“I am Ambasi Vera’s daughter. Russians call me Nadezhda. My real name is Neko. I am the last in the line of Veras.” Neko is a member of the Nenets people who live in the Siberian tundra. It is the eighties and, under the former Soviet Union, the Nenets are being driven off their lands – just as they are today – on account of vast gas reserves that are suspected underneath their homelands. Neko lives with her father and grandmother in a tent in the midst of nowhere. They paddle their kayaks, catch fish, and play and sing shamanistic songs which are handed down from one generation to another.
But then, one day, Neko’s mother takes Neko away and puts her in a Soviet boarding school – against Neko’s will. All at once her idyllic childhood comes to an end. Instead of freshly caught salmon, she gets porridge to eat in the school’s canteen, and numbers are used to add up instead of reindeer and fish. It just can’t go on.
Prompted by several small conflicts and Neko’s enduring homesickness, she begins to work on a plan to escape the school with a fellow-Nenets pupil. Neko wants nothing more than to go home to her family, her grandmother, her father, the animals and the kayak. But the pupils’ escape to the icy wastes of the tundra is short-lived. The children are brought back to the boarding school, and life in the tent becomes a memory of another world.
This film is based on co-director Anastasia Lapsui’s own childhood memories.