REVIEW: Red Army

14 11 2014

New York Film Festival

Cultural differences can manifest themselves in almost every activity. Most, however, presume a modicum of universality to sports – after all, what are the Olympic Games if not a union of the world around competition and athleticism? Gabe Polsky says otherwise in his documentary “Red Army,” a look at Russian hockey with an emphasis on the country’s turbulent ‘80s and ‘90s.

There is no allele that makes Russians more predisposed to hold court on the ice; like many attributes of any people, social forces heavily condition its expression. In the Soviet Union, hockey was more than a sport. It was an expression of their national ideals, particularly collectivism. Some of the clips in “Red Army” that feature their national team passing should honestly be used in business presentations on synergy. (Maybe the only other place five people act so efficiently like one being would be in a “Human Centipede” movie.)

Red Army

Polsky effectively shows how, for the Soviet Union, hockey not only encapsulated their society in microcosm but also how sport could become politics itself.  That journey is shown best by the film’s central personality, Slava Fetisov.  After being brought up in the Russian youth farm system for youth, he eventually earned the ultimate honor of a spot on their Olympic team (only to be on the other side of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice”).  He also carries the distinction of being one of his country’s first defectors to capitalism on ice, or, as we call it in America, the National Hockey League.

Festiov, and “Red Army” as a whole, shows the best and the worst of the Russian tradition of collectivism.  He and his teammates, when at their highest function, translated the aesthetic beauty of the country’s Bolshoi ballet into athletic grace.  Yet such an emphasis on interdependence leaves them ill-equipped to mesh with the Western world and its individualistic style.  Russia’s political collapse coupled with the flight of its hockey stars really does result in a loss of national pride.  Thank goodness documentarians like Polsky are looking for these kinds of stories in less-than-obvious places.  B2halfstars

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