Sundance 2022: ‘Navalny’ Movie Review and Trailer | Entertainment

Sundance 2022: 'Navalny’ Movie Review and Trailer | Entertainment
Sundance 2022: ‘Navalny’ Movie Review and Trailer

Sundance 2022: Review and trailer of the Movie ‘Navalny’

Daniel Roher’s documentary examines the life of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny after an attempt on his life.

Storytellers spent decades populating Cold War dramas with cold-hearted Russian dictators and the suspected spies and assassins in their employ only for Vladimir Putin to rise to power and render all those fictional archetypes redundant, if not obsolete.

If Tom Clancy or John le Carré fabricated the events depicted in Daniel Roher’s documentary Navalny, you’d think he was too direct.  As it stands, Roher’s haunting film is at least as sad as it is heart-pounding;  30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, this is what democracy looks like in Russia (all against the backdrop that the US isn’t doing quite as spectacularly when it comes to democracy, either).  It’s as if the entertainment industry’s love of remakes and reboots has extended to reviving schlocky conspiracy thrillers as real life.

Navalny film review: Daniel Roher

The End Result Stunning and tense, though with no room for depth.

  • Venue: Sundance Film Festival (US Documentary Competition)
  • Director: Daniel Rocher
  • Duration: 1 hour 38 minutes

It’s a burgeoning documentary genre that has included Oscar winners Citizenfour and Icarus, and you know Roher doesn’t mind Navalny joining in on that conversation.  It’s a genre that I sometimes think prioritizes plot mechanics over the context and depth that documentaries are supposed to offer, but when a movie is as tense as Navalny, that becomes an objection.

More than his politics, which borders on the irrelevant, Alexei Navalny’s precarious perspective is what makes him fascinating.

The documentary, intended for an HBO Max release, opens with Roher asking Navalny: “If you get killed, if this happens, what message do you leave with the Russian people?”

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Navalny squirms with amusement and replies, in English that ranges from near-perfect to erratic depending on the moment: “Oh, come on, Daniel.  No way.  It’s like you’re making a movie in the event of my death.”

It is indisputably true that Roher is making a film for the case of Navalny’s death, so to speak.  And how could it not be?  The filmmaker, whose previous film credit was Once Were Brothers on The Band, met the Russian opposition leader while he was still recovering from poisoning in August 2020. Roher was in Germany for Navalny’s rehabilitation with his wife Yulia. and then the incredibly quick turnaround of data journalist Christo Grozev’s investigation into high-level Russian involvement in the assassination plot, followed by his return to Moscow.

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It’s a very small window of time, and despite the all-encompassing title, Roher isn’t interested in giving Navalny the full biographical treatment, nor is Navalny himself interested in offering that kind of overview.  This is an incredibly charismatic man with a finely honed sense of his public image, but Roher is also able to pick up on just how picky he is.  Navalny admits his annoyance at some of Roher’s questions, both in English to the filmmaker and in Russian to one of his assistants in a moment the director captures simply by panning the camera.

This, to me, is probably the documentary’s key saving grace, because unrestrained hero worship aimed at a man who seems to have no problem including pretty terrifying nationalists as part of his coalition building shouldn’t be anyone’s goal. .  Roger doesn’t do that.  He tries to ask Navalny tough questions and resists his tortuous answers to basic concepts like “How would Russia be different under his presidency?”  One can admire Navalny for his astuteness with social media, for his knack for mobilizing volunteers, for not simply being Vladimir Putin without engaging in hagiography.  Alexei Navalny appears to be basically a politician first and foremost, but if the alternative is whatever Putin is, it’s easy to find him attractive.

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Working with editors Langdon Page and Maya Daisy Hawke and aided by a propulsive score from Marius de Vries and Matt Robertson, Roher hires several exceptional sets that could easily have involved Jack Ryan or George Smiley in supporting roles.  A scene in which Navalny calls the suspected poisoners out on him and tries to improve his way to extract a confession plays out with amazing suspense.  His flight back to Russia, with the prospect of immediate arrest (Roher ignores the trumped-up charges Navalny knew he was facing), is a slow process that leaves him breathless.  Even things that Roher wasn’t there to film firsthand, like cell phone footage from an airplane of a near-death Navalny groaning in agony, get a well-constructed presentation.

Without being overly sycophantic, the leisurely beats also have value, such as Navalny and his wife Yulia’s walk through their German retreat, stopping to feed a miniature pony and donkey along the way.  In the documentary world there are supporting players like Grozev, quite amused when he admits that his wife doesn’t know how much money he’s spent on black market data and won’t watch this documentary, or Navalny’s daughter Dasha, a Stanford student .  whose reflection on the possible death of her father adds emotion to a film that might otherwise tend towards the methodical.

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Alexei Navalny’s story is not over, but Roher’s accession ended in January 2021. A repressive and media-hostile regime tends to have that effect.  That means Navalny ends with a near miss, nearly 10 minutes of news footage and title cards, where you can feel a filmmaker practically holding his breath waiting for a tragic ending.  Roher finds a more inspiring alternative, but his film remains an ominous, omnipresent snapshot of a terrifying global moment in progress.

Source: Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, Direct News 99

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