Dir.: Hanna Polak | Documentary | Denmark/Poland/Japan/Netherlands/USA 2014 | 98 min.
Filmed over 14 years, Hanna Polak’s portrait of survival in Europe’s largest junkyard, the Svalka, just 13 miles away from the Kremlin, is a sobering witness report of utter deprivation. What makes it even worse (and sometimes unbearable to watch) is that the majority of those living inside the guarded fenced-in area are children and teenagers, exploited by a Mafia who runs the hell-on-earth camp for profit.
Centred around Yula, who was ten when Polak (The Children of Leningradsky) starting filming, Something Better to Come, shows the daily struggle of those who are not only homeless but have to survive the harsh winters in make-shifts huts, whilst scrounging the rubbish heaps around them for something to sell to the Mafia overseers, who pay them with alcohol (often of the deadly moonshine variety) and substandard food.
Yula and her mother entered the junkyard camp after Yula’s father died. Since the flat was in his name, the two became homeless. Many others landed in this circle of hell because their estate blocks were demolished, making space for the building of more upmarket property. Yula’s mother is an alcoholic, like many others here. Survival rate is not very high, the lack of medical support one of the reasons.
When Yula got pregnant, she moved with her mother to live with her grandfather in his ramshackle house (which was still luxury compared with their Svalka ‘housing’). But the grandfather abused Yula physically, calling her a whore, and the women moved out before the birth of the child. In hospital, Yula decided to give up her baby for adoption – a sad, but rational decision. But somehow Yula got lucky: the authorities found a flat for her – the equivalent of winning the lottery. After all the misery, Polak ends on an uplifting note, with Yula, her partner and her week old baby daughter happy together in their flat.
This lucky exception should not deflect from the utter misery witnessed beforehand. This is straight out of Gorky (a quote from his ‘Depth’ opens the film), a pre-industrial hell. But the physical suffering is often outweighed by psychological trauma. Again and again we hear the children say, “I want to be treated like a human being”. It is heart-breaking to see them crawl through the dirt in their search for anything they can sell to their ‘guards’, and, sometimes being killed in the process when they get in the way of the bulldozers. On the radio, we hear Putin’s voice, virtually unknown in 2000, when he was elected first as president. Later he talks about the great progress made in Russia, where more and more children are born, showing how positive families in the country must be feeling.
Something Better to Come is an exceptional and unique documentary – directed, written and photographed by Polak, after she could not find anybody else to pick up the camera. The editing too was a lengthy process: many contacted were overwhelmed by the material, others promised to help, only to find better remunerated work in Hollywood. It is due Polak’s perseverance in raising awareness of this truly dreadful camp-of-no-hope, a real dystopian nightmare, right next to the seat of government of a major power in world politics. AS
KINOTEKA POLISH FILM FESTIVAL | 17 MARCH UNTIL 5 APRIL 2017