions of Russia against each other: religious conservatives vs. liberals demanding a clear separation between church and state.
More than a punk band (they lay anti-Putin lyrics over pre-recorded tracks), Pussy Riot is a performance art collective. The group mounts flash shows in meaningful places, like the Red Square or a prison roof. We learn that the group was aware of the possible consequences of performing in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, but decided to press on to call attention to the Orthodox Church’s “sexism”. But their stunt caused more ripples than they first foresaw. Since they couldn’t be openly accused of blasphemy, Nadya, Katya and Maria faced charges of disrupting the social order and committing acts of hooliganism.
Even though in Western countries the public opinion was categorically on the punkettes’ side, in Russia the population was split. The Putin administration — which has relied on Orthodox Church support for over a decade — favoured some kind of punishment. The outcome: two years in prison. Last December, the Russian President pardoned the girls. Genuine compassion? Try pre-Olympic image cleansing.
A Punk Prayer also allows the injured party to air its grievances. We are led to believe the Orthodox Church’s overreaction is rooted in the persecution they endured under the Soviet regime. That said, religious conservatives clearly hate Pussy Riot’s pro-gay, openly feminist message.
A Punk Prayer greatly benefits from Pussy Riot’s efforts to record everything. An interesting aspect of the story the documentary avoids is dissension among the defendants and conflicts with their lawyers. It may not be the main point of the movie, but presenting the band as of one mind is cheating. /Jorge Ignacio Castillo