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Cyril Tuschi's "Khodorkovsky"

A portrait of Russia's most controversial prisoner.
The DailyKhodorkovsky

German filmmaker Cyril Tuschi will be in New York this evening to present Khodorkovsky at Film Forum, where the doc sees a run through December 13. As Vladimir Kozlov reports for the Moscow News, audiences in Russia will have a harder time catching this "portrait of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, ex-owner of the Yukos oil empire and a Kremlin opponent, who is serving a 13-year sentence for tax evasion, embezzlement and money laundering. Just over a week before the scheduled release date, December 1, the films distributor, Kinoklub, said six Moscow theaters that originally agreed to screen the movie had pulled it under various pretexts. As a result, the film is to open only at one cinema, Eldar, and some screenings are also to be held at the gallery Fotoloft in the Winzavod arts center."

At Russia Profile, Dan Peleschuk notes that this is hardly the first time the film's met with suspicious attempts to hamper screenings; the "final version was stolen from the production company’s office in Berlin before its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in February. German authorities claimed the break-in was professionally orchestrated, and although successful, Tuschi had several other copies of the final cut. Nevertheless, the director expressed concern over the incident: 'It's like being in a bad thriller,' he told the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung shortly after the incident. 'Someone is trying to scare me and I must admit that they are succeeding.'"

"Khodorkovsky, who in 2002 was the wealthiest person in the world under the age of 40, has been in a cell for eight years now," writes Steve Dollar at GreenCine Daily. "He would have completed serving his sentence for trumped-up charges of tax evasion this year, but he was recently convicted a second time. The crime? Stealing 300 tons of oil from himself. Barring parole, he won't walk until 2016. The deposed oligarch, who once ran the madly prosperous Yukos oil company before Putin forcibly snatched it out from under him, is the least likely sort of political prisoner. As one of the subjects in [Khodorkovsky] puts it, of those who rally for his freedom 'one-third are human rights activists, one-third are Neo-Liberals and one-third think he's good looking.'" Khodorkovsky essentially "fell prey to the same system that had given him his wealth and power, because he had the audacity and recklessness to challenge Putin over reforms. On a live national television broadcast, no less."

"Tuschi's film deftly interweaves interviews, newsreel footage, and a clever, computer-animated motif that runs throughout," writes Tony Pipolo for Artforum. "The main line is Khodorkovsky's rise from humble beginnings to capitalist extraordinaire… [H]ow his initial ventures were facilitated by the free market period of perestroika; how he founded the first private bank in the country thanks to privileged support from the government that viewed him as 'a beacon of hope' for a new, prosperous Russia; and, finally, how he made a deal with Boris Yeltsin to purchase the oil company Yukos for three hundred million dollars when it was valued at six billion…. Yet the film hints at another Khodorkovsky, not far from the idealistic student of the Komsomol (the Communist Youth League), the one who modeled himself after a socialist hero fighting for people's liberation — the protagonist of the novel Pavel Korchagin, with whom Khodorkovsky still identifies…. Was it this Khodorkovsky who, when his adviser warned that the deal with Yeltsin would have a cancerous effect on business and government, replied that he welcomed the fall of the old system that would make way for a new one? The glimpses we get of Khodorkovsky, including behind glass in prison, confirm the impressions he generated: intense, soulful, both impassioned and serene, a subtly suppressed hubris with a possible martyr complex…. As campaigns by liberals and human rights activists (and, early on, George Bush) questioned his sentence, Putin began insisting that the original charge of tax evasion was compounded by new ones of murder. Evidence that might have challenged one of these charges seems to have disappeared when the man in custody of it was poisoned suspiciously. Dostoyevsky? The tale more closely resembles the sinister Boyar conspiracies against the Czar in Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible."


More from Christopher Bell (Playlist, B), Dustin Chang (Twitch), Cassady Dixon (Cinespect), Stephen Holden (New York Times), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York, 3/5), Ella Taylor (NPR), Alison Willmore (AV Club, B+) and Lauren Wissot (Slant, 2/4).

Listening (32'11"). Tuschi, Khodorkovsky's son, Pavel, and NYT business writer Joe Nocera are guests on the Leonard Lopate Show.

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I just think that it’s not an axiom that if someone is “persecuted”, he is necessarily the good guy, even if the persecutor is no less than rotten.

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