Red Army

 

starstarstarstar

 


What can happen to an international celebrity who happens to be Russian.

 
Red Army
   

We have here an intriguing film the title of which could easily mislead. This documentary by Gabe Polsky is not about the Red Army itself but about the Soviet national ice hockey team affiliated to it. Indeed, the film is centred on one man, the great hockey star Viacheslav 'Slava' Fetisov. He is seen at length being interviewed by Polsky, but what he has to say regarding his own life provides a broad insight into Russia itself.

 

Born in 1958, Slava tells of how he was drawn to sport as a child and he would grow up to become a leading hockey player and thus something of a celebrity. Subsequently his life would be shaped by the Stalinist attitude which continued to prevail and which viewed Russian prowess in any prestigious activity as something to be cultivated in order to impress the world. At times such figures would be sent on trips abroad for that very purpose, but often with KGB security attached; on other occasions such visits were denied for fear of defections or as a punishment to keep these people in line. Another Slava, the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, was yoked in this way and Red Army brings out the comparable treatment of Fetisov.

 

The interview footage shot for the film is intercut with archive material related both to Fetisov's life and to wider issues and, despite the disturbing control imposed by the authorities, Polsky's film is not without moments of ironic humour. Fetisov's reminiscences emerge on screen to present his story in chronological order and the comradeship he found with the five key players who eventually asked him to be their team captain comes across strongly. But so too does the tyrannical manner of Viktor Takhonov who took over as coach in 1980 determined to obliterate memories of the defeat of the team at the hands of the Americans at the recent Olympics. He was a man who treated the players with total ruthlessness (one player was denied permission to visit his father when the latter was in effect on his deathbed).

 

Red Army covers also the way in which to get to America Fetisov had to adopt desperate tactics in order to procure approval. Once there Fetisov would find the American approach to the sport questionable and even daunting, but even so he became one of a number of top Soviet players to join the National Hockey League achieving success both as player and as coach. Later, back in Russia, he would be asked by President Putin to become Minister of Sport which he did in 2002, but Polsky chooses to sidestep the implications of this. Even so, Fetisov's life speaks for itself in giving us a view of Russian attitudes in the later years of the 20th century. Polsky may hold back at the close, but Red Army is a very competent film and one that in covering relatively unfamiliar ground is informative about attitudes driving Russian sport and no less so about the much wider implications that lie behind that.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Viacheslav 'Slava' Fetisov, Vladislav Tretiak, Ladlena Fetisova, Vladimir Pozner, Scotty Bowman.

 

Dir Gabe Polsky, Pro Gabe Polsky, Screenplay Gabe Polsky, Ph Peter Zeitlinger and Svetlana Cvetko, Ed Eli Despres and Kurt Engfehr, Music Christophe Beck and Leo Birenberg.

 

Gabriel Polsky-Curzon Film World.
84 mins. USA/Russia. 2014. Rel: 9 October 2015. Cert. 15.