Alexei Navalny, the thorn in Vladimir Putin's side

June 2, 2022
Navalny film
Alexei Navalny in a scene from the documentary. Image supplied

Documentary directed by Daniel Roher
In Russian and English, with subtitles
Showing as part of the Revelation Film Festival, Perth (other states later this year)

Alexei Navalny is probably Russia’s best-known opposition leader. He is currently serving more than 11 years in prison on trumped-up charges.

This fly-on-the-wall documentary follows his life after his sensational poisoning by Russian government agents in 2020. It depicts Navalny’s personal courage, tenacity and humour.

The facts as they unfold leave the viewer in no doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved in the attempted assassination.

There is a scene that is both astonishing and horrifying where Navalny telephones one of the agents who poisoned him and tricks him into revealing the whole plot . The video was circulated at the time, but it is still staggering to watch.

Not only is the Kremlin’s political hypocrisy exposed but so is the bumbling stupidity of the bureaucracy around Putin.

The film makers do not delve deeply into Navalny’s politics. He proposes freedom and ending corruption as an alternative to Putin, but the meaning he attaches to them is not examined.

There is a potentially illuminating interchange in which Navalny and his wife discuss the ethics of harvesting an apple on a tree in an open public area. He jokes about the Russian attitude towards public ownership, but the moment passes.

At one point, an interviewer questions Navalny about his contact with Russia's extreme right wing. The viewer is led to believe that this consisted of one unfortunate appearance at a fascist rally.

In fact, Navalny was for many years an active and leading figure of right-wing parties, including Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces. He was expelled from Yabloko in 2007 and was then associated with the Movement Against Illegal Immigration and with Great Russia.

Thereafter, he began a political trajectory towards the political centre and became involved in other political projects. His reputation grew along with his online stature.

Navalny began his anti-corruption campaigning in 2008, exposing a slew of outrageously crooked deals involving government officials and Russian oligarchs. In 2011, he established the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), which has been a thorn in the side of Russia’s officialdom ever since.

It was while pursuing an FBK investigation in Tomsk that Navalny was poisoned. The film shows just how close the plotters came to success and the extent of official collusion.

While recuperating in Germany, Navalny produced the film Putin’s Palace, which is a scathing history of Putin’s personal corruption. It was an on-line sensation in Russia. The film was released to coincide with Navalny’s return to Russia, whereupon he was arrested.

Navalny has been through several trials and appeals since his return. Now he is facing charges of being an extremist, for which he faces up to 20 years in prison.

While Navalny fails as a deep analysis of its subject’s politics, it succeeds brilliantly in exposing Putin’s authoritarianism and Navalny’s personal strengths.

The trailer for Navalny can be seen here.

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