"Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, but a hammer with which to shape it," says the opening quote to the film Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer. The line, from the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, suggests that art is an act of dissidence, and therein dissidence creates a better tomorrow, a better future.
The film focuses on its namesake: Pussy Riot, the feminist punk collective of which three members were sentenced to two years in penal camps after only just a 40-second performance in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in February 2012. Harnessed with guitars and their now signature colourful balaclavas, they belt out the hard-hitting chorus of their punk prayer: "Shit! Shit! It's God shit!"
And thusly the hammer begins to take shape.
The song, much like the band, is amateur, attention-hustling and lacking of any real poetic justice to which these girls seem to live by. Moreover, it's clear in the film's first few scenes that their intention is purely, like many punk acts, to shock, "Kill all sexists, all conformists, all Putinites!"
Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer is directed and produced by Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin and is a constructive attempt to add context to the lives of these women in the cultural, social and political spectrum of contemporary Russia. As a result, we, the audience, are asked a number of important questions that linger throughout the film. It's apparent that these young girls are naive -- but surely their presence is integral?
Footage of the initial questions by police to the girls include whether they dream of getting married and having children; characteristically their answers are always almost relayed with a hints of smirks. They're dismissive in a childish way, still obviously grasping for a sense of place, but their callowness is what makes them so captivating.
Orthodox men paint them as witches, their female counterparts shirk at their unpatriotic vulgarity: "It's like someone walked into the heart of Russia and took a shit." Yet they have moments of an clarity that has a resonating calmness to it. "The patriarch stands at the altar, but a woman should occupy it. Women should be able to lead services." A bold and frank statement from one of the more demure members of the collective, Yekaterina, is said with a mild sensibility.
Throughout the film, Lerner and Pozdorovkin engage with the idea of how vital it is to have youth resistance. Pointing out it's no coincidence that the same day Putin's reform was announced, Pussy Riot was formed. Insinuating through visual cues, it is evident that Lerner and Pozdorovkin are stating that an enduring part of the democratic process is protest, and as a result we're asked to question its impact. The stark reality of political Russia is discernable in a series of shots as Putin walks to address a mass of journalists and Pussy Riot walks to their notorious Red Square demonstration where they play, "Putin Has Pissed Himself." Though perhaps their material needs a facelift, there is undoubtedly a place for Pussy Riot's dissent.
Often relegated to being amateurish and naive, their impact has undoubtedly added new heights to social and political discourse. The #freepussyriot hashtag was ubiquitous last year and ultimately allowed society at large to put Vladimir Putin's Russia on some kind of trial. Many have rallied around these girls, including celebrities like Sting, Yoko Ono and Bjork and even solidarity movements such as Occupy Wall Street, enabling a larger platform for voices to be heard.
Perhaps not always immediate, youth movements do have extraordinary clout to impact change. Pussy Riot undeniably represents our political and social zeitgeist and what we can inevitably expect of the future. Resistance demands change, and though guerilla performances aren't always the answer, this film makes it hard not to watch and feel the significance.