1994, NR, 99 min. Directed by Nikita Mikhalkov.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 5, 1997
A highly personal chronicle of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the maturation of filmmaker Mikhalkov's young daughter Anna, this extraordinary documentary from the Academy Award-winning director of Burnt by the Sun at first strikes one as a Russian version of Michael Apted's 7 Up series, but it plays out much more wistfully. Mikhalkov began documenting his daughter at the age of six in 1980. Although at that point he was unsure what form the final document might take, he continued to shoot one reel of the girl each year over the course of 13 years. Now, cleanly edited together with scenes from the U.S.S.R.'s tumultuous history during the Eighties and early Nineties, Anna revolves around the same five or so questions that the filmmaker asked of his daughter each year: What scares you the most? What do you love the most? What do you hate the most? What do you want, right now? What do you want from life? As the film opens, Leonid Brezhnev is in power, and young seven-year-old Anna grins at the camera, mugging for her father. She fears “the witch” and desires a pet crocodile. “More than anything?” “Yes.” During the continuous upheaval of the early Eighties, Mikhalov interviews his daughter every time a new leader dies. First Bhreznev falls, then in quick succession Chernenko and Andropov, until finally Mikhail Gorbachev's spotted pate finally appears, and sets in motion the ideal of perestroika. Up to that point, Mikhalkov is obviously alarmed by Anna's growing indoctrination and awareness of party politics. The answers to simple questions, such as what she most fears, metamorphose from childish wishes to nuclear war. Always she wants “peace” and feels assured that her Soviet leaders are working on it. You can almost see the liberal Mikhalkov wrinkle his nose in distaste. Mikhalkov frequently makes reference to the dangers inherent in filming such a project, not just to himself but for those “collaborators” who developed his film and worked in the labs. At one point, one of his yearly interviews falls into the wrong hands and nearly ends with his arrest. This fear of discovery slowly ebbs under Gorbachev's teetering reforms, but Mikhalkov, ever fearful, even distrusts the newly emergent capitalism. Yet the Berlin Wall crumbles and Anna, now 17 and on her way to college, offers up a tentative hope for the future of Russia. It's a disarmingly bittersweet portrait of a young girl growing up in the shadow of the empire. Rarely as pedantic as it is simply melancholy, Mikhalkov brings his dreamer's eye to the fall of Communism and the rise of his daughter and provides a wholly unique glimpse behind former enemy lines.