Navalny: up close and personal with Putin's nemesis

Dramatic documentary follows Kremlin crtitic's heroic opposition – but leaves some crucial questions unanswered

Thursday, 7th April — By Dan Carrier

Alexei Navalny courtesy of Sundance Institute

Alexei Navalny. Photo: Sundance Institute

Directed by Daniel Roher
Certificate: 12a

ALEXEI Navalny had flown to the Siberian town of Tomsk, intending to make a film about poverty in Russia today.

Usually, this opposition flag-bearer, who winds up Putin so much he refuses to say Navalny’s name, was expecting the usual reception by state police. Some harassment and threats, and maybe the odd seized or broken camera. Instead – nothing.

He may have felt it a little strange at the time, but as he was later to discover, the state’s security apparatus was there.

They were not making themselves visible, as they planned to poison Navalny with the nerve agent Novichok, and do away with a persistent critic of Vladimir Putin.

Things did not go to plan.

As Navalny collapsed on a flight back to Moscow, the pilots had not read the script. They made an emergency landing and he was rushed to hospital.

After an international outcry, Navalny was transferred to Germany and doctors there saved his life and confirmed he had been poisoned.

The opening to this both thoughtful and dramatic documentary leads us into a story that shows up what a corrupt and vile regime Putin runs. We learn about the political movement Navalny fronts, follow his relationship with the Kremlin, the attempted murder and then how he tries to find, with the help of the journalists at Bellingcat, those responsible.

You could call this documentary embedded: it features tons of hand-held footage, up close and personal, to the hunky Daniel Craig lookalike. He is a poster boy for the Russian opposition and his heroism and bravery is on display as he decided to fly back to Moscow to face certain imprisonment.

There are gaps I wanted filled: the film does touch on the fact that he once marched alongside far right demonstrators, and took to the stage at a rally that was riddled with Russian nationalistic slogans, speakers, supporters and horrible far right vibes.

Because of this, it would have been interesting to have him clearly define what it is he stands for. What is Navalny-ism? He states it is about civil rights, a free press, free elections, an independent judiciary, and of course tackling the kleptocracy that rose after the fall of the USSR.

All laudable and within the enlightenment tradition. But while this may be an admirable framework for a state to be built round, we learn virtually nothing about his social policy aims and what this free Russia would look like otherwise.

As we see in Britain today, having a liberal democracy cannot solely be an aim in itself, it is what you do with it that matters.

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