'Khodorkovsky': a Russian oligarch thrown into a Siberian prison
A movie review of "Khodorkovsky," German filmmaker Cyril Tuschi's sympathetic documentary portrait of the persecuted Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
The New York Times
'Khodorkovsky,' a documentary directed by Cyril Tuschi. 111 minutes. Not rated. In English, Russian and German, with English subtitles. SIFF Cinema at the Film Center.
The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.
Soviet Communism may have toppled, but in high places in the Kremlin the old authoritarian mindset still prevails. Enemies of the power elite can be arrested, tried on trumped-up charges and imprisoned in a system as labyrinthine and secretive as it was during the Soviet era. At least that is the perspective on Russian political power games expressed in "Khodorkovsky," German filmmaker Cyril Tuschi's sympathetic documentary portrait of the persecuted Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who ran afoul of Vladimir Putin, the former Russian president (set to start his third term in May) and current prime minister.
In October 2003, hooded security forces arrested Khodorkovsky on a plane, after which he was tried for fraud and tax evasion and sentenced to eight years in a Siberian prison. In late 2010, after a second trial in which he was accused of money laundering and the theft of 350 million tons of oil, he was sentenced to six more years.
Tuschi visited the Siberian town near the Chinese border where Khodorkovsky was incarcerated but was forbidden access to the prison. He did manage to interview him briefly through a glass cage during the second trial. Khodorkovsky has since been moved to a labor camp near the Finnish border.
Khodorkovsky and Tuschi exchanged letters, excerpts from which are read by the actor Harvey Friedman.
The prisoner rather eloquently portrays himself as a victim of human-rights abuse. The major reason for his persecution, Khodorkovsky asserts, was his support of the political opposition after promising Putin that he would stay out of politics. But the movie strongly implies that their feud was also a macho cockfight that began at a high-level meeting at which he offended Putin by bringing up corruption in the Kremlin.
The visually snazzy film has stark, ominous, mostly black-and-white computer-animated sequences depicting Khodorkovsky's initial arrest. One animated bit shows him swimming in a pool of gleaming gold coins. Among the film's many talking heads, none directly represent the Russian political powers that be.