No “Road to Bliss”

Langemann’s New Film Focuses on the Abyss Between Russia’s Super Rich and Ultra Poor

On The Town | Tamara Nosenko | April 2008

The super rich: Traffic control at Rubliovka (Photos: Lichtfilm)

The camera is located in the bushes. It films part of a country road. It’s a mid-summer day, but all is quiet. Cars are standing on the side of the road, no people, just a policeman standing still as a statue. Suddenly there is a growing sound of motorcade. The camera films motorcycles and ten Mercedes Brabus with dark windows rushing by at enormously high speed.

Then everything comes back to life, all the normal sounds – people reappear, walking along the road, cars on the shoulders start up again; we hear the sounds of busy noon time traffic.  The policeman turns on his walkie-talkie and confirms that President Putin has just passed on his way to the residence.

The scene is a part of documentary Rublyovka – Road to Bliss by German-Russian director Irene Langemann screened this spring at the Kino de France on Shottenring – a portrait of the Russian society, filmed in the Rublyovka suburb of Moscow. It has always been a prestigious community of holiday homes, favored by the Soviet apparatchiks and Communist Party leaders. Today the area has become the most expensive elite place to live and the most expensive land to purchase in all of Russia. According to Russian real estate research company Terra Incognita, the price for 100 sq. meters of land there can be up to $180,000. It’s a true vanity fair full of famous and eccentric personalities, chic and tasteless buildings, unreasonably high prices for milk and flowers at the local market-place, and a phalanx of posh night-clubs, fitness centers and boutiques.

"In Putin’s Russia, Rublyovka has become synonymous with wealth, social ascent and decadent lifestyles," says director Langemann. "Tell-tale signs of the past and gross excesses of Russian cutthroat capitalism have created a bizarre microcosm that does not have a parallel elsewhere in this giant empire".

At the same time, the old wooden houses of the local people – those who live far below the poverty line and struggle to hold on to the land of their parents – present a living example of the social divide between rich and poor.

"Now the fight for the last remaining pieces of land has broken out," Langemann said. "The last remaining huts of the poor are swept aside to make way for the palaces of the wealthy by means that could not have been any more unfair or brutal. The Russian State, celebrating an imperial comeback bolstered by petro-billions, seems to have declared open season on the poor and weak. Like ‘Indians on their reservations,’ they feel. And hardly anyone dares to protest" – proof of the thesis of U.S. globalization theorist Saskia Sassen, that the concentration of wealth and power requires nearby concentrations of poverty and underprivilege.

The documentary is clear, uncovering the many layers of Russian modern society. The subjects alone speak simply and sincerely and the visual material is powerful; there is no voice over, no moralizing.

We see a huge bonfire that had just consumed some rotten wood constructions behind a ramshackle fence; we see Rublyovka traffic jams of Mercedes and Alfa Romeos; we see the bill boards announcing that land in Rublyovka gets more expensive everyday; and we see security guards and police at every corner of the road, checking the documents of drivers. It’s an overwhelming mix of poverty and wealth, both exaggerated to the maximum.

The sound track is also strong, as disturbing and tense classical music is mixed with a cacophony of street sounds.

The documentary Rublyovka. Road to Bliss strikes hard with its approach of simple observation, while raising issues of corruption and humiliation, presenting the true picture of modern Russia’s vanity fair with all of its values rotting at the core.


Kino de France

1., Schottenring 5/Hessgasse

Tel: + 43 1 371 5236

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    the vienna review April 2008