As the 56Up landmark documentary has started to roll out in US theaters past weekend, it might be just the right time to take a look at its Russian equivalent that was broadcast on ARTE in winter of 2012.
Inspired by the UK-based Granada’s World in Action documentary directed by Michael Apted, the Russian director Sergej Miroshnichenko too dares to probe the statement by the Jesuit maxim “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man” in his 28Up series “Born in the USSR.”
The first footage that now looks like a few generations old, was filmed in the 80’s. “Born in the USSR” is the film about a group of ordinary 7-year-old children taken from all over the expansive territory of the Soviet Union and the course of their lives in the post-Soviet era.
Alike Apted, Miroshnichenko revisits children every seven years with the gaze of an interested observer coming to their lives to ask the questions of love, marriage, success, career, class, and prejudices. Yet “Born in the USSR” goes beyond the hypothesis that lies at the heart of the original film — whatever happens by 7 sets the course. Sure, Apted never claimed to have been able to predict lives of those children but he did articulate on the idea of the core personality, that look in the eye, and the essence that one sees in the faces of 7-year-olds manifesting itself later in their adult lives. Deftly inter-cut footage from earlier films with contemporary interviews puts forth Apted’s surprising discoveries that seem to support the ruminations of the Up series.
However, I reckon, “Born in the USSR” excels in bringing to light accounts of ordinary lives in resonate with changing times. “Born in the USSR” masterfully tells the stories of very different people who were born in the empire that aimed for uniformity. They come from Russia, the Baltic states, Caucasus, and Central Asia. They witnessed the fall of the Soviet command and found themselves in the environment of transition with the prospects, values, and norms that have changed drastically.
“Born in the USSR” is more than a film about life in the post-Soviet era. It is even more than a mere collection of biographies. Direct and unpretentious, it raises a universal question about growing up, about hopes and dreams, adult realities and their disappointments, and the big question is what life has in store in times where nothing is certain.