Screened as part of NZIFF 2015
The hazardous relationship between sports and national identity underscores every moment of this highly entertaining documentary about the careers of Soviet ice hockey stars before and after perestroika. Home to some of the greatest players the sport has ever seen, the Soviet Union’s Red Army team became a key combatant in the Cold War’s propaganda battle. ‘They’re a microcosm of their society,’ Reagan insisted of the Soviet team, and when they triumphed, as they usually did, so it seemed did communism. Long-time captain Viacheslav Fetisov – who’d eventually lead the Russian exodus to the US before returning to his homeland as a close ally of Putin – makes a compelling and mordantly funny guide. He’s blunt, ironic, not a little nostalgic for the rigours of Soviet sports training programmes – and not a little contemptuous of the American system that prizes individual prowess over the team spirit that made the Soviets great.
“They were one of the greatest ice hockey teams in history, winning Olympic gold medals and regularly vanquishing their US and Canadian rivals. They were also the poster boys for a Soviet system they themselves had started to question. Welcome to the Red Army team of the 1980s, now the subject of a new documentary executive-produced by Werner Herzog…
Western audiences will be startled by some of its revelations about sporting stardom behind the Iron Curtain. The famous old Bill Shankly formulation about football being ‘much, much more’ than a matter of life and death takes on an ironic resonance when applied to elite Soviet athletes.” — Geoffrey Macnab, The Independent