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With: Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Pavel Khodorkovsky, Marina Khodorkovskaya
Written by: Cyril Tuschi
Directed by: Cyril Tuschi
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Russian, English with English subtitles
Running Time: 111
Date: 02/14/2011

Khodorkovsky (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

From Russia with Cash

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Who is Mikhail Khodorkovsky? Let's start by saying that, at one point during the last decade, he was the world's richest man under 40. And today he resides in a Siberian prison.

Do Americans need to know who he is? Yes, because by mirroring us he tells us a little bit about who we are, and the way we do business.

But can anyone really know Khodorkovsky? With this new documentary, German filmmaker Cyril Tuschi aims to try, though he begins with a distinct disadvantage. He can't even film near the prison where Khodorkovsky is held, much less the man himself.

He makes do with some eerie computer-animated sequences, imagining Khodorkovsky's inner life. He also receives Khodorkovsky's letters from prison. These letters, narrated in English, reveal a thoughtful and reflective soul.

Tuschi finally sees Khodorkovsky in the flesh, during a hearing at which the press is allowed to attend. He is granted a five-minute interview with a glass window separating them.

Up to that point, Tuschi confesses that Khodorkovsky has seemed "like a phantom."

And indeed, all of the other interviews assembled for the film paint a complex and contradictory picture.

Perhaps a young hitchhiker, interviewed in one scene, sums it up best: of the Russian oligarchs of the post-communist era, Khodorkovsky was the "best of the worst."

Khodorkovsky's colleagues describe him as being in possession of an "aura" that made him the boss of the room.

After the fall of the Soviet Union and the beginning of privatization, Khodorkovsky became the head of oil company Yukos. He won the company on a bid of about $300 million, and turned it into a $6 billion business in just a few years.

Some accused the billionaire of having been specifically chosen for Yukos, and then working in collaboration with the government.

But years later, Khodorkovsky's relationship with President Vladmir Putin turned sour and Khodorkovsky was arrested for fraud. Many claim that the arrest was political revenge of some kind, though theories vary.

Yet Khodorkovsky also opened centers for students and orphans.

Now young people in Russia as well as Westerners are calling for Khodorkovsky's release.

So, is Khodorkovsky a victim or a villain? Perhaps he can be both.

The truth is that, the deeper Tuschi's film digs, the less real information it has. Though it is clear that many people have been and are still affected by this phantom of a subject. This story is not over.

Kino Lorber's DVD release comes with a trailer and a stills gallery.

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