To the aural accompaniment of sloshing mud and gurgling water, Russians soak themselves in the curative mud baths of a historic spa. It is October 2022, and the full-scale invasion in Ukraine has been underway for seven months. This place, however, seems completely unaffected. Before visitors can enjoy the benefits of being packed in mud, they have to deal with a complex jumble of prohibitions, stamps, voucher systems, and other bureaucratic hoops and hurdles.
Mud is a black-and-white dreamscape without any interviews or commentary. Harsh reality makes its presence felt only occasionally via short news clips on a smartphone, a TV news broadcast quickly zapped away to a gameshow with Soviet songs, and soldiers silently taking mud baths.
The film switches between activities behind the scenes and front-of-house, in machine and treatment rooms, and impressionistic still lifes of empty corridors and people relaxing. This microcosm of a health spa becomes an allegory of contemporary Russia, with mud rituals and curative baths assuaging potential social unrest, and ultra-detailed surveillance silencing any possibly rebellious individuals.