Khodorkovsky: the return of the unrepressed
The fourth of March 2012 will be a memorable day for the spectators of the Cambridge Arts Picture House, who not only watched a most captivating documentary, KHODORKOVSKY, but were also privileged in being joined for a Q&A by its Berlin born filmmaker Cyril Tuschi, its producer Yelena Durden-Smith, and Vladimir Bukovsky, a leading member of the dissident movement of the 1960s and 1970s, to discuss the film and also the elections taking place in Russia that day, through a satellite link to a Moscow poll station.
Within this frame, the screening of the documentary, that takes its name from the (in)famous Russian oligarch Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky, was inevitably charged with a rather unique momentum. After road movies and Kafkaesque stories, Tuchi engages with the documentary genre for the first time and takes us into a journey that sets out to unveil and deconstruct aspects of modern Russia’s complex economical and political credo.
… the unresting operative oil extraction machines suggest a story embedded in contrasts.
A pan shot from pitch darkness moves into what looks like a typically Russian winter landscape: an open field covered in snow, a cloudy and yet restful sky with beams of light coming through; the modern dark and sinister orchestral piece accompanying it hints, though, at a less romantic vision, so that the unresting operative oil extraction machines suggest a story embedded in contrasts. The pan reaches a classic Russian white church, its green tops hovering over us, which seems to reassure us again with its peaceful sacredness until the voice of a man abruptly asks ‘what are you filming?’.
We hear Tuchi’s voice mentioning Khodorkovsky, and three youngsters claim either to not know him, or to know him as a mere thief. Nothing is what it seems, Tuchi masterful’s establishing shot conveys, and from this moment on a series of pictures and footage of Khodorkovsky and his entourage, from his mother to President Putin, enmesh to create an endless puzzle where the holy and the sinful become one. What appears to be an inquest about the rise and fall of Menatep commercial bank’s founder and leader of one of the largest private oil company in the world, Yukos, becomes a stirring study of human, often unintelligible efforts.
Bukovsky’s elegantly firm attitude spoke for a hope so much desired, and however never materialised …
The footage of Khodorkovsky’s handshakes with a succession of Prime Ministers suddenly turn into the even more numerous ones of him in the bullet-proof box during the trials over his alleged tax-fraud. Is Khodorkovsky’s imprisonment the failure of an otherwise impeccable judicial system, or is it the success of that corrupted system he attacked during a televised debate with the annual oligarchs’ meeting with the President? None of the elements in this equation are suggested to be worse or better than one other; rather it is the handling of them by each of the characters called to respond for them that furnishes the spectators with a thorny question to try and answer.
Tuchi’s impetuous passion for the subject that has captured him since 2005 came through many times during the Q&A with his touching belief in change for the better in the future of Russia; yet, in line with the documentary’s battle of opposites, Bukovsky’s elegantly firm – and perhaps even resigned – attitude spoke for a hope so much desired and however never materialised in concrete facts. Khodorkovsky successfully blends personal assessments from the tycoon’s family and circle of friends and acquaintances with conspiracy theories in an animated sequence – one of the ingenious ideas of the documentary is this beautiful, stylised animation which recounts Khodorkovsky’s life key moments, and debates what it means to be human.
Tuchi beautifully suggests less the blending of the present into the past than of the past into the present …
And perhaps the most remarkable moment in the documentary in this respect is Tuchi’s filmed interview to Khodorkovsky during his second trial: Tuchi’s emotions – he filmed the moment himself, so we cannot see him – come through evidently through Khodorkovsky’s surprisingly upright, serene and encouraging attitude while answering his questions. This strikes a remarkable comparison with the previous footage of him during trial, where he looked physically well but in a weakened morale. The contrast between present and past is poetically captured, during the documentary, in a long shot in a street of a standard Russian building which from sepia turns into colour film: despite the inevitable question of the cyclical returns in history, Tuchi beautifully suggests less the blending of the present into the past than of the past into the present … a vividly colourful one.