Review: Generation P – TIFF 2011

Victor Ginzburg's Generation P plays TIFF 2011

Not every generation gets as distinct a genesis as the one the new Russia got when communism finally fell in 1989.

Physically one wall fell. But ideologically, it took the entire world down with it for the former U.S.S.R.

Generation P (the film) kicks in as soon as Generation P (those that were adults-age at the time of the iron curtain’s fall) was exposed to the Western world like a screeching new-born.

“˜The end of Soviet eternity,’ as filmmaker Victor Ginzburg put it, presented a wholesale ideological change, allowing a select few to re-shape Russian consumer culture. These select few ““ the core characters of the film ““ not only re-shape ideology, but in many ways shape it for the very first time.

On a base level, this is the dilemma Generation P grapples with. How do you convince an entire people that have never considered the idea of choice to suddenly relate to one particular brand or idea.

Therein lies the depth of Generation P . It’s not just choice in the consumer sense that Russia was deprived of under Soviet rule, but social, economical and political choice as well.

Brands and their particular Western associations had not permeated the Russian psyche, so everything was brand new in their meanings and representations.

It’s one challenge to convince Russia to choose Sprite or Parliament cigarettes, but it’s another to convince them to choose Yeltsin.

Or is it?

This is where Generation P ‘s genius really kicks in and where the protagonist, Babylen (clever wordplay on the ancient city of Babylon), begins to fall down the rabbit-hole.

What he experiences as he dips his toe into the advertising waters is a mixture of western pop culture, Soviet folklore, biblical mythology and post-apocalyptic dystopian nightmares.

Babylen learns to edit all these elements together to master the art of manipulating the often lazy and cynical post-Soviet subconscious.

He discovers that a golden arch is as good as a golden calf to a new generation unaccustomed to consumerism and takes an iconographic approach to his advertising.

He declares to God in one particular vision:

“For thee I will write a great slogan: “˜A First-Class God for a First-Class People!'”

It’s that kind of irreverence that gives Generation P its life.

Although the film is rife with local images and slang that will only fully be appreciated by a Russian audience, the film has a frank energy that has scant been seen by the country’s national cinema of late.

It’s a film that seems to enjoy getting a step ahead of its audience just before it backtracks to let them in on the joke.

On paper that approach may seem alienating, but Ginzburg always brings the joke back with such a wink and such a great punch-line that the reward is almost always worth the wait.

For a generation of film-goers (Russian and otherwise) that has seen the new Russia develop before its eyes, the timing seems perfect for satire.

Generation P foreshadows Putin’s iron fist by showing the kind of spin that became possible amidst the chaos and freewheeling consumerism of the Yeltsin years.

What’s most impressive, though, is Ginzburg’s touch that keeps the satirical level so consistently high. The warning is there without over-emphasizing the dread.

He is therefore able to spin what has happened in Russia over the past 20 years (the good and the bad) smirkingly with what could have happened.

All the while Ginzburg manages to preserve novelist Victor Pelevin’s intent, tone and wisecracks to how the current situation came about.

It would be easy to come off as preachy or heavy-handed with the scenario Generation P presents, but the film navigates the balance perfectly.

While definitely following a cynical track, Ginzburg doesn’t abandon all trace of hope.

So, in the end, despite the jokes being in Russian, it never feels like the jokes are on Russia.


Shane McNeil is a cinematic robot programmed to like things that are awesome and hate anything associated with Nicholas Sparks. "He" loves the films of Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson and Akira Kurosawa. "He" has never cried in a movie because "he" was not programmed to do so, however, the ending of "It's a Wonderful Life" causes one mysterious spark to fly off "his" motherboard. "His" auto-programmed cinematic diatribes have appeared online and in print for such outlets as Playback Magazine, Dose Magazine, Mondo Magazine, Zip.ca and now, finally, the Toronto Film Scene, which "he" promises "he" has not been programmed to destroy.

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