Hanna Polak’s documentary, which took 14 years to create, talks about Russian children pushed to the social margins. The touching Something Better to Come is a grim, but beautiful film about hope.
A few kilometers away from the Red Square, there is another world. Closed to outsiders, and completely forgotten. On the rubbish dump, the largest one in Europe, life follows its own, cruel rhythm. Although access to the site is restricted, people live there – homeless, lonely, and deprived of everything.
Among them is the ten-year-old Jula. Just like the others, the girl subsists on what she finds in the dump. From the mountains of rubbish she digs out clothes, food, cosmetics, sometimes an old radio, or a carpet. In the scrap collection centre metal junk can be exchanged for a bottle of vodka. Here this is the only currency.
Hanna Polak’s camera accompanied Jula for 14 years. It watched the girl, when she fell in love for the first time, when she reached rock bottom and then bounced back trying to escape.
From the 400 hours of documentary material the director recorded over the years, emerges a story about hope, which can be life-saving. In Polak’s film the rubbish dump resembles a swamp sucking under its victims. Every day they sink deeper and deeper. Once there, it is almost impossible to leave. In this hopeless world alcohol is the only escape. Many of the people that we get to know in the documentary, are already dead – crushed by bulldozers, run over by rubbish trucks, or just frozen after drinking too much.
In her story about people pushed out beyond the social margin of oblivion, Polak does not rush to judge. Her strength is empathy. Thanks to this she gains the trust of the characters.
They look at us as if we were worms, – says one of the protagonists, recalling a bus journey. – But we are human beings, too, Hanna – he adds, looking at the camera.
Polak recovers their dignity. The camera is not an intruder, which invades their world, but an opportunity to talk about their lives. Something Better to Come is thus a story about preserved humanity. Despite all the brutality, life on the dump is full of nice gestures. Its inhabitants assist and listen to each other in the most difficult moments. The temporary community is cemented by a sense of loyalty.
Polak’s documentary contains many violent scenes. But it is the unremarkable ones that are the harshest. Like the scene, which shows the teenage Jula standing on a heap of rubbish and staring into space. Somewhere, quite near, stand white blocks of flats. They are within a hand’s reach, seemingly close. In reality, for the inhabitants of the waste dump Moscow is a distant continent. Few of them try to reach it. And even fewer succeed. Jula is one of those people. Hanna Polak’s film follows her on the road to her biggest dream: rescuing her mother from the dump. The documentary is crowned with a happy ending.
One of the characters of the story is Vladimir Putin. We hear his voice coming from radio loudspeakers on the occasion of national celebrations. He talks to his fellow countrymen about Russia’s bright future under his leadership. In Hanna Polak’s film these political speeches resonate like a cruel chorus. The world in which the characters live, is the reverse side of official propaganda.
Hanna Polak found herself at the rubbish dump in Moscow thanks to homeless children. The heroes of her earlier film, The Children of Leningradsky, filmed together with Andrzej Celiński, took her to this area for the first time. Later she kept going there for years. She studied cinematography at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography in Moscow, and ran a foundation helping Russian homeless children. She brought medicines and other forms of assistance to the site. She was trying to help. In the meantime she was filming.
The Polish director makes an accusation against politicians, institutions and ordinary people, who close their eyes to injustice and the helplessness of others. Yet she does not allow the political context to obscure even for a moment that, which is most important in her film – the story of Jula and her companions. Something Better to Come is a heartfelt documentary and a proof of the director’s extraordinary intuition. Beautiful film woven with empathy and completely devoid of cynicism.
Author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn, transl. Bozhana Nikolova, May 2015