Placebo have always been a band that proudly sit outside of the mainstream. So it’s not a giant leap for this group of alternative musicians to want to seek out like-minded individuals when they are on tour. Placebo Alt.Russia is partially an arts and political documentary and part travelogue as the band traverse through different cities in Russia (sometimes on the Trans-Siberian Express) to investigate whether the country is as oppressive to its creative minds as the Western press would have us all believe.
The film is directed by Charlie Targett-Adams who has previously shot a number of different films including music videos. In some respects Placebo Alt.Russia is like an extended music video because concert footage of the band and some passionate Russian fans throwing balloons and paper aeroplanes features alongside a rocking soundtrack of Placebo’s songs. But there is also more to this story and visiting a country where a band like Pussy Riot were imprisoned for basically performing in a church.
Placebo are no strangers to playing Russia. They first toured the country over 15 years ago. The stance that is adopted by front man Brain Molko and guitarist/bassist, Stefan Olsdal is that the group do not pander to artistic boycotts. They instead like to get out there and visit their fans and they treat the exercise as an “adventure.” But this is not without its risks or dangers as Olsdal proves early on in the script when he questions whether the group will get into trouble in Russia due to the way their sexual preferences are judged.
The majority of this story sees Olsdal going out and interviewing different Russian creatives like artists, musicians, architects, animators, photographers and other people working in television. The idea and concept is a good one and you get the sense that this could be adapted into a TV series and expanded to include other countries where the government appears – at least to the West – as an oppressive one. Olsdal does a wonderful job of interviewing the different artists and connecting with them. He is one intelligent and charismatic man.
Placebo Alt.Russia is ultimately a fascinating conversation about art and its expression and inspiration. It is likely to appeal to a broad range of audiences including people who like learning more about the creative process, others who are concerned about world politics and individuals that are fans of Placebo and their music. This documentary is surprising at times and helps enlighten people by cutting through the misconceptions, assumptions and other bullshit that can be rife when you’re sitting on the outside of something and looking in. The final result is that Placebo Alt.Russia is a complex and accurate slice of Russia, art and life spend on the road and it gives us an intriguing and behind-the-scenes look at the creative process. Prepare to be inspired.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Placebo Alt.Russia is screening at the Melbourne International Documentary Festival, which is happening between July 9th and 16th. For more details head to http://mdff.org.au/.