To 33-year-old Russian filmmaker Marusya Syroechkovskaya practically only knew Vladimir Putin as head of the Kremlin. When he became head of government in 1999, she was only 10 years old. “I understand that I have lived most of my life under Putin,” she is surprised when we meet her in Cannes. His documentary How to Save a Dead Friend has just been presented to Acid, a parallel selection which contains its share of nuggets. This year, there is crazy fiction Grand Paris Express by Martin Jauvat and especially this dive with a drifting youth against a background of cold wave played by the Russians of Morenist or the English of Joy Division.
How to Save a Dead Friend has the striking charm of exceptional documentaries: it is both a posthumous tribute by the director to her ex-lover who belongs to a youth ravaged by drugs and a violent criticism of Putin’s Russia. A firebrand with punk accents that lists twelve years of images, much more trash than LetoKirill Serebrennikov’s rock delirium, presented in official competition at Cannes in 2018.
Everyone knows that Russia is a country of depression.Marusya Syroechkovskaya
The film opens with a shot of dreary buildings on the outskirts of Moscow and continues with a funeral scene. That of Kimi, the former boyfriend of the director, who died in 2016 of an overdose. Marusya Syroechkovskaya sets the tone and slips in this pithy comment: “Some people say that Russia is for the Russians. What is this bullshit? Everyone knows that Russia is a country of depression. To overcome their demons, the young friends whom Marusya Syroechkovskaya has been filming since she was 16 indulge in all kinds of drugs. She herself cams, before the overdoses which multiply in her entourage do not push her to get out of it.
On the state channel broadcast by the television set installed in his apartment, the authorities proudly announce that they have planted a flag in the seabed of the North Pole. Surreal images, like those of Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin taking turns exchanging power, one becoming head of government and the other head of state. “I discovered these rushes by chance almost at the end of the editing. These are the first images I filmed with my camera. It’s distressing today to see this face of young Putin promising more freedoms on television. »
Russia has become a totalitarian state.Marusya Syroechkovskaya
During the 2010s, Marusya did not sit idly by. She participates in and films numerous demonstrations against the Russian government. “When I was young, I thought things could get better. That there was a future. But I was wrong. Police have taken to taking photos at protests and arresting participants at their homes with the snaps as evidence. The government has become increasingly oppressive and authoritarian. Today, Russia has converted into a totalitarian state”, observes the director of How to Save a Dead Friend.
She cites the example of the Internet. “The freedom to express oneself freely there was much greater in the 2000s. Today, the authorities control the publications. You have to be very careful with what you write on social networks. Some people have been jailed just for reposting a post on Facebook or ‘liking’ a post [cliqué sur le bouton “j’aime”, NDLR]. »
Our arrest was only a matter of days away. We had to leave to be able to speak freely.Marusya Syroechkovskaya
On February 24, 2022, the filmmaker was in Moscow when Russia invaded Ukraine. “Putin assured that many Russians support the invasion. But no figures or polls from Russia are credible. Marusya Syroechkovskaya demonstrates in the following days against the war in Ukraine, then she decides to leave the country. “It had become too dangerous. The previous winter, my boyfriend had already been thrown in prison for peacefully demonstrating against the government. The police knew where we lived. Our arrest was only a matter of days away. We had to leave to be able to speak freely. »
A life in exile?
At the beginning of March, Marusya flew to Israel with two suitcases containing all her personal belongings. Since then, she “flies from festival to film festival”. Should we give the floor to Russian artists or on the contrary boycott them in order to force Vladimir Putin to change? “I find it important to listen to all dissident Russian voices. Gagging them only serves Putin’s interests, because he wants to be able to say that the whole world is against him and thus isolate the country and control the population. Silencing Russian artists therefore does Putin a service. »
The director thanks the Cannes Film Festival for giving her the opportunity to express herself by showing her work. She will not return to Russia at the end of the cultural event. “I don’t know where I’m going to live. Maybe I’ll never see my parents or my grandparents again. I prefer not to think about it too much. Chilling.
How to Save a Dead Friend, in competition in the parallel selection of Acid, in Cannes. Soon in theaters.