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Citizen K review - real power in Russia | reviews, news & interviews

Citizen K review - real power in Russia

Citizen K review - real power in Russia

Putin and Mikhail Khodorkovsky are equally sphinx-like adversaries in Alex Gibney's revealing doc

Putin's pariah: Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Putin and Mikhail Khodorkovsky are “strong”, a Russian journalist considers. “Everyone else – weak.” This is essentially Khodorkovsky’s opinion, too, after the former oil oligarch’s decade in a Siberian jail for suggesting the President was corrupt to his face on TV.

Prolific documentarist Alex Gibney uses Khodorkovsky’s rise and fall to consider Russia’s Wild West, seven years in which seven oligarchs bought up half the economy, as below them chaotic new market forces shocked the nation with destitution and Sicilian levels of gangster mayhem, while Boris Yeltsin slumped zombie-like in the Kremlin. Khodorkovsky seized his chance with newly legitimate greed and entrepreneurial brilliance, transforming the oil industry. Exactly who was responsible for shooting a Siberian mayor who fought his redundancies is a question Gibney leaves hanging over his subject. As the Moscow Times’ Derk Sauer observes: “He wants to be Jesus Christ. But he has a past.”

The parallel rise of Putin, an initially unprepossessing chameleon who stopped the chaos for a grateful nation, only to replace it with the anarchic state which jailed Khodorkovsky, is grimly mesmerising. Like the sly, now rehabilitated monster Stalin, Putin has an opportunistic intelligence his adversaries lack. He is also focused by a motivating ideology. Gibney shows his televised answer to a young girl asking about a crucial event in his life. “The collapse of the Soviet Union,” he answers, and its lost parts have been centrifugally pulled towards Russia ever since. Skin improbably smoothed by time, the scruffy apparatchik who slipped from nowhere to the Kremlin in six anarchic months now seems as permanent and impermeable as an obelisk.

His KGB ferociousness towards dissent remains undimmed. After the sub Kursk’s crew drowned due to official incompetence, a widow raging at Putin on TV is shockingly silenced by his heavies’ syringe. When Khodorkovsky pricks the president’s vanity, his employees are jailed and drugged. Their defiant loyalty to their old boss is telling.

Mikhal Khodorkovsky in Citizen KGibney falls far short of his title’s allusion to Orson Welles’ study of a hubristic plutocrat. By his standards, this is a cinematically workmanlike film. The eerily suggestive opening scene of a refinery tower blazing in a Siberian snowfield is a rare grace note. Perhaps it’s fairer to look at the likes of Andrei Zyangintsev’s intimate fiction epic Leviathan for this Russia’s deeper truths.

Journalistically, though, Gibney gets this gripping story out. It’s a fascinating character study of Khodorkovsky today: morally purged in his Siberian prison from a Muscovite Gordon Gekko to a billionaire Solzhenitsyn, with the perhaps suicidal desire to continue goading his presidential nemesis. London has become a killing ground for Russia’s dissidents, yet here he lives, plotting pinprick democratic resistance with the last few hundred million of his fortune.

Gibney can’t get beneath Khodorkovsky’s skin. Keeping his cameras on him still reveals a lot. His dogged democratic conviction is heroic, and of a piece with the stubborn certainty which drove him to the top. His danger to Putin is that he understands the world on his terms. He knows power must be backed by “force of arms”, making him contemptuous of a mass protest for not marching on the Kremlin. But his permanent smile also seems nervous. The bafflement which visibly eats at him after his hubristic challenge was terribly defeated is that his power wasn’t enough. Rising from almost nothing, he flew too close to the political sun, and was cast down.

He was morally purged in prison from a Muscovite Gordon Gekko to a billionaire Solzhenitsyn


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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