Review: Bolshoi Babylon

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DIR: Nick Read, Mark Franchetti • PRO: Mark Franchetti • ED: David Charap, Jay Taylor • MUS: Smiths & Elms • CAST: Maria Alexandrova, Maria Allash, Sergei Filin, Anatoliy Iksanov

Winston Churchill once called Russia “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. It is this mysterious place, and specifically the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, that this documentary is set.

Bolshoi Babylon follows a year in the life of this Russian institution in the immediate aftermath of an acid attack on its ballet director Sergei Filin, for which one of Bolshoi’s dancer’s, Pavel Dmitrichenko, was arrested for the crime.

The world of ballet is a fascinating place, the dancers need supreme discipline and their careers are short. There is fierce competition and jealously throughout. Where better to delve into this world than in one of the oldest and best established ballet theatres in the world, in the home of ballet, Russia – The Bolshoi Ballet Theatre?

The story doesn’t disappoint, co-directors Nick Reed and Mark Franchetti use the scandal of the acid attack as a window into this intense organisation. We see the dancer’s working day; how they train and perform every day. These dancers feel privileged to work at the Bolshoi as they see it as a sacred place, a shrine to ballet.

There is also the political connotation of the Bolshoi. It has always been aligned to the State where it is an item on the national budget. It was one of Russia’s best assets to show off the country during Stalin’s reign and the Cold War.

All of this contributes to the culture of the Bolshoi which the directors capture beautifully. The film focuses in part on Filin, his recovery from the attack and his return to working in the Bolshoi, but it is not simply his story – I would say it is the story of the theatre as a whole and its link to Russian society. A fascinating character in the film is Vladimir Urin, who joined the Bolshoi as the general manager; he is domineering and rules the Bolshoi with an iron fist – however, he also wants to improve the Bolshoi by being more transparent and a champion of the dancers. His chats on camera are probably the most interesting part of the film. Bolshoi Babylon is a glimpse into this passionate world and is a very accomplished documentary.

Ailbhe O’ Reilly

PG
86 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Bolshoi Babylon is released 8th January 2016

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