The town of Apatity lies within the Arctic Circle. Founded in 1930, it served as a place of exile for Stalin’s political opponents. The climate is grim and unrelenting, and life here is tedious and mind-numbing. Nonetheless, many inhabitants of this gulag continued to live here after the dictator’s death in 1953, and even after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Ksenia Okhapkina films the snow-decked barrack architecture in gray and white tones. An endless procession of railroad wagons carry away the mineral-bearing rock that provides the town with its main source of income. The only color is the blue glow of the flamethrower that’s used to de-ice the huge monument every morning. Indoors, girls are doing their ballet drill for an upcoming performance. Meanwhile, the boys learn to march and dismantle machine guns. Both groups are constantly corrected and belittled.
With a minimum of dialogue or analysis, Okhapkina shows how the totalitarian system is reproduced here, from generation to generation. You’re born and you live, work and die for the benefit of the state. It’s as if nothing has changed.