Dir. Cyril Tuschi, Germany, 2011, 111 mins, in English, Russian and German with English subtitles
Cast: Mikhail Khordokovsky, Pavel Khodorkovsky, Marina Khodorkovsaya, Vladimir Putin
Review by Jonathon Hopper
Starting with shots of bobbing derricks in a snowy wilderness, Khodorkovsky is a documentary charting the rise and fall of Russian oligarch Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky. After studying chemical engineering at the Mendeleev Institute in Moscow, Khodorkovsky went on to establish Russia’s first private bank during the perestroika era, but it was the fall of Communism and ensuing rush to embrace the free market that saw his stock soar with the purchase of state-owned oil company YUKOS.
The wealthiest man in the World under the age of forty in the early 2000s, Khodorkovsky started funding education and training programs, but it was his political ambitions that set him on a collision course with Russian President Vladimir Putin. After challenging Putin on alleged state corruption during a televised meeting of business leaders in February 2003, he was arrested that October on charges of fraud and tax evasion; charges that lead to his eventual imprisonment near Chita, Siberia.
With Putin’s recent election for a third (non-consecutive) term as President amid allegations of electoral fraud, the release of Khodorkovsky is nothing if not timely. Amnesty International consider Khodorkovsky to be a prisoner of conscience, and when further charges were brought relating to the alleged stealing of 350 million barrels of oil as the original sentence neared its completion, both Khodorkovsky and business partner Platon Lebedev were sentenced to a further twelve years in prison.
Telling its story with style (the depth-adding dark animation sequences are very eye-catching), Khodorkovsky certainly has its moments. His imprisonment in a Siberian jail (a former labour camp where inmates mined uranium and left in a coffin) sounds like something from a novel set in the dark recesses of the Cold War, and there’s even a link to Alexander Litvinenko – the former secret service agent who died in a London hospital from radioactive poisoning in 2006.
While the most affecting documentaries of recent months (from chimp biopic Project Nim to double BAFTA winner Senna) have combined facts with high emotion however, Khodorkovsky feels a little clinical. The film fleetingly introduces mother Marina, son Pavel and first wife Lena, but with interviews weighted in favour of business associates and career politicians the film never really get under the skin of its lead protagonist.
Nor is there much analysis of why a man made rich by the state turned dissident. Was the transformation from oligarch to philanthropist and opposition leading light a matter of conscience or political opportunism? The closing interview with the man himself from within a glass-fronted cage stops short of providing the answers.
Shortly before copy out-going President Dmitry Medvedev announced that the convictions of Khodorkovsky, Lebedev and thirty others would be reviewed; a move that Putin himself called ‘correct’. Given the history of the case it would take a brave individual to predict whether the convictions will be overturned or whether – as journalist Masha Gessen warns – Mikhail Khodorkovsky will never be released while Putin remains in power. Taking recent events into consideration, if Gessen’s prediction comes true Khodorkovsky may remain behind bars for some considerable time.
Watch the full film KHODORKOVSKY online NOW.