Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Dreams of a Life’ and ‘Putin’s Kiss’

“Dreams of a Life” (Fandor, Vudu)

Loneliness can be a hard thing to portray in a film. The challenge is to show what isn’t there and what the person is missing, to capture a negative space so that we not only understand the enormity of what is missing from the person’s life but what about the person isn’t translating to the outside world.

The documentary “Dreams of a Life” does a remarkable job at this depressing work, looking at a mysterious death in England in 2006, when Joyce Carol Vincent was found in her apartment in skeletal form. She had been dead for three years, but no one noticed her missing. She died with the television on, and that remained running for the three years following, and surrounded by Christmas gifts that she was wrapping.

With a mix of interviews with people who knew her and some dramatized scenes to bring Vincent alive to the viewer, “Dreams of a Life” tries to reconstruct Vincent’s life in such a way that it might explain how a 38-year-old woman ended up being entirely forgotten by the world around her.

The parade of people who offer glimpses into the real Vincent reveal an uncomfortable truth — it’s harder to know and see inside people than we’d like to think. As they look back on their friend, who kept her past mysterious and who never revealed much of herself in an almost cautious way, they sometimes struggle to describe the person they knew in actual terms. They knew what she was like, but it’s hard to say that they knew who she was.

The film itself does an admirable job at trying to find out who this woman was, but by the end, we are still left with gaps, we still only marginally understand how her end unfolded as it did. It’s a poetic and melancholy reminder of another uncomfortable truth — people might not know you as well as you think they do, and you never know when it is too late to leave something, anything, of your real self behind in the world.

“Putin’s Kiss” (Apple, Kanopy)

One of the most successful methods of political control involves contradictions — mixing the notions of rebellion and conformity to such a fuzzy degree that the energy of the former becomes the tool of the latter.

In the documentary “Putin’s Kiss,” the Russian version of this is revealed through the political evolution of Masha Drokova, a young power-broker whose forward stride with political ideologues becomes distorted thanks to the reality that reveals itself surrounding her actions. In Russia, youth became so intentionally co-opted by the government that it’s transformed into fascism at an alarming rate.

Drokova was born in 1989 in a broken Russia that in order to save itself embraced the consumerism of the modern world. The glitter of that society could only look better than the shambles of what came before. In this landscape, Drokova found her way into the pre-fabricated youth organization Nashi, designed and implemented by Putin’s crowd to ignite nationalistic, pro-Putin fervor as a form of political action. Drokova became the perfect face for that movement and moved her way up in the ranks, eventually became a talk show host.

Somewhere along the way, she fell in with a group of journalists who covered the other side of the political story, one rooted in the controversial mob actions of Nashi. These activities ranged from defecating on opposition leaders’ cars, marching with large photos of a political opponent and using charged rhetoric in demonstration and beating journalists who oppose them within an inch of their lives. That Nashi higher-ups had direct connections with those in Putin’s cabinet hinted at sinister collusion.

Danish director Lise Birk Pedersen captures the electricity and gloom of the Russian situation with a deft focus on unveiling Drokova as a person that any of us can identify with, struggling with the larger picture that surrounds a personal experience. Pederson’s lens captures an atmospheric Moscow that elicits thoughts of a mystery show at times, more appropriate than you can imagine. It’s real-world noir, coupled with a cautionary political that Americans would do well to heed. Or is it too late?

Originally published at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s