Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Aleksey Uchitel: Captive - Пленный (2008)

Captive (2008)

Director: Alexey Uchitel
Cast: Tagir Rakhimov, Dagun Omaev, Sergey Umanov, Andrey Feskov, Larisa Shamsadova, Oleg Mazurov, Ivan Kosichkin, Irakly Mskhalaia, Petr Logachev, Yulya Peresild, Aleksey Bobrov, Raisa Gichaeva, Vyacheslav Krikunov.

Aleksei Uchitel’’s film, The Captive, based on Vladimir Makanin’s 1995 story, “The Captive of the Caucasus”, is the latest in a long line of stories, both literary and cinematic, which attempt to portray and even explain Russia’s long and still troubled relationship with its southern neighbors. At the same time, its depiction of the futility and tedium of war deliberately evokes not only the Vietnam film, but also works both of cinematic and literary traditions which stretch back to World War I, or even Tolstoi’s Sevastopol Stories (In fact, the film was shot in the Crimea). (And Pechorin was, of course, fighting Chechens in A Hero of Our Time, as long ago as 1840.)

On one level the film’s plot is very simple. The two main characters, Rubakhin (Viacheslav Krikunov) and Vovka (Petr Logachev) capture a young Chechen fighter (unnamed in Makanin’s story, and ‘The Youth’ in the cast list for the film, but referred to as Djamal in dialogue: played by Iraklii Mskhalaia) to help them find their way back to their company trapped in a ravine. On the way they think about rescuing another captive, their comrade Boiarkov (Andrei Fes’kov), but he is sadistically killed by the local forces. After a night spent out in the open, the two Russian soldiers happen upon two bands of Chechen fighters joining forces. As they hide from the enemy who are no more than a few feet away, Djamal attempts to summon his comrades, and Rubakhin kills the young man. The film ends as it had opened, with Rubakhin and Vovka inside an APC driving along narrow mountain roads, seemingly heading nowhere very fast.

Uchitel’, in fact, seeks to convey his theme more indirectly. There is very little background information given through titles or any other means. The viewer is thus left disorientated, not knowing precisely when or where the action takes place. We assume that we are in Chechnya in the recent past, but we cannot be sure. The film has a kind of circularity, with the closing shots echoing the opening sequences, thereby suggesting that the cycle of futility will continue. After the opening shots, Rubakhin seeks assistance from his commander, Lieutenant Colonel Gurov (Tagir Rakhimov), only to be told that they must find their own captive to guide them through: he has no time to concern himself with their problems, they are on their own. Their subsequent quest for a way back through difficult and dangerous terrain suggests a kind of existential problem, as well as echoing very ancient, even mythological narratives. Waiting to set off, Rubakhin voraciously devours the soup given to them by Gurov’s wife (Svetlana Dorokhina), while Vovka indulges other human appetites with lusty Nastia (Iuliia Peresil’d), these inter-cut scenes reminding us of the core humanity of these men, and their very basic needs. ...

Reviewed by Joe Andrew © 2009 in KinoKultura

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