“I don’t need permission to do good deeds.”
In the streets of Mariupol, Ukraine, abandoned and orphaned children face a life of addiction and abuse. For many years, Pastor Gennadiy Mokhnenko has made a name for himself by creating the largest children’s rehab facility in the former Soviet Union. He brings in children (sometimes forcibly) and offers them a better life. Almost Holy is a documentary that focuses more on the man than the mission, although it is sometimes very hard to distinguish between the two.
With younger children, Gennadiy often calls himself Pastor Crocodile (a reference to an animated children’s TV show featuring a crocodile named Gennadiy). While he can often seem to be a big-hearted man who cares deeply about children, he can also deliver a pretty serious bite. He often must practice tough love with those in his orphanage. He is not above kidnapping children off the street to get them away from drugs and abuse. And he is willing to use vigilante violence on those who would do harm to children.
There is a certain moral ambiguity about him, which leads viewers to be a bit wary about connecting with him. On the one hand, he does good work in a difficult situation. He has even adopted several of the kids he has taken off the street. He also is adamant about opposing those who sell the drugs to the children—sometimes pharmacies that do so under the table. He is willing to use the power of publicity that he has built over time to threaten them. Much of the situation is aftermath from the breakup of the Soviet Union and of the policies from the Soviet era. He very much sees the Soviet Union as a terrible time in his country’s history. This becomes especially obvious when, in the last quarter of the film the issues between Ukraine and Russia heat up. All of this raises issues about what can be done in a moral cause. Is violence acceptable in a moral cause? Are there lines that should not be crossed even when harm to children is involved?
What I found missing from the film was any religious commentary, which is especially obvious since Gennadiy is a pastor. Other than seeing him wearing a clerical collar, there is no way that we would really know he has any religious background. It would have been interesting to find out a bit of what led him to become a pastor and how his training for that informs his understanding of his mission and the morality that he both fights for and perhaps struggles against. That would have served much better to allow viewers to consider the deeper issues that underlie much of the film.