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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Queendom *****

Director: Agniia Galdanova

Country: Russia

Russian performance artist Gena Marvin has been making waves on social madie in recent years following her viral videos protesting against her government from inside Russia. Bald-headed, painted white, tall and willowy, strutting through the frozen streets in alien-like couture, she is a monstrous vision of beauty straight from the pages of an editorial magazine. But yet her very existence is an act of political daring.

Queendom is a documentary that follows Gena during a fascinating period. We meet her as she makes political statements with the aesthetic of peak Lady Gaga and the daring of Pussy Riot, but her life begins to crumble around her as a consequence. Expelled from university, she is forced to work in a fish factory with her bigoted grandfather, all the while suffering daily abuse on the street from strangers and family alike. And it’s all caught on film.

The level of homophobia we see hurled at her is toe-curling in its intensity and the kind that no longer exists in the west. A relentless barrage of intolerant fury, Gena has had to develop skin as thick as leather, constantly fighting against everyone for her right to exist. But while she can handle being thrown out of supermarkets and confrontations on the street, it’s the institutional homophobia that she cannot rise above, with her university, the police and the government all wanting to make a public spectacle of her humiliation.

Gena is a profoundly human subject at the centre of all this hatred. Moments of self-doubt, sorrow and desperation are glimpsed in candidly personal moments, but the public figure she boldly presents is both iconic and deeply inspirational. And the clips we are drip-fed of her remarkable art are, frankly, outstanding.

As the Ukraine war breaks out, the narrative takes a very dark turn as she takes to the streets alongside thousands of likeminded protestors to loudly declare that they do not support Putin’s war. Wrapped in barbed wire, she silently walks the streets in protest, but is promptly arrested amid a barbaric clampdown by the police. And from there we see the fear and paranoia propagated by Putin’s police.

On the one hand, this is a documentary that proudly showcases a fearless politically focused artist. On the other, this is a compelling primary source on history coming from within a regime that really doesn’t want the world to see its truth. Together, these two strands form a remarkable film that weave empowerment with unsettling tension and artistry with pure barbarism. It is by far the most affecting documentary of the year.

UK Release: Out now in cinemas, released by Dogwoof


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