In 1991, when the USSR broke apart, a generation of young Russians faced a new realm of possibilities. This documentary examines the lives of this last Soviet generation, telling the stories of five Moscow schoolmates who were brought up behind the Iron Curtain.

A detailed look into life beyond the Iron Curtain.

: Referring to their collective childhood, one of the subjects in My Perestroika remembers it with the fondness of dewy nostalgia: 'the grass was greener, the sky was bluer." What they don’t mention is that a lot of people were reds. Robin Hessman’s calmly assembled documentary is about a handful of Muscovites who’ve reached middle age. They were born into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, grew up under a totalitarian regime, and just as they came of age everything changed, and then changed again. For better or worse is the obvious question, but the film is also attuned to the cultural and personal anomalies of what has been a tempestuous set of decades by any standard.

Picked out of a primary school class photo (fact: if nothing else, Soviet school uniforms at the turn of the 1980s were tops), the serious Slavic faces have matured into adults who, with the alacrity of survivors, aren’t that fussed about what has transpired. They’re happy to reflect on what they’ve lived through, but verdicts are the province of the audience. One subject, a fashion retail owner named Andrei, observes that all the jobs he’s ever had didn’t exist in the former U.S.S.R., while high school history teacher Lyubov admits that her students can’t believe that their forebears not only submitted to, but advocated for the systemically flawed rule of the Communist Party.

Hessman shadows the five participants – Andrei, Lyubov and her husband, fellow teacher Boris, sales rep Olga and musician Ruslan – through apartments and workplaces, reminding you that even at the coalface of history ordinary people have simple needs and short memories. Life under Lenin’s successors is painted without snide humour, but in hindsight it’s a strange netherworld where the media was purely a propaganda tool, state control meant that prices and fashion never changed, and the closest you got to Star Wars was attending an official after school demonstration against U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative.

Having realised as teenagers what was going on, the subjects were intellectually independent – they soaked up whatever the state hadn’t overseen. They were deprived yet enriched, and their own children, seen watching South Park and Pirates of the Caribbean, lack that feel for self-preservation. 'Fighting the system is always thrilling," Boris says, but even those who stood vigil outside public institutions during the failed hardliner’s military coup in 1991, are sanguine now about the exchange of General Secretary’s for President’s such as Vladimir Putin. Russia, by many measures, is once more not a democracy, but conditions are better than they were and the exchange of a centrally controlled economy for a free market one, initially disastrous, has given more choice, if less security, to the average Russian. They’ll accept that, even if they grumble.

Hessman catches ineffably Russian qualities, including a lingering suspicion of the West despite embracing their brands, and there are some telling sequences on the change wrought by time. Ruslan’s punk band, which he quit in 2000 in a blaze of idealism, is still going, drawing large crowds as 'a show business machine", according to a former bandmate enjoying the ride. Mostly, however, the latter years are skipped over, and one seemingly crucial incident, the murder of Olga’s boyfriend, a banker, and his driver, is barely looked at.

Perhaps Hessman didn’t want to play up the clichéd view of modern Russia, such as organised crime’s all-encompassing strength, but it does remind you that this is a stunning amount of history, both public and personal, to be compressed into a single documentary. It’s as if half a dozen editions of Michael Apted’s Up Series had been condensed into a single documentary feature.



1 hour 28 min