Starring: Alexei Navalny, Yulia Navalnaya, Dasha Navalnaya
Runtime: 98 mins. Reviewed in Feb 2023
Reviewer: Fr Peter Malone msc
Documentary portrait of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in his quest to identify the men who poisoned him in August 2020.
Oscar nominee for Best Documentary in the 2022 awards, this is an American production, sponsored by CNN and HBO Max. For audiences well informed about the life and campaigns of Russian opposition leader to Vladimir Putin, Alexei Navalny, and his poisoning on a plane travelling from Siberia to Moscow, his recovery in Germany, return to Russia and his imprisonment, this film will serve as something of a summary as well as an opportunity to consider his personality and motivations.
The added bonus is his investigation into those accused of poisoning him, working with the help of investigator, Christo Grozev, and his organisation, Bellingcat (an independent global organisation of researchers, investigators and citizen journalists that use open source and social media investigation to solve crimes around the world). Navalny, Grozev and Maria Pevchikh, chief investigator with Navalny’s Anti-Corruption organisation, draw up a list of probable agents used for the assassination attempt. They research their travels and note the presence of some of them in the Siberian town when Navalny was poisoned by a nerve agent. Then there is the extraordinary expose when Navalny, posing as a Russian authority, elicits by phone the detailed story of the plot. Navalny obviously enjoys himself in front of the camera with this phone interview which leaves his associates more and more amazed.
For audiences who know something of about him and what happened to him but would not be strong on detail, this is an opportunity for an hour and a half close-up on the man himself, speaking both in Russian and English – cheerful, witty, familiar with social media and able to employ it adeptly. There are sequences with his supportive wife, Yuliya, and an interview with his daughter. While there are some flashbacks to speeches he made in 2011, the film does not offer any of his background, his business abilities, his investigations, his opposition to Putin and the Russian government. Rather, it focuses on Navalny being interviewed after his poisoning and recovery, personal sequences with his family, on flights with the press, the poisoning, his hospitalisation, Angela Merkel’s intervention and a German plane taking him to Berlin, the identification of the poison, his recovery and rehabilitation.
The film does highlight his opposition to Putin, his unmasking of corruption, accusations of Putin as a thief, his popularity, protests and police brutality, his willingness to go to prison and his acknowledgment of the possibility that he would be killed. And, at the end, he is arrested, mass protests at the airport but his plane been diverted to another airport, his internment, and a final look between bars, head shaved, seeming black eyes, and his determination not to give up.
In the light of Putin’s 2022 behaviour with the invasion of Ukraine, and an excerpt from his press conference where he never mentions Navalny by name but only by references, the film is a strong critique of Putin, his supporters, his media support, and the oppression of freedoms.
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