112 minutes

A lot more entertaining than any serious investigative documentary has any right to be, German director Cyril Tuschi's film on the affair of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oligarch imprisoned for the past eight years, is part journalistic primer on the case, part Boys Own adventure, as the director travels the world interviewing an impressive array of friends, relatives, colleagues and politicians (but, not surprisingly, no Russian politicians). No traditional documentarist (his sole previous feature was a fiction), mr. Tuschi starts out from a different question than most people ask: not "why was Mikhail Khodorkovsky arrested" but "why did Mikhail Khodorkovsky allow himself to be arrested". The (plausible) thesis he develops is that the oligarch is setting himself up as a sacrificial lamb, a moral example seeking some sort of redemption or penance for a wealthy way of life that simultaneously pushed Russia forward into a modern consumer economy but also led to a post-Perestroika regime more restrictive than desired, using his prison as a loudspeaker to advertise the pitfalls of post-Soviet polity.
Undeniably idealistic but also incredibly attuned to the peculiar workings of the Russian soul (as a son of Russian immigrants himself), mr. Tuschi leads us into a universe of shifty and shadowy politics that suggest a Cold War thriller updated for the media age, told with the insouciance of a student picking up new knowledge as he goes about traveling the world. Not surprisingly, the ultimate message the film sends is that the only people who want mr. Khodorkovsky free are the Westerners who can't do anything about it, caught between the harsh reality of economic interests and the idealistic dream of perfect human rights records. At no point does mr. Tuschi excuse or idolize his subject, but in the course of his investigation, we learn a lot about the way the world actually works behind the curtains - maybe a lot more than we'd ever want to know.

Directed, produced and photographed by Cyril Tuschi; narrated by Jean-Marc Barr, Harvey Friedman; music by Arvo Pärt; film editors, Salome Madoridze, mr. Tuschi.
A Rezo Films/Farbfilm presentation of a Lala Film production, in co-production with Le Vision and Bayerische Rundfunk, with the support of Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, MDM, Deutscher Filmförderfonds. (World sales, Rezo Films.)
Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2011, Panorama Dokumente official screening, Kino International (Berlin), February 14th 2011.


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