Berlin review: Garage People by Natalija Yefimkina

Berlin review: Garage People by Natalija Yefimkina

In Garage People, selected for Perspective Deutsches Kino, director Natalija Yefimkina has pointed her camera at an extraordinary phenomenon: the garage settlements in Russia. 


Garages are used for almost anything but parking a car – band rehearsals, making art or moonshine, working out, playing cards or cherishing your Nazi paraphernalia. 


More than a space for hobbies, the garages and their occupants form an interesting society, with their own rules and flourishing relationships as well as fights.


Yefimkina films her subjects both with respectful distance and loving intimacy. She follows them everywhere, even outside of the settlements, in the harsh reality of everyday life. And in doing so, she finds beauty in every situation. 


The documentary starts out with a grumpy man, complaining about people stealing his metal scraps, while walking on muddy hills. 


Then we get a view of the garages, doors wide open, to show us its inhabitants, like exotic animals in a zoo. There’s a strange comfort in seeing bulky men working out next to a bunch of soft hearted musicians, trying to pull off a rough image of death metal band.


It is admirable to see how the director has found a way, straight into the heart of this community. No one seems to be bothered by the camera, or cameras and some scenes resemble fiction movies. 


When we follow the old man and his son into the insane amount of floors and tunnels he dug beneath his garage, the camera is already waiting at the floor where the two arrive. And when they make their way to the next level, via a ladder, we see them coming down again. It must have been a painstaking process, done with a lot of patience and love.


As the film continues, we get to know more people and more of their stories. Some of them, like the two friends with their love of uniform and weapons from World War II, only develop from a distance, and from some of them we learn their deepest fears and longings. And since this is Russia, of course there is a drunken fight. Between people who really cannot be without each other.


The documentary comes to a natural end, with relationships breaking up and people moving out. It is therefore a lovely and visually beautiful portrait of a mini society, covering all aspects of life and the Russian way of living and loving.