Synopsis by Nathan Southern
Pawel Pawlikowski's loosely-knit documentary From Moscow to Pietushki embodies an extended meditation on two subjects: the life of controversial Russian poet Benedict Yerofeyev and the contemporary problem of alcoholism in post-Soviet Russia. As Pawlikowski underscores in the film's opening scenes, the subjects often intersected: Yerofeyev drank himself into oblivion with wicked homemade cocktails that would kill most - including "Lily of the Valley" (vodka mixed with athlete's foot medication) and "The Komsomol Girl's Tears" (a combination of lemon soda, lavender toilet water, herbal lotion, nail polish, mouthwash and the herb known as verbena). As Pawlikowski cuts between tangentially-related events from the poet's life, a loose and complex portrait emerges of a multidimensional individual: Yerofeyev in fact drank so fervently (and consumed such potent drinks) that he wound up in the Kaschenko Psychiatric Clinic, subject to the treatment of Dr. Mikhail Mozier. The author also embraced Catholicism not long before he died, and received a full baptism. Within the film, Pawlikowski travels to Yerofeyev's home, an apartment house where we see a woman sweeping the stoop - who presents herself as one of Yerofeyev's many detractors by dubiously asserting that any fellow countryman who consumed such prodigious quantities of alcohol doesn't deserve to be considered a Russian writer. In the flat, we meet the late Yerofeyev (in a sequence filmed not long before his death). Suffering from throat cancer, he only manages to communicate via a microphone strapped below his chin; his wife, Galia, then reflects on the way in which she and her husband first met. Then, upon a return to the hospital, Mozier reappears and echoes the earlier sentiment about Yerofeyev's writing, asserting that it only constitutes a half-hearted and meaningless chronicle of the author's psychotic mental state. In subsequent scenes, Pawlikowski offers many additional insights into Yerofeyev's history - including his orphaned childhood and his education at Moscow's Lomonosov University - as Russian notables including Joseph Brodsky turn up to comment on Yerofeyev's work. The film also continues to maintain a fixed eye on the problem of alcoholism as a Russian social epidemic per se, with shocking views of clinical treatments for drinking, a trip to a vodka distillery, and numerous additional highlights.
alcoholism, cancer, cocktails, poet