The director Gabe Polsky’s “Purple Penguins” qualifies as a follow-up of types to his 2014 documentary “Purple Military,” titled after a nickname for the Soviet Union’s near-indomitable nationwide hockey group. However this time, sports activities are nearly incidental.
The brand new documentary is within the Russian group as a business entity. It delves into what occurred when, within the early 1990s, two homeowners of the Pittsburgh Penguins took a monetary stake within the cash-strapped franchise, which had a earlier relationship with the Soviet armed forces, because the group’s greatness was slipping.
Though this episode may sound like a footnote within the story of Russia’s transition to capitalism, “Purple Penguins” is stuffed with tales of cultures clashing and misunderstood intentions. The de facto protagonist will not be an athlete however a goofy, curly-maned advertising govt, Steven Warshaw, whose up-for-anything perspective made him a enjoyable consuming buddy for his new Russian buddies.
The Individuals seen Russian skilled sports activities — and the promoting that got here with them — as a chance for feeding gamers to the N.H.L. and for offering stateside firms with inroads to the brand new Russian market. However first they wanted to lure followers to the Moscow area, which required gimmicks like strippers, free beer or a Gorbachev-Yeltsin look-alike contest. Not the whole lot went to plan. A Jeep may need appeared like an awesome prize for a fortunate spectator, however Warshaw says the winner was so afraid of being robbed that he negotiated a deal on the ice for money.
As recounted right here, Warshaw and the opposite Individuals got here to anticipate that the group’s earnings can be skimmed and that they couldn’t significantly belief anybody. Valery Gushin, the group’s basic supervisor, laughs heartily about Warshaw’s concern of the Russian mob.
Polsky is a scattered storyteller, and it takes some time for “Purple Penguins” to coalesce from a haphazard meeting of clips and reminiscences into greater than a macho specialty merchandise. The lighthearted tales of cultural trade give approach to what the movie suggests is a backdrop of corruption and even suspicious deaths.
If “Purple Penguins” doesn’t at all times strike a satisfying steadiness between the glib and the grim, the broader subject — the commercialization of hockey — affords it a novel lens on Russia’s financial transition.
Rated PG-13. In English and Russian, with subtitles. Working time: 1 hour 20 minutes. Hire or purchase on iTunes, Google Play and different streaming platforms and pay TV operators.