Less than fifteen miles from Moscow’s Red Square is the “Svalka,” the largest garbage dump in Europe. It’s run by the Russian military and officially restricted to visitors, yet still serves as a home of sorts to roughly a thousand people, one of whom is the subject of Hanna Polak’s powerful documentary Something Better to Come.
Yula’s family were thrown out of their apartment after her father’s death, a circumstance not uncommon to others who find themselves eking out an existence in the Svalka, only she has Polak chronicling her life from age ten to twenty-four. So it’s sort of like Boyhood, only without the catchy soundtrack or hope for the future.
There are some moments of respite, at least in the early years: a ride down snow-covered garbage on a makeshift sled, a game of cards, a “date” with a bulldozer driver. These are fleeting, however. Like everyone else there, Yula dreams of one day escaping the dump, with its mafia thugs and unrelenting squalor, and as the years wear on, we see her aged prematurely by poor living conditions and vodka, the residents’ payment for scavenging.
Perhaps even more disturbing than the Dickensian in extremis ordeal of Svalka life — including her rational yet heartbreaking decision to give up her baby rather than raise it in the dump — is Yula’s straightforward acceptance of her situation. “I’d like to hope for the best, but it never happens.” It’s this fatalism, even in the face of a belated turnaround in her fortunes, that carries the film and drives home the plight of Yula and those like her.