… or to be more accurate, Not A Review.
There are plenty of excellent reviews out there penned by people with a deeper understanding of Russian history, economics and politics than I can claim to harbour. This is to say, I know about as much about the subject as I do about analytical chemistry (though I am, somehow, familiar with the concept of mass spectronomy and the workings of Orbitrap technology).
What I can offer is a unique vantage point over a slightly disquieting (embarrassingly frightening, to be frank) experience of a Q&A session that left me wondering whether I’d stepped through a looking glass (the glass cage “protecting” Khodorkovsky during his trial, maybe?) and emerged into a thriller of my own.
Enter the protagonists: the audience. Oh, the audience! Due to my late arrival in an already-dark screening room I hadn’t taken in the assortment of spectacular fur-clad women whom I immediately decide are rich Russian exiles. Their striking profiles, an impossible combination of staid and fierce, mark them out against what must be the Lawyers and the Economists, their faces attentive and grave and their apparel very much fur-free.
Then: Cyril Tuschi, director. Upon introduction he smiles a withdrawn, maybe timid sort of greeting. His brief, unassuming way of first addressing the audience shows a preference to answer specific questions: we’ve just seen his work; he doesn’t need to promote or explain it.
The first question comes from a sharp, bald man in a black suit so remarkably lacking in features as to be incongruous. Tuschi has walked the length of the audience on the front row and handed him a microphone.
“Why do you think they haven’t killed him?”
A very good question, in point of fact, as to Khodorkovsky’s wellbein– well, being alive.
As Mr Tuschi works his way towards a hypothetical conclusion, Mr Suit works his way along the wall and towards the front of the audience, stopping a few feet short of Tuschi, his gaze locked on the director since… well, since we saw him picking up the microphone, at the very least. I’m doing some hypothesising of my own as to the nature of this gazing, when its nature becomes suddenly clear: a black object unmistakably identifiable as a gun has sleekly materialised in the Suit’s right hand; it’s pointing at Tuschi, and Tuschi is… walking towards it?
Why yes, he would, as he’s the one who handed it to him. The microphone, that is.
The fool’s shame I feel overrides any sense of relief, and if anything makes me more alert to my neighbours and my surroundings – a state of awareness probably aided by the fact that my heart rate has just enjoyed an impromptu pickup.
But of subtlety, there is very little to follow: a cordially opinionated lady hoards the microphone for a good while, as much for enquiry as personal comment, and proceeds to punctuate any further questions and answers (it’s necessary at this point to remember this is a Q&A) with exclamations that could be mirth and acquiescence as much as fury and disapproval. She’s doing remarkably well without the microphone.
Mr Tuschi, who is also doing remarkably well at being heard with the microphone, has just launched into a captivating and disturbing account of the film’s disappearance in Berlin. Speculation seems unanimous amongst the audience as to the culprits.
Completely unexpectedly yet somehow right on cue, a heavily-accented Russian voice at the very back of the audience, all the more authoritative for its low key and high volume, commands everyone in the room to “stay in your seats, you’re all under arrest!”
The joke won’t be on me, this time, and I patiently wait for something to break the palpable silence. The first uncomfortable chuckles come, I suspect, from the English amongst the crowd, who have rather mastered the art of Pretending Nothing Is Happening. It is soon overtaken by raucous and heartfelt laughter that reaches every corner of the room in different ways: for my share, this will always be the day I realised I don’t quite get Russian humour.
I don’t remember why Tuschi thinks his subject was never killed. I have the vague recollection that he might have admitted having no idea himself. Nor do I recall the exact circumstances of the film’s vanishment in Berlin. But the myriad intrigues depicted, surrounding a black-and-white animation of a character whose only appearance in the flesh fatefully happens in the last few minutes of the film, will leave me with the kind of sensations a film junkie lives to experience.
Perhaps one of the merits of Tuschi’s film is that the above divagations of my galvanised imagination made it possible to write this outlandish review at all: I never realised how drawn into this historical, political, and human work I was until I found myself incessantly pondering the fate of Khodorkovsky, or I felt a sudden and urgent need to devour every Russian history book available, or I mistook a microphone for a gun.