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Rated 3.28 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Personal and Thought-Provoking
by Misha Zubarev

With My Perestroika, filmmaker Robin Hessman strikes a chord with her audience. This touching, personal, and thought-provoking documentary is one of the best personal accounts about the collapse of the former Soviet Union from people who lived through this historic event.  

Hessman, producer of the Russian Sesame Street, was born and raised in the U.S. and grew up in an era when the USSR was considered the “Evil Empire,” the biggest enemy of the United States. As the collapse of the Soviet Union occurred, her interests developed, so she decided to spend over a decade in Russia, learning the Russian language and culture. That’s when she formed an idea for a project that took over five years to complete.  

The collapse of the blemished regime of the former Soviet Union opened the eyes of many of its former citizens to the nauseating deceit taught in their schools and propagated by their former government. While there have been numerous accounts of former Soviets discussing life under Communism, how did it translate into the people’s lives and into the lives of their families? My Perestroika, nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, is one of those rare documentaries that’s as informative to strangers of the times presented as it is personal to those who survived them. The film delicately delves into the lives of five former classmates and Soviet citizens presently residing in Moscow. It relates first-hand accounts of their experiences before, during and after the collapse.

First, meet Borya and Lubya, a married couple in their early 40s, both of whom teach history in Moscow’s school #57, where their 9-year-old son Mark is also a student. Borya is a non-conformist Russian of Jewish descent with a PhD in Psychology; while his wife Lubya is a traditionalist who never questioned anything she was taught. Next, there’s  Andrei, a businessman who successfully runs a mid-sized chain of expensive French men’s dress shirts. Rounding out the group are Olga, a single mom, and Ruslan, the founder and also a former member of the Russian punk rock group NAIV.

Hessman manages to engage not only the historic but also the personal and emotional accounts of each of her subjects. All of them share their most personal stories and expose facts about the propaganda of the former regime in the school system and in the media. As the documentary continues into the latter half, they also discuss how everything is already coming back to the way it has been.   

What resonated most with me involved the sadness and hopelessness that situation evoked in most of the subjects. Ruslan presently plays the banjo for money in the metro, Olga rents out billiard tables, and while Borya, Lubya, and Andrei may not seem like they’re doing too bad, I sensed a deep tension and inherent sadness in each of them.  It’s as if they’ve accepted life the way it is; the past, which has for so many years stained and shaped their present, while at the same time taking for granted the indefinable future where all things can change. Olga’s accounts are the ones in which we can most vividly see emotional tension, subdued by an occasional puff on the cigarette and very delicate pauses in between her accounts.

Hessman chose the title My Perestroika “because it is how each of the five people in the film went through the period known as Perestroika, but it is also about each of their personal journeys and transformations and ‘restructuring’ if you will, of themselves over the time these changes were happening in the country.”

Any non-Russian speaking individual concerned that this documentary is not for them simply because of the language or topic should think twice before passing on this unique film. There’s no need to know about the Soviet collapse of the 90s or to speak Russian in order to enjoy the richness of this wonderful documentary. As a matter of fact, it’s just as moving to anyone not previously exposed to the climactic events of the Soviet collapse as it is for those having lived through them.

Using the English form of the personal pronoun my in the title My Perestroika, Hessman cleverly suggests that the film is for an international audience, not just a Russian- speaking one. Its personal and historical accounts will resonate with people of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds and languages, not just Russian-speaking ones.

Sad, informative, yet captivating is how this documentary came across to me.  And judging by the personal reactions from the audience at the screening I attended, many others share those same sentiments.

(A co-production from Red Square Productions, Bungalow Town Productions, and ITVS International; not rated by MPAA. For more information about My Perestroika, go to

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