Review: ‘Braguino’

Hot Docs 2018

3 mins read

(France, 49 min.)
Dir. Clément Cogitore
Programme: The Changing Face of Europe


Deep in the Siberian taiga, 1000 kilometres from the nearest settlement, live the Braguines, a family of Old Believers. Wanting to escape the corrupting influences of civilization, the family settled out in the middle of nowhere, where they hunt for food and live harmoniously with the pristine forest and river that surround them.

But not with the neighbours.

Yes, there are neighbours: the Kilines. The families’ compounds, surrounded by thousands of kilometres of empty land, sit directly next to each other, separated by just a fence. The two families’ feud seems ancient, archetypal. They avoid each other. Sometimes, they attack each other—their houses, their pet dogs. The hordes of children—there must be at least 20 between the two extended families—do not mingle.

Though there must be personal reasons for the long-simmering conflict, we are not given them. Instead, the film focuses on the ideological differences. The Braguines want to conserve the environment just as it is, only hunting as much as they absolutely need to in order to survive. The Kilines seem not to share that respect, going so far as to play host to poachers who helicopter in, culminating in a tense confrontation with the Braguine family patriarch.

The film’s focus is resolutely on the Braguines. As director Cogitore explained in the Q&A, there were logistical reasons for this—if he’d talked to the Kilines, the Braguines would have cut him off—but it is hardly a compromise, aesthetically speaking. By sticking with the Braguines, immersing himself in their lives and shooting from their perspective, Cogitore imbues Braguino with a profoundly ambivalent atmosphere: the rustic idyll of hunting on the river and in the forest, playing on the beach across the river and dining en famille fights to preserve itself against creeping suspicion and dread whenever the conflict with the Kilines comes into view. A long scene of the two families’ massive broods of children eyeing each other warily on the beach is particularly eerie, given a bit of surreal levity by one of the Braguine children who seems to be wearing the feet of a bear just killed and butchered by her family as shoes.

Cogitore apparently did not know about the Kilines before he arrived. He thought he was going to make a film about the possibility of utopian living, embodied in the Braguines self-sustaining lifestyle independent of the trappings of late capitalism. Instead, he ended up with the opposite.

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