Sunday, April 21, 2019

Art of the Real '19: Karelia--International with Monument

Karelia is like the Finnish Katyn Forest. Of course, it is in Russia, but it really ought to be part of Finland. Alas, the Putin regime has never been inclined to return conquered territory, especially when it holds evidence of Soviet war crimes. Nevertheless, a local Christian family lives in relative harmony with their notorious surroundings, as Andres Duque documents in Karelia: International with Monument, which screens during the 2019 Art of the Real.

The Pankratev children sing songs and cavort with nature. They seem to live an idyllic childhood, undisturbed by the heavy significance of the tributes to dead soldiers affixed to so many trees in the forest. There are also numerous stone monuments dedicated to the soldiers of Finland, Poland, and Ukraine, who have been unearthed in the Karelian forest. Putin's organization of flunky historians also claims Russian soldiers have also been buried in Karelia's mass graves, but this contention is based solely on propaganda rather than science.

The first hour of Duque's doc is slow going, in the extreme. Only the Pankratev patriarch shows any interest in the region's history, but he is more concerned with earlier, primordial eras, such as the rein of Ivan the Terrible. However, things get interesting in the last half hour, when Duque shifts the focus to Katerina Klodt, whose father, Yuri Dmitriev was excavating the Karelia graves. He was a scientist, not a yes-man, so he frequently contradicted the assertions of Putin's organization of so-called military historians.

Now he is in jail, despite being exonerated by a lower court. Gallingly, the higher (more obedient) court not only reinstated the dubious charge he sexually abused his step daughter. They also added child pornography and weapons indictments. 

Dmitriev's case is more than a worthy subject for a documentary, so Duque deserves credit for addressing it in International. We wish there were a more accessible documentary that also chronicled the Russian state's concerted efforts to silence and break him, but we have to take what we can get.

Admittedly, the first hour of International is a demanding viewing experience, but the nearly thirty minutes devoted to Klodt and Dmitriev arguably redeems the film. It certainly issues a strong warning regarding the systematic campaign of Putin's propagandists to alter the historical record to serve their master's purposes. As a film, International is a vastly mixed bag, but it has it merits--and there are pressing reasons to cover it. Recommended for hardy cineastes that are receptive to more open and explorative sensibilities, Karelia: International with Monument screens this Tuesday (4/23) in New York, as part of this year's Art of the Real.