Magazine article Screen International

'The Trial: The State of Russia vs. Oleg Sentsov': Berlin Review

Magazine article Screen International

'The Trial: The State of Russia vs. Oleg Sentsov': Berlin Review

Article excerpt

Dir. Askold Kurov, Estonia/Poland/Czech Republic, 2017, 70 minutes

Vladimir Putin is undergoing a media makeover thanks to his admirer, Donald Trump. For skeptics of Trump's esteem for the Russian leader, The Trial: The State Of Russia Vs. Oleg Sentsov offers a grim picture of Kremlin justice, no less scathing given its minimal budget. Putin's role in framing Sentsov, a video gamer turned filmmaker, in an alleged terrorist plot comes as the Russian president is all over the news.

Askold Kurov, a friend of Sentsov who shot the film's original footage himself, scrutinises the filmmaker's alleged crimes and finds no evidence for charges that Sentsov conspired to bomb Soviet-era monuments in Crimea in 2014. Sentsov, a Russian citizen of Ukraine who made no secret of his opposition to the invasion and annexation of Crimea, was implicated in a plot that seems to have originated with the Russian FSB; the current iteration of the KGB. Several witnesses testified against him after being tortured by the police, who may also have paid them. Sentsov, who describes his own ghastly torture, never confessed to anything, and is currently serving a 20-year term in Siberia

The current focus on Russia could make The Trial a natural television doc, if it can find outlets before Putin is eclipsed by next season's media-savvy dictator. Likely to play all over Europe except Russia, where it could be a black market hit, The Trial could generate renewed demand for Sentsov's feature, Gamer (2011). In North America, where Sentsov's case has received less attention than in Europe, the film could be welcomed by anti-Russian conservatives, who already represent a riftin the Trump camp.

The FSB's maneuverings to implicate critics in major crimes have been explored in Alexander Nekrasov's docs Disbelief (2004), about a tragic Moscow bombing, and Rebellion (2007), about the poisoning in London of Alexander Litvinenko, an FSB officer turned independent journalist. Putin's judicial persecution of a wealthy potential rival is explored in Cyril Tuschi's doc Khodorkovsky (2011).

Yet The Trial takes its own approach to exposing the Kremlin's war on critics of its Crimea grab. …

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