Theater of Cruelty

Which right?

The Trial: The State of Russia vs. Oleg Sentsov.
Regissør: Askold Kurov

The documentary about the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov's trial gives an insight into a still hopeless judicial system in Russia.


Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov settled in Russia with the film Gaamer i 2011. However, it would not be long before the popularity turned for the fearless artist who would not be targeted. When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and the ensuing crisis escalated, Sentsov took part in the Ukrainian movement AutoMaidan in a helpless attempt to keep Crimea independent from Russia. Sentsov's declarations of support for the "wrong" side in terms of food and equipment did not exactly taste on the pro-Russian side: 11. May 2014, Sentsov was arrested and charged with organizing a terrorist cell, for planning terrorist attacks and for engaging in illegal arms trafficking. Today he is serving a sentence of 20 years in Siberia.

Director Askold Kurov, originally from Uzbekistan, has lived in Russia himself since 1991, where he graduated in documentary film in Moscow. Kurov is behind critically acclaimed films like Leni Country (2013) and Children 404 (2014), and is also one of the directors behind the award-winning documentary Winter, Go Away! (2012). With The Trial he delves into a theme he has frequently been associated with: human rights and social conflict in today's Russia. It alternates between portrayals of the litigation in the case against Sentsov, the supporters of his own family, the film community and Sentsov's sometimes desperate defender, all interspersed with relevant television clips. Gradually, a picture is drawn – not unknown from similar cases against outspoken artists in this part of the continent. The trial that led to the verdict against Oleg Sentsov joins a series of already too high numbers of dubious cases in Russia, most recently illustrated with Piraya Film-produced The Magnitsky Act - and Magnitskijs questionable prison conditions that led to his death. One can speculate long on such matters. Fortunately there are some that do more than speculate. The Russian foreign word "truth" is something questionable in The Trial: The State of Russia vs. Oleg Sentsov.

More effective. To an outsider who has not gone particularly well into the matter, it is interesting how The Trial purely aesthetic does little to convince the spectator whether Sentsov is guilty or not at first. There are few stylistic or pictorial language guides for what we should think. If he wasn't a terrorist, could he possibly have participated in any weapons import or helped terrorists? And if he did not directly take part in a terrorist attack, could he have helped to plan one? Mystery persists. More questions are thrown out than the movie can answer. This can be seen as an effective rhetorical grip, and which comes rather in the favor of the documentary. The many questioned pieces extend beyond the film like a mysterious patchwork, thus helping to set the mood for a documentary of this caliber. The absurdity of the unanswered and everything else that grunts stands as an excellent commentary on the Russian authorities' treatment of the legislation, and its frequent urge to adjust the truth, in an insane system that allows a vulgar and shameless treatment of people who happen to be get caught in it.

The absurd in the unanswered and in everything else grating stands as an excellent commentary on the Russian authorities' treatment of the legislation.

Conviction in rendering. Although not The Trial has a strong stylistic expression, it is precisely demonstrated how the documentary film format can, rather through its aesthetic simplicity and in an unmasked and unplanned image, leave more room for the rhetorical power of naked truth. Thus, the reality we see on screen appears more dramatic and impactful. Kurov's nude renditions occasionally also give way to a political "reality show". In the cage stands a stated Sentsov, while the photographers snapping piles of pictures before the trial can begin. The whole concept of using a cell in Russian litigation reinforces surrealism throughout. The overall picture says so much. The symbolism can hardly be more explicit. Here stands a man who is not yet convicted of anything, and who behaves very calmly, unable to do physical harm – but who is treated as if he were a primal Godzilla. To create empathy with the filmmaker, we, as spectators, can do well themselves.

The protagonist himself embraces his role as a political prisoner. In many ways, much of the injustice is conveyed throughout Sentsov's self-evident, authentic portrayal of himself as a human being in the cowardly justice system. The body language does not lie. The resentment of a state that has long since embraced its own principles of human justice is formally illuminated by his piercing gaze. Rarely does a smile come, as if he almost bursts into laughter at the thought of the absurd situation. As if it was a joke. Strong in the belief in truth and justice, he stands as the very symbol of this – carried inside by Russian authorities. It doesn't get more ironic.

The protagonist himself embraces his role as a political prisoner.

Living room away. The process of the judicial process gradually becomes clearer to us. The circumstances are not taken into account when the witnesses are questioned. Doubtful findings of too obvious evidence (such as a weapon rolled into a film newspaper – he works with film – several days after the property is being searched by police), and witnesses who admit they have been pressured to make false charges , makes the whole thing smell like factory factories. Add the many solid statements that eventually cross-cut into the documentary – respected ring foxes in the industry such as Ken Loach, Pedro Almodóvar, Wim Wenders and Agnieszka Holland, as well as President Putin himself being asked directly in public TV-covered collections about when can give Sentsov his freedom back. But attention doesn't seem to help. Does it really give better odds to be known and resourceful, when one is punished for one's political opinion in a country that oppresses them with opinions one does not like and who prefers to play for fear of creating control? Because it is when Sentsov opens his mouth that it becomes clear why he is so dangerous to the Russians. He demonstrates a powerful rhetorical force that insists on truth and justice, while maintaining a plausible calm – despite the blameworthy circumstances. That's when it comes to having him on his side, which it goes without saying is impossible if he wants to walk around and talk true all the time. Then the alternative is to live him away in Siberia, where no one can hear him.

The film was shown at the Berlin in February.

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