Laura Sistero’s “Tolyatti Adrift” is a Russian-language documentary that was released on March 24, 2020. The documentary is set in Tolyatti, Russia, and it portrays the lives of common people through the experiences of a few teenagers while also showcasing the history of the place.
Tolyatti is home to one of Russia’s largest car factories, which is owned by the automotive company AvtoVAZ. The factory produces a range of vehicles under the Lada brand, including the popular Lada Niva SUV and the Lada Granta sedan. The factory was established in the 1960s as part of the Soviet Union’s effort to develop a domestic automotive industry. It was built in collaboration with the Italian car manufacturer Fiat, which provided technical assistance and helped design the factory’s production lines.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, AvtoVAZ has faced significant challenges, including competition from foreign automakers and a lack of investment in modernizing its production facilities. However, the company has continued to produce vehicles and remains an important employer in the region. In recent years, AvtoVAZ has partnered with other companies to develop new models and technologies. For example, it has worked with the French automaker Renault to produce the Lada XRAY and Vesta models, which are based on Renault’s platforms and use its engines.
The city of Tolyatti has also become a hub for automotive suppliers, with many companies setting up operations in the area to provide parts and services to AvtoVAZ and other car manufacturers. Overall, the automotive industry is a key part of Tolyatti’s economy and cultural identity. The city has a museum dedicated to the history of the Lada brand, and its residents often refer to themselves as ‘AvtoVAZovtsy,’ a term that roughly translates to ‘people of AvtoVAZ.’
Drifting Towards Happiness: A Life Filled With Small Joys
“Tolyatti Adrift” delves into the lives of a group of teenagers as they grapple with the challenges of growing up in a rapidly changing post-Soviet society. Alongside exploring themes such as friendship, love, family, and the search for identity, the documentary film focuses on Misha, a young man with a simple life centered around his passion for cars. Misha studies in the automotive department and is particularly enamored with Formula 1 cars. He also loves to drift and spray graffiti on walls. The documentary also introduces us to Misha’s friends, who are just like other ordinary teenagers in Tolyatti, struggling to build a good life for themselves. While they have different interests, they all share a love for drifting their cars, whether it’s in the snow or on the streets.
Misha’s circle of friends consists of individuals with distinct aspirations and experiences. One of them dreams of pursuing a career as a mechanical engineer but faces a roadblock in the form of his father’s insistence that he join the army. Despite his father’s expectations, he remains steadfast in his passion for engineering and refuses to compromise on his dreams. Another friend, a vivacious young woman, is portrayed as a cheerful presence throughout the documentary. She possesses a natural talent for cooking and is eager to learn about management, with the ultimate goal of opening her own restaurant or becoming a manager. Yet they all understand that life in Tolyatti differs greatly from that in major Russian cities such as Moscow or St. Petersburg.
Misha’s friend attempts to improve his chances of finding employment in the automotive industry by attending job interviews. However, despite searching for job opportunities in the mechanical industry, he is frequently denied employment due to his limited experience and the scarcity of opportunities available in Tolyatti. Meanwhile, another one of Misha’s acquaintances faces a decision-making dilemma, pondering whether to remain in Tolyatti or to relocate to a city such as Moscow, where she would have access to a wider range of opportunities and experiences.
‘Tolyatti Adrift’ Ending
In the conclusion of “Tolyatti Adrift,” Misha finds success in the automotive industry as a pilot for Formula 1 cars, while his friend struggles to secure employment and ultimately joins the military. Another friend of Misha’s purchases a car and starts her own business, working at a small takeaway counter to gain practical knowledge of entrepreneurship. Despite being a young and ambitious woman, she ends her relationship with her army-serving partner and takes time to reflect on her life, exploring Tolyatti and her birthplace in a new and exhilarating way with her newly acquired vehicle.
In “Tolyatti Adrift,” a concise one-hour documentary, viewers are treated to a candid portrayal of the everyday lives of ordinary people that captures the essence of the place in a highly authentic way. By highlighting the challenges faced by teenagers and how they cope with them, the film showcases how the characters come to embrace their lives in Tolyatti, even if it’s not the life they would have chosen for themselves. They find joy in small pleasures and, in particular, in drifting their cars together. In the film’s climactic scene, Misha, who is most passionate about drifting, is unable to indulge in his favorite pastime because Formula 1 cars don’t allow it due to their unique mechanics. As a result, Misha sets fire to his car and revels in the company of the joyful locals, content in the knowledge that he has achieved what he most desires.
Overall, “Tolyatti Adrift” is a thought-provoking and emotionally powerful film that offers a unique perspective on contemporary Russian culture and society.