There is a Catch 22 lurking in the murkiness of this film but most will be challenged to find it.
This film appears to be a video defense of imprisoned Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is currently battling charges of tax evasion and murder by contract. He has been in jail nearly a decade and Russian strongman and defacto dictator Vladimir Putin appears capable of adding more time at will. The facts are clear: MK is in jail because Putin wants him there.
It is just as clear that MK wants out of jail. Somewhat less clear, but probable, is that if ultra-rich MK is released he will receive a hero’s welcome that will allow him to replace President Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s lap dog.
Considering MK’s extensive past contributions to many Russian political parties, with Medvedev out of the way, MK will be able to take care of Putin when he sees fit, and bury him as deep as he sees fit.
The alternative point of view is that MK is guilty as sin, evaded taxes and had people murdered. Of course, many others of Russia’s burgeoning billionaire population did the same. So he should be released, as many others like him are free. If this happens, repeat the last four sentences of the paragraph above.
Prior to seeing this film two things are clear. The first is that Putin wants MK in jail for very good reasons, the second is that MK wants out of jail for very good reasons.
After seeing this film, three things are clear. The first two are the same as in the paragraph above. The third is that the viewing audience, still, does not have a clue as to whether MK is guilty of everything, or nothing. Even sadder, we are barely aware of the charges that have been filed and barely aware of responses to the charges by the authorities. This is the lethal failing of this documentary.
Director Cyril Tuschi gave it good try, but there is no cigar to be handed out. The film documents only what we knew beforehand. As one interviewee put it, “This is a fist fight between two boys in the schoolyard.”
It is sad to see the miscarriage of justice. Even sadder that we have to see it every day, around the world. We see it when civilians are rocketed to death in Afghanistan, when children starve to death because of African warlords or when Wall Street tycoons fleece America and go unpunished. It is much less sad to see two men, apparently well into moral free-fall, in an ongoing battle to destroy each other.
It is also sad to see a documentary that does not document. There are viewers who will want to know the details of charges laid against MK and who will want to know what, if any, responses those charges have been received from Putin and those who speak for the Putin/Medvedev.
Viewers want to know if these charges, or the defense to the charges, have been filed in any other venues and what those venues had to say. Finally, viewers want to know what responsible commentators have to say about the situation.
This film show very little of any of the above. It is comprised mostly of vague personal opinions of Russians who are just as liable to be barbequed by Putin, as was MK, if they venture to speak anything remotely approaching the truth. We can see in their eyes that they are lying, or not telling the whole truth (which is lying). Cyril Tuschi bit off more than he could chew. There is no meat in this hamburger.
The film is mostly made up of talking heads who are too afraid to say anything of significance. Therefore, the film ends up of no significance. On the good side, the movie is a fascinating peek inside the club of Russian power elite.
The suits are admirable, the women are beautiful and the cars are to die for. The movie comes off more as a reverse psychology advertisement to do business in Russia, than as a condemnation of the Putin regime.
This is tragic, because the Putin regime truly deserves to be condemned. However, the condemnation of Putin by the richest oil magnate in the world, who was made rich by the flexibility (to be kind) of Russia’s laws, makes about as much sense as MK stealing 350 million tons of oil from himself (one of the charges).
Whenever a real-life drama starts sounding like Milo Minderbinder in Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22,” the time has come to re-read “Catch,” re-watch the film and decide whether humankind is farther from, or closer to, Heller’s WWII economy that was based strictly on personal gain.
This film answers neither that question, nor the question of MK’s guilt.
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Directed and Written by: Cyril Tuschi
Featuring: Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Pavel Khodorkovsky and Marina Khodorkovskaya
Release Date: November 30, 2011
MPAA: Not Rated
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Language: Russian / English / German