Masha Drokova, born in 1989, is the star of Lise Birk Pedersen’s documentary Putin’s Kiss, and the bearer of a heavy onscreen burden. She serves as a stand-in for the young Russian generation, a role for which she was also, in different ways, self-selected. Until recently, Drokova was a rising star in Nashi, a patriotic, powerful pro-Vladimir Putin movement that critics have compared to the Hitler Youth. The Danish Pederson would surely count herself as one of those critics—her film aligns itself with the political opposition and a group of liberal journalists, including sometimes-narrator Oleg Kashin. But Putin’s Kiss isn’t a tirade against the (legitimately creepy) Nashi or Putin’s regime. It’s the story of Drokova’s rueful coming of age and parting of ways with the organization, and while it comes across as simplistic, it’s also achingly wistful about political awakenings being just a matter of talking to and finding empathy for the other side.
Nashi claims to be democratic and anti-fascist, but its actions don’t follow: It’s embroiled in constant, furious battle against anyone who dares besmirch Russian sanctity by disagreeing with Putin’s policies. The group marches in the thousands, waving flags and holding up photos to “shame” the “enemies” of the state, including dissidents, journalists, and human-rights activists. The harsh language used in Nashi meetings isn’t political, it’s incendiary—the movement is based on conformity and confrontation, and while some of its actions include exposing stores that sell expired food or alcohol to minors, others may find members encouraging and condoning violence against anyone who speaks out against them.
Moon-faced and busty, Drokova is a photogenic, articulate spokesperson, and it’s clear why the Nashi leadership seized on her and nurtured her; she’s the kind of representative who could be proudly introduced to foreign journalists. But her earnestness and genuine nature also lead to her disenchantment with the group, as she starts to socialize with Kashin and other liberals, and finds she can no longer see them as a monolithic enemy. Putin’s Kiss maintains a wry distance that unnecessarily trivializes the shocking act that finalizes Drokova’s parting of ways with Nashi, but the melancholy of her disillusionment remains. Underneath all this heated discussion of democracy in Russia, it becomes clear, there may not be much actual democracy at work.