Posts Tagged ‘Putin’

Navalny (2022)

Dir.: Daniel Roher; Documentary with Alexei Navalny, Yulia Navalnaya, Dasha Navalny, Zakhar Navalny; USA 2022, 98 min.

When Canadian documentary filmmaker Daniel Roher (Once were Brothers) met Bulgarian investigative journalist Christo Grozev, they had different agendas in mind. But the poisoning of Alexei Navalny (*1976) on 20.8.2020 in the Xander Hotel in Tomsk, changed everything. Suddenly Roher was sitting opposite Navalny to discuss a film that could be his epitaph. And it may still be for the dissident politician who is currently languishing in a Russian penal colony on bogus charges.

Navalny had led two different political organisations – “Russia of the Future” and the “Progress Party” – and neither were permitted to run in the 2018 Presidential Elections on account of “Corruption charges” as well as accusations of “Embezzlement”, according to Putin controlled jurisdiction.

But Putin and the FSB (a new name for the old KGB) were not finished with Navalny. Agents of the FSB poisoned his boxer shorts with the nerve agent novichok (known as LP9 (Love potion No. 9) in the FSB handbook. On the flight from Omsk to Moscow Navalny suffered convulsions. His life was saved by an emergency landing in Omsk where he was treated in hospital and Roher and his crew met the dissident and his wife Yulia. They declined to be photographed preferring to maintain the image of a strong and healthy politician. A few days later, Novalny was flown to Berlin for further treatment, where the novichok diagnosis was confirmed. The recovering Navalny could only laugh about the attack: “How stupid, they can’t be so stupid”. But they were.

At home in his Black Forest retreat Alexei, his family and the film team discovered with the help of hackers, the names of the four FSB operatives involved in the assassination attempt. In late December, Navalny put a call through to them, impersonating a leading officer of the FSB, wanting to discuss “what went wrong” during the ‘operation’. The first three agents declined to talk to Alexei, one even pointing out he knew the real identity of the caller. But the forth member, Konstantin Kudryavstev, was only too willing to talk, and confessed that without the emergency landing in Omsk, the victim would have died. A few hours more in the air, without help and the antidote “would have done the trick” according to Kudryavstev. “He is dead, the poor man is dead”, exclaimed Alexei after the end of phone conversation.

On January 17th 2021, Navalny was back in Moscow. At Vnukovo airport, huge crowds gathered, to welcome back their hero and his family. The authorities quickly diverted the plane to Sheremetyevo, and even though supporters crowded round the disembarking politician, the authorities prevailed, and Alexei was arrested on arrival.

His original punishment for the alleged embezzlement and contempt of court was two years and eight months, but since then Putin’s regime has come up with a nine-year sentence, to be served in a maximum security prison. All the organisations Alexei belonged to, have been declared “extremist” and are therefore illegal. Despite all this, Navalny started a hunger strike, only ending when he was on death’s door. After the start of the Ukraine invasion by Russia, he sent out messages from the penal colony, condemning the war.

DoP Niki Walti uses his often handheld camera to great effect, particularly in the scenes when Alexei engages with the corrupt FSB agents. Perhaps, Roher could have forced Navalny more on the extreme nationalist, part of his coalition. But overall his film is a great coup: audience bearing witness to living history: to a man’s courage, and the cowardliness of the murderous organisation known as the FSB. Echoes are already sounding in Ukraine on a daily basis. A remarkable document. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 8 APRIL 2022

Putin’s Witnesses (2018) *** Karlovy Vary 2018 | Best Documentary Winner

Dir: Vitaly Mansky | Doc | Latvia/Switz/Czechia | 102’

On New Year’s Eve 1999 the former head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, became president of Russia. In his latest offering the exiled documentarian Vitaly Mansky (Truba) threatens to blow the lid on his own entente cordiale in a film that gives intimate and unprecedented acces to Putin himself and other protagonists on the Russian Political scene including Mikhail Gorbachev, and Boris Yeltsin, who chose the ambitious 47-year-old politician as his successor.

Ukrainian-born Vitaly Mansky bases his film on witness accounts of the events that happened in the years following that fateful day in December, perhaps the most important moment in 21st century Russian history. Making his presence known both behind and infront of the camera as he relaxes with his wife (who openly admits her hatred of Putin) and kids durimg the New Year holidays, the filmmaker offers his own telling perspective on the current man behind the iron mask who is seen delivering red roses and a hug to his former teacher and giving his own personal take on the responsibilities of being a president, while being driven to his private gym: “you have to create a world which you are happy to live in..and not hang you head in shame..when your term of office is over”. Throughout  all this bonhomie and bumfluffery, Putin smiles but remains cold-eyed.

During their voluble encounters, Mansky probes the president on his decision to restore the Soviet anthem and his reasoning behind doing appears candid and unguarded in a film that allows this entertaining expose to speak for itself. This is not about the here and now but how it all came about and throughout a sinister soundtrack signals doom and bleak resignation. At one point a sick and bloated Yeltsin puts a call through to Putin to congratulate him on his victory only to be told that Putin will ring him back. He never does. Although Mansky seems keen to humanise the whole affair, Putin’s glare never really melts, although he cracks the odd fake smile. He is man who plays his cards close to his chest, and we can see all see through the charm offensive. Mansky’s final words offer a chilly takeaway:  “Tacit consent turns witnesses into accomplices” MT

BEST DOCUMENTARY WINNER | KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

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