The Foundation Pit (Kotlovan) REVIEW | Berlinale 2020

The Foundation Pit gives a necessary voice to the poorest people in Russia.

The Foundation Pit
The Foundation Pit | © Andrey Gryazev

A deeply inspired found footage movie that is equal parts stimulating and enraging, The Foundation Pit is a blistering state-of-the-nation address as told by the people of Russia. Assembled from countless YouTube videos in which people directly state their problems with the country to Vladimir Putin himself, it is a howling plea for something to change.

It opens with multiple reports of accidents at foundation pits. People fall into them and die. Buildings slip into mud. Tractors are destroyed. They fill with water, which children play in; some of them drown. The dispassionate tone of media reports is contrasted with on-the-scene footage, filmed by local people themselves.

It’s an obvious metaphor for the sinking state of the country, where progress is limited and the poor, disabled, elderly, rural and indigenous people are the hardest hit. This is followed by an hour-long tirade against the Head of State, who wields a huge level of executive power in the country, becoming a figurehead for every problem they have in the process. Mostly addressing him as Vladimir Vladimirovich or diminutives such as Vovo or Volodya, the people directly lay their case to him.

Andrey Gryazev’s use of montage is inspired: grouping complaints by theme and energy, making sure that as many wide perspectives as possible are used. They range from the seemingly comic, such as a man complaining about a broken lamp, to the severely tragic, such as disabled people asking for ramps so they can leave their own apartments. There are even people, to give a little balance, asking to stop American interference. The whole country is here, The Foundation Pit surveying everyone from St Petersburg and Moscow to Dagestan and Siberia, including muslim, orthodox and indigenous perspectives. Perhaps the only disappointment is the lack of LGBT representation, yet perhaps this wasn’t filmed by individuals for obvious safety reasons.

Surveying the most disposed, deprived and downtrodden in the nation should be more depressing on the face of things, yet a lot of these people keep their humour despite the circumstances. Additionally, Russians are some of the most creative swearers on the planet, the expletive blyat — which depending on usage, can translate to “fuck”, “shit” or “whore” — used as a comma, adjective and everything else in between.

There is a strange hope here found in the possibilities of the internet. Russians turn to YouTube because they know that as an American-owned company it cannot be regulated by the state, and should be largely unaffected by the upcoming wide-sweeping government changes to the internet. While channels such as Russia-1 are limited by the government in what they can say freely, YouTube remains a free vehicle for expression and creativity. Today, multiple voices of dissent, such as stand-up comedian Poperechny or sports journalist turned interviewer Yury Dud, find huge audiences on YouTube hungry to find out more honest perspectives.

The Foundation Pit stays away from these big voices, instead amplifying the smallest ones through aggregation. The credits list each video individually, some in single digits, others in the tens of thousands. Together they form a single voice of disappointment in a nation that has let its people down. The effect is a deeply stirring testament to the ordinary people of Russia and an unambiguous message to Vladimir Putin that they have had enough.

Read the rest of our Berlinale reviews here.

Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site. We cover gaming news, movie reviews, wrestling and much more.

The Foundation Pit
A unique documentary with a highly political bent, The Foundation Pit gives a necessary voice to the poorest people in Russia.