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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Citizen K (M) - 126 minutes

Hero or villain? Murderer? Opportunist. Oligarch. Jailed dissident. Campaigner for a democratic Russia.

These are just some of the triggers in a fascinating and insightful documentary about Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was once Russia’s richest man (head of the oil giant Yukos) and now lives in exile In London.

As you can imagine, Russian president Vladimir Putin features prominently. This is very much cast as a story about his dominion – his power and control over the country and its people.

The documentary begins with the changing tide in Russia with the election of Boris Yeltsin in 1991 and how, remarkably, with the country on its knees with the help of the oligarchs he was able to secure a second term.

Putin rose from obscurity to become his second in command and then a leader, arguably without precedent.

While Yeltsin fought for democratic change, Putin pushed for state control and the overthrow of the oligarchs.

The most politically active of these was Khodorkovsky, who dared take on Putin.

Director Alex Gibney (We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks) has accessed a surfeit of pointed historical footage to make his case.

It is damning of the state-sanctioned control and manipulation that saw Khodorkovsky painted as an enemy of the people.

Nevertheless, Gibney doesn’t try to present Khodorkovsky as a saint or anything close to it.

During his ups and downs, Khodorkovsky shed thousands of workers’ jobs and all but forced his whole workforce to take a 30 per cent pay cut for his business to stay afloat.

Khodorkovsky is nothing if not stoic and fatalistic.

When he knew he was about to be jailed, he didn’t flee, when he could have.

Instead he dealt with his fate through not one but two trials – the second presented as a complete sham.

In fact, the charges in the second trial were a direct contradiction to those that saw him jailed the first time around.

Still, after seven years in prison, he was given a further 13-year sentence.

Among those interviewed, along with Khodorkovsky, are those who were in business with him, one being the founder of the independent The Moscow Times newspaper, and Khodorkovsky’s legal counsel.

With a deft hand, Gibney has crafted a detailed – if overly long – portrait of two bulls, Khodorkovsky and Putin, neither of whom has been prepared to take a backward step.

It is also an examination of power in Russia and the political conflicts and contradictions ailing the country today.

Rated M, Citizen K scores an 8 out of 10.


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