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From prosthetic to dictator

Putin's Witnesses
Regissør: Vitalij Manskij
(Latvia, Sveits, Tsjekkia)

In Putin's Witnesses, we follow Putin's path to power in Russia and see how early promises of free press end in full rejection of democratic rules of play.

What one may have forgotten since the increasingly ill Boris Yeltsin New Year's Eve 1999 designated Vladimir Putin as his successor is that the incumbent president once embraced certain democratic ideals. The perfected image of the head of state and macho – a clear aid on the way to his fourth term as Russian president – did not come until later.

In retrospect, however, the exclusive fly-on-the-wall footage that Vitalij Manskij filmed during 1999 and 2000 reveals much of the essence of the threatening, cunning and aggressive leader figure to come. Mansky's film – which in July won the Crystal Globe Award for Best Documentary at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic – provides an honest and disturbing glimpse into the first days of Putin's presidency.

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We get an in-depth description of the autocratic state that has developed after the wild optimism and the heyday of liberalism – but also the criminal chaos of the Yeltsin years. The Putin we see here, who was thrown into the limelight a few months after he was named the sixth prime minister under Yeltsin, is still a relatively unknown figure. He appears quite serious, eager to make a good impression and a little insecure about himself.

Anxious Putin

Mansky, in a film that could have been both shorter and tighter edited, saves some of the best material in the end. Here we see an anxious Putin calling the director back to the Kremlin to resume yesterday's conversation about why he chose to reintroduce the Soviet national anthem. . .

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Nick Holdsworth
Holdsworth is a writer, journalist and filmmaker.

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