Tolyatti Adrift review – young Lada restorers aim to escape Russia’s post-industrial angst

Estimated read time 2 min read

Developed in the 1960s around Russia’s famous AvtoVAZ plant, which was built by the country’s largest car manufacturing company, the town of Tolyatti was once the pride of the nation’s industry. More than half a century later, the region has now sunk into a state of economic and social decline after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

As AvtoVAZ gradually downsizes its operations, job opportunities in the region become increasingly scarce. Countering stagnation with hope, Laura Sisteró’s dynamic documentary follows Slava, Misha and Lera, three young adults who dare to dream and rebel against all odds.

A top student at his school’s automotive department, Misha speaks to his junior classmates about his experience interning abroad with startling frankness; he simply does not see a future for himself in Russia. This despondent, matter-of-fact view is shared by Lera and Slava, both desperate to leave Tolyatti; in Slava’s case the prospect of the military draft also hangs over him.

This angst and listlessness, however, evaporates when the three get behind the steering wheel. They are part of a movement called Boyevaya Klassika, in which young people rescue iconic, battered Lada cars. The camera observes, in awe, as they drift and spin their graffitied vehicles across the icy ground. Something of a ballet mécanique, these scenes are hypnotic, and even cathartic, yet one can’t help but feel that these kids are just spinning around in circles.

The contradictions are echoed in the film’s use of archival newsreels, which once optimistically marketed Tolyatti as the city of abundance and opportunity. Juxtaposed with the boredom and the struggles that plague the trio’s everyday life, the bright future promised in this colourful footage from the past feels like a cruel, ironic joke of fate.


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