Navalny

Patrick Caulfield, Loudspeaker, 1968
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By JOÃO LANARI BO*

Commentary on the film directed by Daniel Roger

Navalny, the documentary that American filmmaker Daniel Roher released at the last edition of the Sundance Film Festival, in January 2022, fell like a bomb that insists on its devastating effects – the armament metaphor is not the most appropriate, in light of the war that is stuck in Ukraine, but it can be useful to leverage the governance methodology in use in the Kremlin.

The revelations are appalling: Alexei Navalny, Russian opposition leader, armed with a strong populist discourse leveraged by Youtube, was the victim of an explicit attempt at poisoning, in the style that was done in the court of Ivan the Terrible, in the glorious years of tsarist unification , reproduced in the XNUMXth century under communist rule.

The FSB, heir to the KGB and other nicknames, would have been able to perpetrate an assassination attempt at the Novichoc base, chemical agents that the Soviet Union (and subsequently Russia) developed between 1971 and 1993, considered highly lethal. In August 2020, Alexei Navalny was traveling by plane, in the interior of Russia, when someone who followed him managed to spread the poison on his clothes: the victim started screaming in the back of the aircraft, there was a detour emergency at an airport off the route and the activist was saved.

A few days later, he went to Germany, with the approval of the then Prime Minister Angela Merkel – and it is during this period of time, in the weeks of recovery, that most of the interviews in the film were made, with family members, assistants, Alexei himself. Navalny and … a character that probably made Vladimir Putin lose sleep at night, an agile and experienced Bulgarian investigative journalist. The method: hack half a dozen strategic phone books, compare with air tickets and accommodation. The conclusion: three employees of an obscure Institute of Chemistry in Moscow took the same plane, slept in the same hotels, in short, glued to the target day and night until they released the killer powder.

The reader must be wondering: after all, is this a documentary, or a thriller? Alexei Navalny at one point asks the director not to make a “boring memoir film”, as if he were already dead. Rather, it wants a breathtaking, popcorn-entertainment political thriller in which the audience expects the hero's survival and never has reason to see him as a martyr. One thriller with a worthy villain, none other than President Vladimir Putin. Yes, the same one who committed the linguistic feat of designating the war that broke out in Ukraine as a “special operation”, punishing with imprisonment those who dared to go against the norm.

Em Navalny, we watch the same device in action: the president refuses to pronounce the word “Navalny” at press conferences, using caricatural stratagems to avoid the name and answer questions, such as “that person you mentioned”. Alexei Navalny believed that his popularity would save him from being assassinated: the truth, however, seems to be that his disappearance was decided at the very moment his name became unpronounceable. Vladimir Putin became so powerful that he thought it was possible to kill Alexei Navalny – perhaps because no one would ever assume he would be so fearless as to try. Questions like this permeate the doc-thriller, opaque and impenetrable like the personality of the Russian leader.

"I made a decision. I thought for a long time and in great pain. Today, on the last day of the century that is ending, I resign. (…) I understood that I needed to do this. Russia must enter the new millennium with new politicians, with new faces.”, said, on December 31, 1999, the first elected president of Russia, Boris Yeltsin. On the occasion, he appointed as successor the then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a bureaucrat from the KGB, appointed in August 1999 and unknown to the majority of the public.

Vladimir Putin's great achievement had been facing, in the month following his appointment, in September 1999, the terrible wave of terrorist attacks that blew up residential buildings in three cities, including Moscow, killing more than 300 people, injuring another thousand and spreading a wave of fear across the country. Putin claimed that terrorists in Chechnya were to blame, ordered a massive air campaign in the North Caucasus region, and shouted: “Sorry for saying this: let's get them in the bathroom. Let's eliminate them in the latrine of the little house ".

There are those who claim, however, that these “attacks” were planted by FSB agents – therefore, they would not have been the work of the Chechens. The fog that surrounds this and other actions, such as the attempt to assassinate Alexei Navalny, hovers as a latent obscurity in the decision-making core of modern Russia, a country that has the largest arsenal of nuclear devices on the planet.

Navalny ends with Alexei’s return to Russia, in January 2021 – and his subsequent sentence to nine years in prison, on the last March 22nd, only enhances this obscurity. Alexei Navalny even had his status as “prisoner of conscience” revoked by Amnesty International, due to its discriminatory statements against Muslims, in 2007 and 2008: in May 2021, however, the organization restored said status, in light of its claim for “right to equal participation in public life for itself and its supporters, and for demanding a government free of corruption”.

*João Lanari Bo Professor of Cinema at the Faculty of Communication at the University of Brasilia (UnB).

 

Reference


Navalny
USA, 2022, 98 minutes
Documentary
Directed by: Daniel Roher.

 

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