At least you don’t live in a dump outside of Moscow. There, I’ve just given you a riposte for anybody who complains about having it rough.
If you need more details, you can watch Polish director Hanna Polak’s moving documentary Something Better To Come, which is about people who actually do live in Svalka, a landfill less than fifteen miles from the heart of Moscow.
Live. And breed.
Which, I hasten to add is less of a horror-movie CHUD thing and more a Jurassic Park style “life finds a way” thing. Over the course of 14 years (2 years better than that boy movie!) Polak follows the life of Yulia, a 10 year old girl (at first) whose father died, with the resultant effect being that she and her mother lost their apartment.
This, by the way, doesn’t appear to be a “can’t make the rent” thing but more of a “the state viewed the apartment as his, and it would take a while for them to apportion a new kvartira for us.” It seems as though the USSR went from a hellish vision of Communism to a hellish fusion of Socialism and Fascism.
Complete with the “Oh, we mustn’t let the news get out that we have children living in our dumps”. Polak doesn’t spend a lot of time on it, but occasionally she gets rousted by Junkyard Goons who order her to stop filming.
And in this giant wasteland, the residents provide a service: They are essentially recyclers, finding useful bits of electronics, metals, or anything valuable. They are, naturally, prohibited from selling these things—which reminds me of nothing so much as the laws that were enacted here to require trash separation, pitched as a recycling thing but more meant to prevent the indigent from fishing valuable things out of the trash and possibly finding some self-sufficiency.
In Svalka, the residents are paid in Vodka for the efforts, primarily, which is good because there are a lot of alcoholics among the grownups and the kids need to follow in those footsteps, I guess.
Besides scavenging, the Svalkans also demonstrate considerable creativity setting up places to live—places which are periodically knocked down on the apparent order of the Junkyard’s owner.
The movie’s not really political in that sense. We don’t really see much about the whys and wherefores. Yulia’s mom is an alcoholic. A variety of pictures about the dad, positive and negative, are painted over the years which might all have been true, at various points.
We do see amazing amounts of filth, meals cooked from discarded food, lots and lots of drinking, death and despair.
On the three-point-scale:
1. Well, obviously this is an interesting topic: The survival of people at the bottom rung of society that seems pathological invested in keeping them down.
2. The presentation is very much on the phone cam level. It’s good enough to see what’s going on, and overall adequate to the task, but this is a case where something dressy would feel utterly false. You know, like those reality shows where people are trying to “survive”, and you’re thinking “But there’s a camera crew right there! There’s gotta be a craft services table within 15 yards!”
3. Slant? Well, that’s interesting. I can’t say that the director didn’t help Yulia navigate byzantine Russian bureaucracies at any point to try to help her get out of Skalva, and if she did, would that be something to complain about? If there were things Polak saw that she couldn’t record, and still feel human, are we to kvetch?
Honestly, I was just happy, thrilled even, that the movie provides some semblance of hope—not necessarily for the denizens of Svalka, because there’s damn little hope there—but for Yulia herself, even if Polak was the one who had to help provide it. It doesn’t take from the story, but it also doesn’t punish the audience for getting invested, so it can veer in to what they call “poverty porn” these days.
The Boy was also moved. This was the sixth and final film in our streak of “way above average” films.