As depicted by Almost Holy director Steve Hoover, the country is a wasteland of concrete bunkers and factory smoke-stacks. Whether filmed with grainy thrashing handheld footage or lambent static shots (Terrence Malick produced), it never looks anything less than a grey hell. It’s a place so deprived, so desolate, that when Mokhnenko eats a hot dog he describes it as modern ‘West technology’. He’s only partly joking.
Mokhnenko is an interesting subject. He’s essentially a vigilante priest, a man of God who has taken the law into his own hands. In the city of Maruipol he runs a rehabilitation centre called Pilgrim Republic, a hospital-cum-prison for homeless street children, many of whom are heroin addicts.
Almost Holy’s most dramatic, harrowing, and ethically sticky moments involve Mokhnenko’s plans for these children. Pulling them off the street into vans – sometimes forcefully – he subjects them to a form of tough love that extends to those dying of AIDS, making examples of those who continue to use drugs in his rehab centre. Such tactics make Mokhnenko a divisive public figure, loved and reviled by those around him. In this sense he’s not dissimilar to the subject of the recent documentary Weiner (about disgraced politician Anthony Weiner).
The difference between Almost Holy and Weiner – both fly-on-the-wall – is that the latter was a character assassination of someone who was willing to do most of the work themselves. Weiner was an appalling, fascinating watch because of Weiner’s perverse willingness to unravel onscreen. The filmmakers just watched with increasing glee.
In contrast, Almost Holy doesn’t do much to explore why Mokhnenko does what he does, or how he feels about it. ‘I’m not doing this for a reward,’ is about as much as he says. Hoover doesn’t probe; perhaps he doesn’t want to take apart his hero if there’s a risk of not being able to put him back together.
This doesn’t matter. The film works as a celebration of a strong man doing good work in desperate circumstances. It deserves to be watched.
|What||Almost Holy film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
19 Aug 16 – 19 Oct 16, 12:00 AM
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more details|