Dir/Wri: Gabe Polsky Prod. Sean Carey, Dmitry Saltykovsky, Liam Satre-Meloy Jerry Weintraub Starring: Viacheslav Fetisov, Anatoli Karpov, Alexei Kasatonov Ken Kurtis, Felix Nechepore, Vladimir Pozner,
My friend Danyle and I have beentaking each other to the movies a lot lately. It first started at Rush Hour 3 when we were kids, right out of high school—when I liked her a lot. Eightyears later, we’re going to movies together,like—well, like what? Danyle’s growing interest in hockey fueled excitement over a billboard for Red Army in the theater the day we saw Inherent Vice. (A movie she greatly detests and still gives me shit for). “I want to see this”, she said, doing this light hop she does and grinning at me. I say ok, give it a glance over—it’s about Russians and hockey– aight, I like hockey, and I assume there will be some history about the Cold War (I’ll get the Russian’s side. Yes!)
So we go, and it’s a good time, for many reasons. For one, it’s because I’m with her, and two, because the film’s protagonist, hockey legend Viachslev “Slava” Festisov. The film starts with him on his phone while the documentarian, Gabe Polsky is trying to ask him a question. Slava is direct and cold in his rudeness to the point where it’s funny. Funny, because you almost can’t believe how rude he is—or, is it just a first look into a culture, through him, that as Americans, we are really bad at understanding? Red Army is 76 minute movie documenting the former Soviet Union’s legendary hockey team, which constisted of some of the greatest players in Olympic, Russian, and American hockey history. The film pulls together interviews from the elite five players on Russia’s team, going through their story from their early beginnings as a team, headed by an eccentric, genius coach (Anatoli Tarasov) their failings and triumphs in the Olympics, their master- serf relationship with the Soviet Union, and their eventual entrance into the National Hockey League and American culture.
Along side Danyle, I found myself perched on my seat, laughing out loud, irritated, and quietly inspired with Slava. Most of the film is through his accounts, his words, his attitude combined with archival footage and photos of the teams escapades, accolades, as well as their off- the- ice life (the little that they had) What gives this movie some depth and makes the $10 spent worth it, is the insight into the Russian style of hockey which was heavily influenced by the ideals of socialism, Russia’s cultural emphasis on continuity and synchronous movement with another, as well as the analytical, artful approach of Tarasov. A big reason for the USSR’s hockey teams success is that they played as a unit, they were disciplined, and they understood each other. They did not play for self but for each other. And not in the romantic sense that one would give up an amazing shot so he would be liked or seem unselfish, but that they understood that if I loose you loose, and if I win, you win. The film does a decent job of highlighting the difference between them and American style of play, but Polsky does not fall into the trap of making this about a difference in politics or leading you into a binary of playing styles. He keeps the interest mostly on the Russians: the player’s the struggles with intergration and sustaining their values as Russians in America, as hockey players, and their duty to their country. The theme of individual vs. community, individual vs. country is explored mainly through Slava and his attempts to defect from the Soviet Union to play in America. The film is an interesting look into how the sport you play doesn’t necessarily belong to you, and what you will do to make it honest for yourself.
When I left the theater, I didn’t really think of Slava as a hero, but more so a source, a part, a representation. And as I walked down the hall with Danyle, running into a old high school teacher and getting to the parking lot, I realized there, that this was one of the beautiful relationships that I have. Someone to go the movie with, someone I can find common ground with, but not consume, giving back to each other in the form of opinions, respect and freedom— a teammate.