It’s absurd theatre! Well, I have tried it myself in 1967. To be called for military service in the Danish army. I chose the easy solution to take one (completely useless) year of service at the air force instead of the two year’s civil service it was back then, where you sent to the forest to sweep leaves up against the wind.
The young ones in this film had all applied for civil service because of their convictions. They had to appear (see the photo) in front of a committee to present their case, one could almost say pitch their point of view. As in pitching sessions the panelists sat with papers and only a few of them were to say something. The rest sat with stone faces that communicated that they did not like, what they saw and heard.
Take Roman Fedorov and his excellent speech for pacifism with references to Sakharov, Bertrand Russell, classic Russian literature – he gives his statement while the camera shows the non-reaction of the judge, who probably finds Dostojevski and other writers totally irrelevant for the case of Fedorov, the clever and brave young man, whose father is also interrogated about his (and the son’s) convictions.
There’s a nurse, uniformed military men, a woman who puts all the questions – in the room where Viktor enters asking for ”alternative military service”, because of his, as he puts it, ”non-traditional sexuality”. His case is discussed, a nurse comes in and says that she does not think homosexuality is a decease… But the camera and the sound catches the leading lady at the table saying to the military man next to her: ”… maybe he is insane”!
And the there is the well-formulated young man, who is there with his mother and who does not want to be drafted, ”to go and fight our brothers in Ukraine”. His appeal for ”civil service” is rejected… cut to a soldier’s choir and close-ups of young men, who have joined to ”do their duty”.
This is where the director comments directly on the consequence of the absurd theatre, which is a reality in Russia today, some call it mobilisation. The film shows a generation gap between the young ones who claim for pacifism and the stone-age panel, who has to act according to some paragraphs, they don’t understand. Is it a sad film, of course it is, on the other hand you feel happy to see the bravery of the young ones, who dare stand up for their convictions.
Objections – yes, the quotation of Vonnegut in the beginning is difficult to read and un-needed… would have preferred a small text at the end with info on the duration of military service in Russia today as well as info on how many who actually get ”civil service”.
On the other hand I salute that the director has refrained from easy critical comments in editing, the panels and the youngsters speak for themselves. See the film, it has some kind of a happy ending for the involved.
Russia, 63 mins., 2016