Red Army (2014)


Perhaps because so many threads of the story remain shrouded in mystery, the Cold War continues to be a subject that’s ripe for dissection. This impressively cinematic documentary from American filmmaker Gabe Polsky attempts to pull back and peek behind the Iron Curtain, offering a mesmerising microcosm of Soviet rule.

Focusing on Russia’s famed Red Army hockey team, one of the most successful dynasties in sports history, and featuring terrific testimonials from all members of the “Russian Five”, Polsky sets out to voice a very human story of the pressures faced by those living in the Soviet system. Told predominantly from the perspective of the team’s captain Slava Fetisov, whose career spanned across many of his country’s key historical moments, the director examines how the sport mirrored the social and political movements within the USSR, and parallels the Red Army’s rise and fall with that of the Soviet Union.

Conveyed with puckish fervour at a punchy pace, which is enhanced by Christophe Beck & Leo Birenberg’s sprightly score, Polsky immerses us within a cold & unpleasant world of rules and restrictions, where such activities as hockey acted as a welcome distraction. Juxtaposed next to the images of pain and poverty that give a snapshot of what life was like for so many, the hockey sequences take the form of a beautiful, blissful ballet. The players we watch are skilled professionals working as a team to achieve their goals. So joyful is it to simply watch them play that it almost feels like a shame when the film quickly moves on. Indeed, given the unrelenting immediacy of the 80-minute runtime, this is a problem throughout.

There are many complex layers to be scratched away at within Red Army, but what captivates is the director’s infectiously impish persona, which holds stylistic similarities to that of Nick Broomfield and, to a lesser extent, his producer Werner Herzog. There’s an air of cheeky glee radiating from the screen in the moments where the camera remains fixated on interviewees who are stumped by troubling questions, and effortless entertainment value to be gleaned from the stereotypically arrogant Russian attitude of Fetisov and his teammates.

What will linger long in your own mind though are the revelations in the final act that suggest we may be facing a reality of history repeating itself. This isn’t a system that collapsed, it is simply one that changed its appearance.

Director: Gabe Polsky
Writer: Gabe Polsky (story)
Stars: Viacheslav Fetisov, Scotty Bowman, Mark Deakins
Runtime: 84 mins
Country: USA, Russia

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

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