By Gregory Crofton
Marusya Syroechkovskaya first picked up a camera as a teen to capture her disaffected life in Butovo, Russia, just south of Moscow.
As a 16-year-old she wanted to die on a daily basis. She smoked Pall Malls and cut herself. Home life was tolerable but her family lacked emotional depth and her parent’s marriage ended in divorce.
Things began to change for Syroechkovskaya after she attended a forum for grunge enthusiasts. There she met a kindred soul named Kimi Morev, sparks flew, and together they knew happiness for the first time.
The couple married not long after sharing their first (bloody) kiss during a rock concert. He had a bloody nose and it got all over the two of them. They moved into a tiny apartment and lived with two cats. She became more a part of his family life (his mother, brother and sisters) than he did of hers.
They were both self-destructive for awhile, shooting heroin. As time went on, Syroechkovskaya found meaning in her film project and marriage while Morev was pulled deeper into addiction. Eventually they divorced but remained close.
Syroechkovskaya never hides the tragic nature of “How to Save a Dead Friend.” She shows Morev’s casket lowered into the ground at the start of the film, and ends her doc with the same images. The story however is about much more than depression and addiction.
With footage shot from about 2004 to 2016, what’s conveyed, with the help of fantastic editing, is how Putin gradually turned Russia back into a totalitarian state. The impact of this on society is enormous. Her generation lives with growing anxiety and depression, and little reason for hope.
Morev does his best to survive. He tries to outsmart Putin’s oppression by seeing a state psychologist to get on disability for his anxiety. But that doesn’t work because the required week-long stays at the mental hospital take big toll on him.
After surviving several overdoses, Morev finally dies in 2016. His death, according to the film, is part of a wave of thousands of overdoses and suicides in the country, many of them friends of the couple.
What sets “How to Save a Dad Friend” apart from just a home-movie based documentary is its cinema. My favorite scene shows Morev at his mom’s apartment after returning from the hospital.
Already high, he finds his sister’s valuable face wash and begins to use it. She tells him to not take too much, peeking into the bathroom as he rubs and rinses.
With blue eye shadow and red-painted nails, she’s leaning on the frame of the bathroom door half paying attention to her brother as she taps away on her yellow iPhone. It’s a beautiful shot.
“How to Not Save a Dead Friend” has a cool soundtrack, essential for any good documentary. Morev and Syroechkovskayaimi initially bonded over their love of Joy Division and the band’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is featured in the film.
Syroechkovskaya fled Russia in March of 2022 as citizens who opposed the regime face increased scrutiny and pressure. She makes clear in her press release for the doc that no Russian funding, private or governmental, supported it.
Learn more about distribution plans for the film at Light Dox.
I watched “How to Save a Dead Friend” online as part of the 2022 DOC NYC festival. Below check out the trailer.