Distributed by Icarus Films, 32 Court St., 21st Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201; 800-876-1710
Produced by Alina Rudnitskaya
Directed by Alina Rudnitskaya
DVD, color, 88 min.
Russia, Delivery of Health Care
Date Entered: 02/11/2015Reviewed by Andrew Jenks, California State University, Long Beach
This fascinating documentary views post-Soviet Russia through the prism of the blood-donation business. The filmmaker follows a mobile blood donation center as it travels through provincial Russia. Packing and unpacking their travelling blood bank, the nurses drink and curse their way through the impoverished heartland, displaying occasional disdain for their life and fate, and for those who donate. Donors line up, desperate for the $25 or so they receive for each half-liter they give; many are turned away, begging and pleading, because they lack the requisite paperwork to prove that their blood is not tainted. The film bills its story as a “powerful metaphor of the society as a whole,” suggesting the blood sucking and exploitative nature of a society that feeds off the blood of the poor to provide health care.
The end result is a poignant snapshot of provincial Russian life in all its inglorious nerazberikha (an untranslatable Russian word that mean a complete muddle and chaos). Russian black humor is on full display as the nurses chat with donors. In one scene the nurse called the local vodka store, asking what kinds of vodka they had, as donors giving blood offered their assessment of the available brands. Some of the most fascinating footage captures donors in a dying mining town chatting about corruption, injustice, and the hopelessness of Russia’s situation. The “vampires,” as the blood-bank workers jokingly call themselves, arranged a moveable feast whenever arriving in a new town: plenty of vodka and food the night before, wishing each other luck in the next day’s haul of blood and hoping, perhaps, to find love (which often ends up in a drunken one-night stand). In one scene, after harvesting another day’s work, the mobile bloodmobile team laments the poor quality of the blood from the “cattle” who just gave, reminiscing about the tainted blood (hepatitis, AIDS, and tuberculosis) from past harvests that had reduced their pay.
The film is fascinating to watch, in a voyeuristic way, but it seems unfair to judge a society solely on the basis of its system of blood donation. Many of the chapter titles reveal the narrative thrust of the film: “Vampires,” “Desperation,” and “After Dark.” The documentary itself is filmed in black and white, which accentuates the solemn soundtrack and gray, snowy, and depressing shots of small cities and landscapes – like something out of a Dostoevsky novel.
Watching this film I often felt like saying, “Doctor, heal thyself!,” as I contemplated the injustice of health care systems – Russian and American -- that distribute the best health care disproportionately to the rich – and exploit the poor to do so. That broader context of health care provision in the modern world would have provided an important caveat; conversely, the absence of that context makes Russia appear to be an anomalous and perverse civilization, headed down an improper path of modernization. That approach certainly will appeal to non-Russian audiences, who have been conditioned by 50 years of Cold War rhetoric and now intense anti-Russian sentiments in the Putin era to see Russia as a malevolent and sick society. But it may do so by allowing non-Russian viewers to ignore the very same injustices in their own systems of healthcare provision.
- Grand Prix Artdecofest Moscow 2013
- IDFA Amsterdam 2013