Living in a Rus­sian dump

Los Angeles Times - - MOVIES - “Some­thing Bet­ter to Come.” No MPAA rat­ing. In Rus­sian with sub­ti­tles. Run­ning time: 1 hour, 34 min­utes. Play­ing: Laemmle’s Town Cen­ter 5, En­cino. — Sheri L in­den

When a cou­ple of teens in the re­mark­able doc­u­men­tary “Some­thing Bet­ter to Come” dream aloud about get­ting out of “this dump,” they’re not in­dulging in ado­les­cent hy­per­bole. Just a few miles out­side Moscow, the place they call home is Europe’s largest junk­yard, an end-of-the-world land­scape where castoffs — things and peo­ple alike — col­lect and are forgotten.

But film­maker Hanna Po­lak, work­ing over 14 years, has cre­ated a chron­i­cle not eas­ily forgotten. Her elo­quent por­trait of life in the Svalka, as the garbage dump is called, is also a com­ing-ofage story cen­ter­ing on Yula — pretty, tough and determined to beat the odds.

Ten years old when shoot­ing be­gins, Yula wishes her wid­owed mother would stop drink­ing. Three years later, she’s shar­ing the bot­tle with the grown-ups, hud­dled in a makeshift shack sur­rounded by moun­tains of trash. She’s also think­ing about a “nor­mal” life, one that isn’t con­trolled by il­le­gal re­cy­cling en­ter­prises that pay her and other scav­engers ter­ri­ble wages, usu­ally in vodka.

But even while long­ing to es­cape harsh and prim­i­tive cir­cum­stances, Yula un­der­stands that the strong sense of com­mu­nity she knows is rarely ex­pe­ri­enced on the out­side. A visit to her grand­fa­ther when she’s 16 and in par­tic­u­lar need pro­vides a bru­tal il­lus­tra­tion of the point.

Be­yond her te­na­cious and in­ti­mate re­port­ing, direc­tor and cine­matog­ra­pher Po­lak has made a work of pow­er­ful images — heart-rend­ing, ele­giac, charged with hope. Amid the chang­ing sea­sons and the re­lent­less in­flux of refuse, Yula grows up, faster than most. She sees past the bat­tered adults’ fa­tal­ism. When this grip­ping film leaves her, at age 24, she’s done more than merely en­dure.

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