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Boris Ryzhy was a promising Russian poet who killed himself at the age of 26, in the year 2000. What made him do such a thing? Dutch filmmaker Aliona van der Horst’s quest uses the sister and widow of the poet as guides to navigate the dangerous waters of a provincial Russia that had lost itself, somehow, on the journey from communism to capitalism. With no false rhetoric, but on the contrary with a patient and modest humanity, the filmmaker tracks down and interviews surviving friends and classmates of the poet, and out of their testimony pieces together the story of a lost generation. “Everyone got freedom and didn’t know what to do with it.”
Instead of finding jobs, Ryzhy’s classmates “became bodyguards to gangsters.” In the forest we pause poignantly before the tombs of many young men who, like Ryzhy, never made it through the epoch. The film takes place in wintertime. The snow-covered streets of the scrap metal district of Yekaterinenburg become a subtly poetic symbol for the frozen hopes of these comrades. On the soundtrack we hear extracts from Ryzhy’s poems, while surviving amateur footage from the archives allows us to glimpse captivating images of the poet when alive. Van der Horst has an extraordinary skill in listening. While she listens, she looks. Rarely, in documentary, have faces been observed so eloquently.
Aliona van der Horst
Dutch director Aliona van der Horst was born in Moscow, Russia, in 1970 and studied Russian literature at the University of Amsterdam and film at the Dutch Film and Television Academy. Most of her documentaries deal with art. Van der Horst’s films have received numerous international awards, among them the Special Jury Prize at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York for Voices of Bam (2006), the Grand Prix of the FIFA Montreal, the Dutch Academy Award for The Hermitage Dwellers (opening film at DOKU.ARTS 2006) and Best Documentary Award at the Edinburgh Film Festival (Boris Ryzhy, presented at In Progress, DOKU.ARTS 2008).