Review: ‘Almost Holy’ Demonstrates a Pastor’s Tough Love for Street Kids in Ukraine

A good example of how a charismatic figure doesn’t automatically generate a deep or compelling documentary, “Almost Holy” follows the efforts of Gennadiy Mokhnenko, a pastor in Ukraine. He snatches homeless children off the streets — many are addicts — and takes them to Pilgrim Republic, the rehabilitation center he founded in the city of Mariupol.

According to Mr. Mokhnenko, the home sometimes functions as a prison, sometimes as a hospital. Seeing a proliferation of street kids, drug use, domestic abuse and AIDS following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mr. Mokhnenko, who likens himself to a caring animated character in a Russian children’s movie, takes initiative without authority. He has even adopted some of the children.

This brand of tough-love priest isn’t unique to this former member of the Eastern bloc: An American counterpart might be the pastor Michael Pfleger, an activist on Chicago’s South Side. But “Almost Holy” grows repetitive with Mr. Mokhnenko’s pep talks. It becomes more interesting when he ponders the “criticism” section on his Wikipedia page and, toward the end, when the film shifts its emphasis to consider the broader political context of Ukraine.

The title “Almost Holy” notwithstanding, the director, Steve Hoover, barely stops short of nominating his subject for sainthood. This is the case despite one remarkable scene in which Mr. Mokhnenko angrily warns a man accused of rape, “Don’t force me to sin.”

“Almost Holy” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Discussion of drug use, domestic abuse and sexual abuse.