Review of “Navalny”: a thriller flies the flag of a documentary

At the start of the first “Navalny”, just before his return from Germany to Russia in 2021, Alexei Navalny tells documentary filmmaker Daniel Roher that because he was “famous” (airline quotes implied), he always thought “this would be problematic for them to kill me” – “them” meaning Vladimir Putin. Boy, you got it wrong, replies Mr Roher. “Yes”, says Mr Navalny, “I got it wrong.

Navalny

Sunday, 9 p.m., CNN

The Russian opposition leader, currently a guest of a Putin penal colony, is a charming and natural entertainer, which has helped make him an international online sensation and a prominent thorn in the side of the Russian president without charisma, which dismisses his opponent as insignificant. refusing, with considerable effort, to utter Navalny’s name in public – the results being quite contrary to intent. Here’s an example of what Mr Navalny calls “moscow4”: According to the 45-year-old anti-corruption activist, when a high-ranking intelligence officer under Mr Putin was hacked — his password was moscow1 — he changed. in moscow2. When this was hacked, he changed it to moscow3. It’s a story that doesn’t need a punchline. But it illustrates Mr. Navalny’s position that the Kremlin’s brutality is a byproduct of fundamental incompetence and stupidity, something his current conduct in Ukraine appears to bear out.

The ‘Navalny’ moment is neither good nor bad – no crime of Putin’s regime can eclipse Ukraine, but Mr Roher accuses the former KGB agent of an assassin on both a macro and a personal level. microphone. In late 2020, Mr Navalny was poisoned with what was determined to be the nerve agent Novichok (the same substance used against former military officer Sergei Skripal in London and in other more successful attacks attributed to Mr Putin ); his plane made an emergency landing in Siberia and his family was kept away for days. That he lived at all is attributed to the quick work of the hospital team, but as established later in the film, there were also work parties there to ensure that any traces of Novichok had dissipated or been erased.

Mr. Navalny told Mr. Roher very early on that he did not want to make a film with a message. “Come on, Daniel,” he moaned, “let’s make a thriller out of this movie and in case I get killed, let’s make a boring movie from memory.” A thriller is what they do—Mr. Navalny’s confrontational campaign against the Russian president, which we watch in flashback, is the stuff of Hollywood, except the hero flirts with actual death. (He’s so sure of himself that you sometimes forget him.)

Ahead of the assassination attempt, Mr. Rohr’s interview, and Mr. Navalny’s return to Moscow in January 2021 (and his immediate arrest), we see investigative journalism in action: Christo Grozev, from bellingcat.com , asks important questions about Mr. Navalny’s credentials, wondering what it means that the film’s freedom hero appeared in public alongside “sieg heilers” and Russian nationalists. Mr. Navalny attributes this to realpolitik and the extraordinary situation in Russia, and Mr. Grozev is obviously there, as he brings the intelligence that really makes “Navalny” a nail biter.

Mr. Grozev is quietly funny: on the dark web, he tells us, data is just a commodity and he has spent over $100,000 collecting it. (If his wife knew how much he spent, he says, “she wouldn’t be my wife. hand of Putin to four people.

Mr. Navalny calls them. “This is Alexei Navalny. Why did you want to kill me?” he asks for one. A couple hangs up. But then things get more humorous – and much more serious: a member of the murder team that followed Mr. Navalny to Siberia, a chemist, accepts that Mr. Navalny poses as a Russian superior, talks about the attempt to very important assassination… in fact, and confirms everything his callers suspect. “They are going to kill him,” said Mr. Navalny then. “Or he will be president,” Mr Grozev said.

There’s a “hot-mic” moment in “Navalny,” which isn’t awkward, but telling: Maria Pevchikh, head of the investigative unit at Mr. Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and identified here as her press secretary, can be heard asking her colleague if he agrees with Mr. Roher’s questions, some of which are sensitive, personally and politically. He says he is. “He films everything,” Mr. Navalny says of the director, “for the movie he’s going to release if I get hit.” The attitude of Mr. Navalny and his colleagues is fearless, in a country ruled by fear. Rarely are thrillers so inspiring.

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