Screened as part of NZIFF 2011
In October 2003, Russia’s richest man was arrested as he stepped off his private jet. Two years later, the 40-year-old oil company owner, ranked 16th on the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest people, was in a Siberian prison nearly 5,000km fromMoscow, having been found guilty of tax evasion and fraud. Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s real crime, it is widely believed, was to pose a political challenge to his former ally, Vladimir Putin. As one former Khodorkovsky colleague remarks in this absorbing film, ‘to scare off a pack of wolves, you don’t have to kill them all; you just try to kill one – the most beautiful, the smartest, the fastest.’
Director Cyril Tuschi’s doggedness and curiosity lead him around Russia, to Washington, London (‘Moscow-upon-Thames’) and Tel Aviv and finally back to Siberia, where at last he is able to question Khodorkovsky directly. The prisoner is strangely serene – perhaps because he realises the hopelessness of his defence against fresh charges of embezzlement and the protracted incarceration they will bring.
Astute and edifying, Khodorkovsky delivers a careful biography of this intriguing character, but also a picture of the crooked political machinations of Perestroika, and subsequently Putin’s Russia, that would enable the oligarch’s rise, and later insist upon his fall. It is also a courageous piece of journalism, in a country where such courage can be perilous. Tuschi is warned by one well-wisher that his task is foolhardy; that, if he insisted on looking at real people, to ‘be sure they’ve been dead for at least 150 years’. Thankfully, it is advice he ignored. — TM