Navalny Review: A Thrilling Documentary Like One About Putin’s Efforts to Destroy Rivals

Sundance: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny solves the mystery of his own murder plot in a documentary that serves as the movie “Bourne”.

At least, Daniel Roher’s”Navalny“Turns around one of the most remarkable moments I have ever seen in a documentary. It was just after sunrise on a snow-white morning in December 2020, and the film’s title – The Radiant Russia of Future leader and Putin’s fearless critic, Alexei Navalny – sat at the table kitchen of the remote German chalet, where he had been hiding since FSB agents tried and failed to assassinate him with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok four months earlier. To Navalny’s right, investigative journalist Christo Grozev operates several recording devices. On the left, his clapping campaign manager cracks her knuckles to relieve tension. His wife Yulia and their two teenage children were still sleeping upstairs.

With Grozev’s help, Navalny had identified Kremlin agents who tried to kill him, and now he would casually call them up and ask why they did it. No one expected this to work; It wasn’t just a cheap stunt done for the sake of Roher’s camera and Navalny’s own crazy fun, and the first three people to pick up the phone all hung up when they recognized the voice at the top. wire on the other side. To make things fun, Navalny decided to play a prank on number four – a chemist who works in a dubious government laboratory where they manufacture “sports drinks”. Through the voice of an impatient Putin subordinate who needed some information for a report, Navalny insisted on finding answers about what happened to his own assassination. And then, to the amazement of everyone on both sides of the screen, he received them.

This is the moment in the spy novel that Navalny had in mind when he agreed to be the subject of Roher’s film – one that begins with a smiling Goliath star begging the man behind the camera. Don’t make a “boring memory movie”. look at him as if he were dead. On the contrary, he wants to get into the political thriller genre of breath-taking suspense, framing him as the Russian Jason Bourne; the kind of popcorn entertainment where the audience fully expects the hero to survive and there is never a reason to see him as a martyr in the meantime.

Those are the thoughts of a mean 44-year-old DILF who plays “Call of Duty” on his phone whenever he gets bored, and also the thoughts of a well-known savvy politician in terms of image, who has weaponized his 30 million social media followers into such a powerful force that Putin won’t even say Navalny’s name on TV. The documentary about Roher’s place is ultimately a polished piece of sponsored content on its own, though less by design than through sheer will, and viewers will leave it when only the most superficial understanding of Navalny’s politics. Then again, protesting the Kremlin is such a comprehensive platform that it doesn’t need to be nuanced and it’s hard to accuse a guy of doing something just for the sake of Twitter likes when “what something” was an act of protest that would separate him from his family and see him rot in a Russian prison for an unlimited amount of time. Whatever their respective shows, “Navalny” sees the same subject and filmmaker tied together by a shared belief that authoritarian governments fear their own people as much as their own, and the documentary is enhanced by the sight of Putin undressing.

“Navalny” is also tied together by the tension between public and private warfare in the modern world. One of the first things we hear Navalny say in Roher’s camera is that he’s built his brand with the belief that fame will save him from murder, a misjudgment almost deadly raises an intriguing unanswerable question: Has Putin become so powerful that he no longer needs to hide his tracks, or does he think he can get away with killing Navalny for not Who believes he’s stupid enough to try? Of course, Navalny never actually won in a rigged election, but, uh, it’s safe to assume a lot of fingers would be on Mar-a-Lago if Ron DeSantis died in the primary race. 2024 Republican Party. Either way, the attack reflects the fearful mindset of a government that is actively trying to overcome its fear.

For his part, Navalny refused to hide; even his stay in Germany seems to have been motivated by a need for physical rehabilitation rather than for personal safety, although Roher’s film is disappointingly skewed about the risks posed to his family. Navalny family (their support is clear, their role in patriarchal decision-making is less). The opposition leader was actually in the process of starring in his own “good movie about corruption in Siberia” at the time he was poisoned, and the footage his team obtained from the hospital was run by his family. controlled country, where Navalny was euthanized shows his wife Yulia performing an expert job in using the media to their advantage. Even in a coma, Navalny manages to get into the middle of a spy thriller (a talent that once seemed unique to Bruce Willis).

To subject’s mild discomfort, “Navalny” switches to a slower device after his body is lifted into the Russian air and his team sets up their war room in the Black Forest, though Grozev’s self-described “nerd investigator” is a brilliant man. sidekick has an enthusiasm for finding information from the dark web that proves contagious. And information is the name of the game here for both sides – the only difference is that access is Navalny’s biggest advantage, and Putin’s Achilles heel. If Roher often struggles to fill the gaps between his films’ notable scenes (the scenes of Navalny feeding local donkeys and laughing at the Kremlin-approved media only go so far), his film She finally harnesses an uncanny power from such discarded moments.

That remarkable phone call, though, the most indelible footage from the doc may come from Navalny and his wife flying back to Moscow because of the inevitable arrest. The whole world is watching Navalny’s commercial flight circling the airport where police are scrambling to accommodate thousands of supporters. Navalny, however, retains every inch of his iron nerves and dry sense of humour; when the plane lands for the last time, we see him holding Yulia’s hand as they calmly watch an episode of “Rick and Morty” together. No matter how many dissidents he jailed, no matter how many countries he invaded, and no matter how many goals he scored against a hockey team is scared to stop himPutin will always try to hide the truth about his actions. “Navalny” may not resonate with the same power as “The Great Dictator,” but – in its timely 21st-century setting – this documentary evokes a similar understanding. about which power scares people the most.

Grade B

“Navalny” premieres in 2022 Sundance Film festival. It will air on CNN and be available to stream on HBO Max later this year.

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Olly Dawes

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