Almost Holy has the feel of following an embedded journalist on one of those raw, ground-level views of a problem you’d never considered before but now, by virtue of good reporting, feels urgent and alive.
“If there is no action from the top,” says Gennadiy Mokhnenko, a Ukrainian pastor who’s made a mission of combating his country’s youth-homelessness problem, “then we act from below.” He runs Pilgrim Republic, which functions as both orphanage and rehab center for children who are often there against their will: Gennadiy frequently picks them up off the street in the middle of the night.
There’s a real allure to the immediacy of this style of documentary filmmaking, and occasionally something deceptive as well — having your nose rubbed in the nitty-gritty can make it difficult to step back and assess the situation as a whole. But Steve Hoover’s film (which was executive-produced by Terrence Malick) doesn’t feel dishonest in its behind-the-scenes glimpse at its subject.
Gennadiy is the sort of figure who, should they ever make a biopic about him, will be introduced to the world via one of those obnoxious posters with contradictory words superimposed over his face: HERO/KIDNAPPER/VIGILANTE/ SAVIOR. What makes his story compelling is that none of those descriptors are half as effective at suggesting who he is as actually watching him take in yet another child off the street — whether they like it or not.
Directed by Steve Hoover
Opens May 20, Village East Cinema