Americans of a certain age have vivid memories of the 1980 Winter Olympics, when a bunch of college players upset a formidable Soviet team. But the Soviet squad is universally regarded as the greatest ice hockey team ever assembled. In 1991, the system that spawned it collapsed. Former Soviet players made their way to the NHL, where they did not always find a warm welcome.

This stirring, crazy story is recounted in Red Army, Gabe Polsky’s jaunty documentary. Polsky is a tireless researcher and a dogged interviewer, sometimes to the annoyance of the great defenceman Vyacheslav Fetisov, but Fetisov’s participation is crucial. As handsome as any movie star, thoughtful and temperamental, he serves as a guide to the curious, vanished world of Communist athletics.

Good sports movies are always about more than sports. Red Army touches on themes of friendship and perseverance, and provides as clear an explanation as I have seen for the appeal of Vladimir Putin, who has revived the patriotic sentiments that held the old system in place, including the emphasis on sports.

AO Scott
The New York Times


Please note that the festival is over 18s only