Citizen Khodorkovsky: A glimpse of a utopic and cruel Russia
by Giorgia Del Don
- Swiss director Eric Bergkraut continues his investigation of Russia with this documentary, which had its world premiere at the CPH:DOX in Copenhagen
Documentary film festival CPH:DOX in Copenhagen (5-15 November) will be full of Swiss films this year. As well as Eric Bergkraut’s latest documentary Citizen Khodorkovsky, which had its world premiere in the international F:ACT Award Competition, the Danish capital will be hosting screenings of Dark Star – HR Giger's World [+see also:
interview: Belinda Sallin
film profile] by Belinda Sallin and A German Youth [+see also:
film profile] by Jean-Gabriel Périot in the Artists and Auteurs section, Imagine Waking Up Tomorrow And All The Music Has Disappeared by Stefan Schwietert (Sound & Vision), German-Swiss co-production Das dunkle Gen by Miriam Jakobs and Gerhard Schick (Thematic Programme) and Nicolas Steiner’s acclaimed Above and Below [+see also:
film profile] in the Top Dox section.
Citizen Khodorkovsky - Who Is Left To Take On Vladimir Putin? by Swiss director Eric Bergkraut goes even further in observing an increasingly mysterious, practically hermetic Russia. After Coca: The Dove From Chechnya – Europe In Denial Of A War (2005) and Letter To Anna – The Story Of Journalist Politkovskaya’s Death [+see also:
film profile] (2008), Eric Bergkraut returns to talking about Russia and its complex (and intriguing) political landscape. Without wishing to paint an exhaustive portrait of former oligarch-turned- political prisoner Mikhaïl Khodorkovsky, the Swiss director instead tries to capture his essence, to get behind his “composed” appearance to the rage and awareness that could change (or at least risk changing) the destiny of Russia. Citizen Khodorkovsky doesn’t just bring us a unique portrait of a nation under siege whose truths are skilfully and systematically harnessed, it does so from the perspective of someone who, for many, represents the only hope of change towards a democracy dreamt of (in silence).
What makes Eric Bergkraut’s latest documentary particularly interesting is his choice to talk about Khodorkovski starting with his incarceration and going on to reveal different aspects of his life and personality that allow us to slowly but surely and almost instinctively go back in time to his arrest. Without wishing to directly explore why the richest man in Russia was incarcerated, Bergkraut instead focuses on the enigmatic personality of “citizen” Khodorkoski, on that threatening open-mindedness, his innate fearlessness that he turned into a weapon. Citizen Khodorkovsky doesn’t try to be a tribute to a character who, for many, became a martyr in a fight without hope. Instead, the director uses the character’s ambiguity, which wavers between opportunism and pure rebellion, and makes it the film’s strong point. Indeed, stripped of his contradictions, Khodorkovsky loses that strength, that cruelty that makes his so interesting and complex yet universally appealing. Citizen Khodorkovsky, which lies halfway between journalistic investigation and formal experimentation, feeds off the ambiguity of Chodorkovsky, a sort of renegade brother of Vladimir Putin who completes him whilst destroying him at the same time. “They work for but also against one another”, says his lawyer. A fight to the death which plays out in an extremely clinical, cynical and even inhumane way.
Although the letters that the director exchanged with Khodorkovsky over four years, the accounts of his parents and archive images give us various glimpses into his personality, it is ultimately mystery that best characterises him, his inscrutability which became a mask, that of a civilian-turned-fighter. The last word has yet to be said, it simply sits suspended on the seemingly calm shores of Lake Zurich where Khodorkovsky’s (overly) supressed rage went to settle, to stew secretly in peace and quiet.
Citizen Khodorkovsky - Who Is Left To Take On Vladimir Putin? is being sold internationally by Autlook Filmsales GmbH.
(Translated from Italian)