Monday, November 28, 2011

KHODORKOVSKY: Cyril Tuschi's look at the Russian oligarch & country's ex-richest man

I happened to read Steve Dollar's review of KHODORKOVSKY for Greencine earlier this week and was surprised to learn that Mr. Dollar was a complete newcomer to this Russian ex-oligarch/ex-richest man in the country. As Dollar himself explains it in his review, "In my blinkered perception of international affairs, I'd never even heard of Khodorkovsky. But that actually makes the documentary more fun to watch." I think he's absolutely right. TrustMovies has followed the Khodorkovsky story over the past several years -- and gosh darned if this movie about him didn't simply go over much of what I already knew. I kept waiting for some really juicy (or just interesting) additional information, but not a lot was forthcoming. And yet...

The documentary's writer/director, German filmmaker Cyril Tuschi (shown at right), probably made the correct decision in aiming for the audience who knows little to nothing about this unusual man -- and maybe little to nothing abut the state of Russia today: an iron-fist-inside-an-ever-more-threadbare-velvet-glove dictatorship. Is absolutely everyone easily "bought" in today's version of old Russia? Or maybe they're simply frightened into submission? With the few crusading journalists assassinated (or in danger of same), truth seems to be having as difficult a time rearing its little head as it did it those halcyon days of Pravda.

In any case, and in brief, Mr. Khodorkovsly (above) -- a few years back the richest man in Russia (and among the richest in the world) due to his ownership in the petroleum company Yukos -- ran afoul of current "dictator" (let's call a spade a garden tool) Vladimir Putin. Charges against him seemed (and still seem) bogus by any fair and just standard of which I'm aware, but he was tried, convicted and recently re-convicted of even more ridiculous charges (we'll leave the movie to fill you in with details).

All of this has been mulled over by our own media at some length, so filmmaker Tuschi tries to further interest us by combining some nice animation with his story (see poster, top), classing up his documentary with beautifully framed opening and closing shots and also -- the most interesting portion for me -- delving into the archives for some shots of Mr. Big as a boy, or at least as a very young man (above and below).

We hear from his mother and first wife and later from his eldest son (studying here in the USA), though nothing much that anyone says seems groundbreaking.  In fact, the biggest surprise in the movie is the "pet" that is evidently owned by one of the interviewees and is being fed during his interview (no spoilers here, either). And we see some interesting memorabilia (yup -- that's war criminal George and wife Laura, shown center, below).

Like a good documentarian, Mr. Tuschi tries his best to snag an interview with Putin (the famous caption from The New Yorker cartoon, "How about never. Is never good for you?", should come to mind here), but he does manage to speak with Ilya Yashim, an opposition politician. who tells us that Khodorkovsky has a bright future ahead. "He still says exactly what he said five years ago, and for that he deserves respect." (Particularly when, in our own country, politicians can't recall what they said five days ago -- or, if it's during a Republican debate, five minutes ago.)

The money shot, as it were, comes with the in-person interview that Tuschi finally obtains with his subject (that's K is in a glass booth, above). This, together with a couple of other pieces of interviews toward the finale -- one of which answers the question of why the man did not flee his country to safety elsewhere when he was given the opportunity -- gives us the picture of Khodorkovsky that I believe the filmmaker wants us to keep and cherish. And which I am certainly ready to do. This man is the rare, real thing: a genuine Russian patriot.

Khodorkovsky, from Kino Lorber Films (111 minutes), opens this Wednesday, November 30, for a two-week run at Film Forum in New York City. For screening times at FF,click here. To see a listing of all upcoming playdates, click here and then scroll down to the bottom of the screen.

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