From boom to busted

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

MIKHAIL Khodor­kovsky first came to promi­nence dur­ing the 1980s as part of an emerg­ing class of Rus­sian pro-mar­ke­teers. The au­thor of re­gur­gi­tated Rand man­i­festo The Man with The Ru­ble and founder of Rus­sia’s first Stal­in­ist-monikered bank (Menetep, an acro­nym for the Cen­tre for Sci­en­tific and Tech­ni­cal Creativ­ity of the Youth), Khodor­kovsky was well-placed when the Krem­lin, seek­ing to cre­ate a new class of oli­garchs, started sell­ing on nat­u­ral re­sources at low, low prices to new go-get­ter cap­i­tal­ists.

By 2002 Khodor­kovsky was the rich­est man in Rus­sia and the rich­est bil­lion­aire un­der 40 in the world. To­day his for­mer ex­ec­u­tives are hid­ing out in Tel Aviv and Khodor­kovsky lan­guishes in a labour camp in the Arc­tic Cir­cle.

What gives? Doff your big furry ushanka to Cyril Tuschi. The Ger­man film- maker goes some way to­wards dis­en­tan­gling the hubris from the trumped up charges in this grip­ping, suavely made doc­u­men­tary on the rise and fall of a very Rus­sian oli­garch.

A charis­matic man of Jewish de­scent, Mikhail Khodor­kovsky, we’re re­peat­edly told, never did con­form to the vul­gar stereo­type of the Rus­sian bil­lion­aire. Lit­tle money was flung away on gold baubles.

He in­vested in var­i­ous char­i­ties. Cru­cially, he be­came in­volved with the

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op­po­si­tion against Vladimir Putin. Cru­cially, he failed to re­alise that what the Krem­lin giveth, the Krem­lin may also taketh away.

One of the film’s most grip­ping scenes sees Khodor­kovsky chal­leng­ing a wavy-mouthed pres­i­dent about cor­rup­tion. Putin even­tu­ally got his own back when the up­start was found guilty of cor­rup­tion in 2005. Ad­di­tional sen­tences con­cern­ing im­prob­a­ble amounts of miss­ing oil have since dou­bled the prisoner’s stint in por­ridge.

There are flaws in the film. Though the mono­chrome an­i­ma­tions are, for the most part, nicely done, the se­quence de­pict­ing Khodor­kovsky swim­ming through a pool of money is more than a lit­tle clunky. And, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons, the di­rec­tor has found it hard to per­suade rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the state to con­trib­ute and, as a re­sult, the picture is some­what skewed in his sub­ject’s favour.

Nonethe­less, a key ques­tion sounds strongly through­out the picture: why is Khodor­kovsky in jail when so many equally cul­pa­ble bil­lion­aires walk free?

Many of the or­di­nary Rus­sians to whom Tuschi speaks seem un­in­ter­ested in the an­swer.

“He was just a guy who was steal­ing money from our coun­try,” a young, highly ed­u­cated woman re­marks. Oth­ers, in­clud­ing Dmitry Golol­bov, for­mer le­gal ea­gle at Khodor­kovsky’s oil firm Yukos, sug­gest that Khodor­kovsky was an ar­chi­tect of the very sys­tem that now keeps him im­pris­oned.

In the Gu­lag, no one can hear you bite the hand that feeds.

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