Gabriel Tejedor captures the challenges of life in the remote, Stalinesque city of Magnitogorsk where hope glimmers from beyond the factory floor
Last modified on Mon 24 Jan 2022 11.02 EST
Here is a continuation of Gabriel Tejedor’s fascination with the debris of the former Soviet Union; this latest documentary sets its gaze on the industrial city of Magnitogorsk, situated 2,000km from Moscow. Here, time stands eerily still. Once celebrated as the “socialist city of steel”, Magnitogorsk typifies Stalin’s vision of transforming the largely agrarian nation into an industrialised superpower. Sprawled over the landscape is the colossal structure of Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works (MMK), the “kombinat”, or conglomerate, whose formidable influence embodies state authority, reflecting numerous key chapters in the country’s history.
More than a Soviet relic, MMK is still the main employer in Magnitogorsk, and one of the biggest steel manufacturers in the world. Its unnerving omnipresence is evoked here in its conspicuous glossy billboards, and also in the lengthy tracking shots that swirl leisurely around the metal arches and the ever-burning furnaces of the factory – images at once grandiose and terrifying.
Making for a stark juxtaposition is Tejedor’s moving attention to the mundanity of everyday life. Next to MMK, and its strange, over-the-top PR ceremonies held in the style of old-school Soviet propaganda, the people of Magnitogorsk appear small and insignificant, but their simple hopes pierce through the city’s iron-gray listlessness. They dream of leaving, of escaping the hazardous pollution, of sending their children to better schools, or simply of doing anything but steelwork. These snapshots of everyday life capture a growing generation gap – the older residents are grateful for Vladimir Putin’s government while the younger ones do not shy away from criticism. Kombinat could have dug deeper into the historical context of MMK’s creation, but nevertheless it conveys a searing sympathy for those whose future is shrouded in darkness.
Kombinat is available on 28 January on True Story.
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