Recommended Viewing: Pussy Riot– A Punk Prayer

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Last year, the word “pussy” suddenly found its way into professional news articles and polite conversation. Prompting the discussion was the arrest of Russian feminist band, Pussy Riot, following their satirical performance in a Moscow cathedral. Wearing colorful masks (or “balaclavas”) and singing upon the altar, Pussy Riot performed for 40 fateful seconds before getting slammed with prison sentences. Now HBO is joining the conversation with a film chronicling the 2012 trial.

Directed by Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin, the documentary explores all influences surrounding the arrest of Pussy Riot’s three members, Nadia, Masha, and Katia.  Artfully weaving the trio’s biographies within the trial’s progression, the film depicts the humanity of the convicted girls while still offering a full scope of the trial and protests surrounding. Russian history lessons are given in short bursts to show Russia’s tense relation between church and state, an essential aspect of Pussy Riot’s arrest. The viewpoints of the religious orthodox are also offered as they fight for the girls’ punishment.

For me, the most haunting, telling scenes come from this coverage, particularly of the Carriers of the Cross. Made up entirely of older men, their ideas for silent womanhood (“You are a blessed wife and blessed is your womb”) clearly clash with Pussy Riot’s vocal activism (“Mother of God, become a feminist.”) The Carriers discuss Pussy Riot’s punishment with unsettling eagerness, and fancy themselves “forgiving” for punishing with the law instead of say, burning Pussy Riot at the stake. One man calls Nadia “a demon with a brain.” Another declares, “There have always been witches who wouldn’t repent.” As Nadia and Masha are sentenced to two years in a penal colony (Katia gets off with a suspended sentence), their performance and lyrics feel worthwhile and pertinent.

The film hints that the matter is far from over.  Katia and the remaining Pussy Riot members operate from secret headquarters and still perform on rooftops. International support for the band (including from celebrities like Madonna and Paul McCartney) have gained Pussy Riot considerable attention. While Nadia and Masha serve their sentences, their message lives on. An anonymous Pussy Riot member tells viewers, “Anybody can take on this image. Masks, dresses, musical instruments, lyrics…Write a song, make some music, and think of a good place to perform.” The film’s credits roll to a song by Peaches, who shouts in concurrence: “We are all Pussy Riot.”

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer is a must-watch for anyone wanting clarity on the masked girls who caused such a stir. For anyone who dismissively called them punks, the documentary is enlightening. And for anyone who already believed in the power of Pussy Riot, their necessity feels more acute than ever.  In the final scene of the film, Nadia holds up a handwritten sign to the prison security camera. Her sentiments echo this justification. “I don’t want to be in prison for my beliefs, but I have to.”

By: Bridget Elizabeth Sweet, Blog Editor

All Images found via Tumblr

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