Earlier this month I had a post entitled ‘Russia: Mafia state’, where I wrote, among other things, that I found Russia to be a “terrifying place.” This led to a spirited exchange with one of my regular readers, who took exception to my take on that country. As Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev’s latest film, ‘Elena’—which won an award at Cannes last year—had just opened in Paris, I decided to see it illico. It’s good, indeed very good. And it did not cause me to modify my sentiment on Russia being terrifying. Zvyagintsev, in the words of Variety’s critic,
retaining his fascination with the moral impact of individual choices within a fragile family unit…spins a taut, engrossing yarn about a coveted inheritance, cruel class differences and quietly monstrous misdeeds.
He makes Russia out to be a brutal society, sans foi ni loi, where there is little solidarity beyond the immediate family unit. Reviews in the Hollywood press have been stellar—it hasn’t opened in the US yet—, with critics gushing over the pic, e.g. here, here, here, here. French reviews have also been tops.
A few days after seeing ‘Elena’, I ran out to see ‘Khodorkovsky’, the documentary by German director Cyril Tuschi on the rise and fall of the billionaire oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who’s been in prison for the past eight years on what are manifestly politically motivated charges. Not that Khodorkovsky was exactly clean himself when it came to corruption and other dubious practices, but that’s not why Vladimir Putin decided that he didn’t like him and wanted him out of the way. The documentary is quite good and informative. The review in Variety thus begins
Thoroughly researched and highly entertaining, “Khodorkovsky” recounts the strange story of its eponymous subject, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the famous oligarch who’s been languishing in a Siberian prison since 2003 on trumped up tax-evasion charges. Helmer Cyril Tuschi doesn’t disguise his admiration for the tycoon who defied Putin, but the docu never descends into hagiography, and along the way it delivers a pungent portrait of contempo Russia.