December 1, 2011

RUSSIA: Gray power from the silver screen

MOSCOW, Russia / Moscow News / Art & Entertainment / December 1, 2011

An elderly woman herself, Rimma Markova reaches out to elderly people just like her, writes 
Natalia Antonova 

The elderly star of a banned A Just Russia ad, Rimma Markova, has joined another renowned actress, Liya Akhedzhakova, in agitating for political change in the country.

Rimma Markova
The “extremist” ad in question features a retired woman who is humiliated when she realizes utility prices are rising faster than her pension. It cuts to Markova angrily speaking about how people like this woman have been “tortured.”

The ad was banned because, and I quote here: “it may lead to prejudice against people responsible for raising utility prices.” In other words, because it touched upon an inconvenient truth about life for Russian pensioners – and because pensioners are a traditional demographic targeted by the ruling United Russia party, the sentiment it expressed hit a little too close to home.

Markova is a fascinating actress – and one of those whose coveted status as one of the People’s Actresses of Russia has not inspired her to turn away from societal problems. Stunning in her youth, and remaining a striking, vivid presence today, Markova turned in a pitch-perfect performance as a witch in Timur Bekmambetov’s popular “Night Watch” and “Day Watch” films. Her theater work includes more than a decade at Moscow’s Lenkom.

When asked by TV host Vladimir Solovyov why she even “needs” to be politically active, she replied forcefully: “I am a Russian citizen. I’m going to quote Solzhenitsyn here, which will explain everything: ‘It is our woe that we are governed by people who do not associate their future and the future of their children with this country.’ In other words – we are governed by traitors.”

Her low, garrulous voice, the voice of a woman with little to lose, even gave yours truly goosebumps – and I’m a cynic as far as politics go.

An elderly woman herself, Markova reaches out to elderly people just like her – those who traditionally spend their time watching state-controlled TV and thinking they are lucky if they even manage to get by nowadays. She points out that this is not how things ought to be, that pensioners deserve much better and should not passively accept their cruel fate. According to Markova, when people who’ve worked their entire lives cannot enjoy a stable, dignified old age – something has gone seriously amiss. I wish there was someone like her agitating for people who have lost their retirement funds in the US, to be honest.

By contrast, Liya Akhedzhakova, a famed film and theater star who also carries the title of a People’s Actress, voiced her opposition to the ruling United Russia in her trademark meandering, delicate manner. She was a geek before being geeky was cool, and in a video that blew up on YouTube recently, she is in her element: “Notice that humor, cruel humor, works much better than any March of Dissent,” Akhedzhakova says of the Nakh-Nakh protest movement, which has essentially been created to encourage people to tell the ruling party to go f*** itself.

“Millions of people watch advertisements, cooking shows, tabloid shows…” she goes on to say. “[They don’t pay attention to people like journalist Mikhail] Beketov, who practically gave up his life for the Khimki forest, who suffered in a way that cannot be undone. And the Khimki forest is gone… Look at how people defended [historic] Kozikhinsky Pereulok [from developers in Moscow]. They tore it all down.”

The world is in turmoil, and Russia is no exception. Political problems here are a matter of survival for millions – when the poor are dying without access to adequate medical care due to systemic corruption, when planes fall out of the sky because the airline industry remains dangerously unregulated. And it often comes down to people such as Markova and Akhedzhakova, charismatic, talented, but, most importantly, able to express real outrage on behalf of their fellow citizens, to get the message across: Something’s rotten in society nowadays. And it’s everyone problem.

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