Thursday, 5 August 2010

Melbourne Film Festival - Russian Lessons

This film, made by Olga Konskaya and Andrey Nekrasov, sets out to examine the war in South Ossetia in 2008. Through interviews with eye witnesses and visits to the area, they mount a strong case for the possibility that Russia and not Georgia was the main aggressor and perpetrator of major casualties and destruction in the conflict. They then delve back into what happened at Beslan and in Abkhazia, establishing what appears to be a strong case against Russia and suggesting that Putin should be treated as no less of a war criminal than Milosevic.

Leaving aside the human response of disgust and outrage at the abuses that have been allowed to take place in these remote places, from the west's point of view there are two very troubling aspects to the documentary. The first is the revelation that BBC 24, the BBC itself and the German channel ZDF happily took footage provided by Russian sources and presented it as evidence of Georgian atrocities against Ossetians in Tskhinvali when it was in fact footage of Russian atrocities against Georgians in Gori. Nekrasov and Konskaya painstakingly go through the footage in question, to demonstrate that there is no doubt of its provenance or what it shows.

The other is not really a revelation, but something we forget too easily - the fact that Putin is a very dangerous man and parts of his army behave without any humanity or honour, carrying out acts of bestiality and depravity that remain unpunished by Russian authorities and ignored by the rest of the world. The major Russian lesson we learn during the course of the film has nothing to do with the source of the title - an exercise book found in a bombed Georgian house, belonging to a fifth grade student of Russian language; the major Russian lesson is that it is a good idea not to live in a country anywhere near Russia.

While I have a few reservations about one or two slightly cheesy aspects of the way their film was put together, Konskaya and Nekrasov are brave and should be applauded for somehow breaking out of the brainwashed patriotic viewpoint of the majority of their fellow countrymen. I would very much like to see an earlier film they made about Litvinenko. That film is banned in Russia; it would not surprise me if this one suffers the same fate.


  1. You have to fear for the safety of those two Russian filmmakers. Brave people.

    I would qualify your lesson by adding: '..or, indeed, in Russia'.

  2. Or, indeed, in London, if Litvinenko's fate is anything to go by. Hope I'm safe in Melbourne.