Alla Sergeyevna Demidova is a seminal name on the Russian stage. Renowned for her tragic heroines, she forged a close relationship with directors Yuri Lyubimov and Anatoly Efros and their often troubled Taganka Theatre for over three decades. Now, she looks back at a career split between censorship and freedom, classic roles and avant-garde productions. With a stunning archive of historical footage and Demidova’s frankness in front of the present-day camera, What Beat You Nothing is a triumph of biographical documentary that effortlessly captures its time and place.

Director Lyubov Arkus forms the film across two coexisting conflicts: Demidova’s quest to find roles that fit her transcendent yet grounded presence – Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Brecht – while working in a theatrical collective still largely hemmed by Soviet restrictions and often rent by leadership struggles. While largely a theatrical actress, she speaks with animation and some bitterness about working with Tarkovsky on The Mirror, narrating her famous skip down the hall that was never meant to make it into the finished film. The scandal when Efros replaced Lyubimov as the Taganka’s creative director after the latter was stripped of citizenship is remembered with precision on all sides, even when those do not fit together. 

Much of the film follows Demidova’s memories of the mercurial Vladimir Vysotsky, who played Hamlet opposite her definitive Gertrude. Here, Demidova’s status as a living witness comes to the fore; with her colleagues deceased, it is all the more special that her lifetime of artistic integrity in the face of petty quarrels, state censure, and professional frustrations is memorialised so searchingly. 

What Beat You Nothing is an extraordinary achievement of interrogative documentary, one that invites its subject to reflect on and even refute the past. What emerges is an unforgettable portrait of a woman, artist, and rapidly changing time. 



CAST: Alla Demidova 

DIRECTOR: Lyubov Arkus

WRITER: Lyubov Arkus

SYNOPSIS: A documentary exploring the legacy of Soviet actress Alla Demidova, notably her career at the Tagenka Theatre in Moscow.