Prisoners of war

Issue 

Prisoner of the Mountains (Kavkazski Plennik)
A film by Sergei Bodrov
A Dendy Films release from June 26

Review by John Tognolini

Memories of the Chechen-Russian war are still fresh. The towns being bombed into the stone age by Boris Yeltsin's air force and homeless Chechen refugees walking though the rubble of their villages are not that old as TV image.

Sergei Bodrov, director and screenwriter, has been accused by some of exploiting the bloody Chechnyan conflict with his film.

Bodrov in reply has said, "Everyone thinks I'm making a film about that war. It's not true. Besides, it's a universal story. You could make this film in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Mexico, almost anywhere.

"We used Tolstoy's thoughts about war and peace. Life is short, the world is small. Why are people still fighting each other after thousands of years?"

The film is based on Leo Tolstoy's short story, "Prisoner of the Caucasus". An old Chechen man captures two Russian soldiers and takes them to his mountain village. His intention is to trade them for his son, being held by the Russian army. If the deal falls through, he will have to kill the Russians.

"We don't know how to stop the war", says Bodrov. "It's easy to start it and it's difficult to end. It's easier to kill a man than to love him. But we have to try."

Bodrov portrays the Chechens sympathetically as he develops the intimate relationship between captor and captive.

The other side of the film, one of its great strengths, is the demoralisation of the Russian army in their village garrisons. In one scene, the Russian army captain (Alexei Zharkov) explains life in Chechnya to the mother (Valentina Fedotova) of one the captured soldiers: "Mother, my soldiers trade grenades for hash, and then the Chechens throw the grenades back at us".

The film was made in the mountain village of Rechi in Daghestan, which borders Chechnya, a setting brilliantly captured by photography director Pavel Lebeshev. It was here that Bodrov and his 25-member crew were taken hostage by the five wrestlers they hired as security guards to protect them from bandits.

This is a prize-winning film, and with good reason. It won the International Critics Prize Award and Audience Award at the Cannes Film Festival and Grand Prix, Karlovy Vary Festival, last year.