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When Oliver met Vladimir

Focus Series: The Putin Interviews
Regissør: Oliver Stone

Over four hours of episodes, Oliver Stone has interviewed Vladimir Putin. These outstanding meetings have resulted in a peculiar and poignant portrait of one of our most enduring heads of state today.

This article is machine translated by Google from Norwegian

American filmmaker Oliver Stone conducted a four-hour interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The recordings were made on several occasions, and at many different locations, between 2015 and 2017.
As expected, the reception has been very mixed. Of some, Stone is accused of painting a Russian tyrant who doesn't take a penny to manipulate presidential elections in the United States, while others believe he has done a great job of democracy. The British newspaper The Guardian calls the interview a victory for Stone.

Putin talks, Stone listens … As best he can, both to Putin and to the man sitting next to himself and simultaneously translating the president's words. I feel a certain pity for Oliver Stone, who obviously has trouble immediately understanding what Putin is saying – in addition to knowing how to react. At least when it comes to serious matters; world politics, Ukraine, Crimea. The Putin interviews are not critical interviews.

Stone has been accused of painting a Russian tyrant manipulating presidential elections in the United States.

Putin is constantly present as a Russian superman, one who plays ice hockey after learning it as a 60-year-old; who talks about how he exercises and swims every day; and who is touched when he mentions he is a grandfather. Except for that little glimmer of emotion, Putin never loses control, and Stone lets him talk – as he promised. The beginning of part two of the interview is about the US withdrawing from the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty) agreement in 2002 after 30 years. Putin expresses disappointment at that decision, and fears of "balance" if NATO continues to deploy missiles around Russia's borders. That means "we have to respond". It is around this time that Stone invites his interview object to see Dr. Strangelove. The film team is filming Putin while watching it. No reaction, but the interpreter is enjoying himself with Peter Sellers.
Putin talks long and enthusiastically about the "balance problem". Who started it all in Georgia? Who was behind the orange revolution in Ukraine? It was the people of Crimea who decided that they would be part of the Russian Federation; We did not want Assad to receive the same "treatment" as Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi, which is why we do what we do with a focus on fighting IS – and so on. It is well known what the Russian president thinks about these matters. He talks, he looks the way Oliver Stone would he, he is well-formulated – at least compared to his counterpart in the White House! The talks take place at various locations, including a tour of the Kremlin, Putin's Palace 20 minutes from the Kremlin, Sochi and, as mentioned, the ice hockey stadium, where he meets Oliver Stone's wife and asks her to visit St. Petersburg. At that point, I agree with him.

Stone asks, Putin answers. The last part of Putin's interviews is clearly the best of the four. It was taken up after Trump was elected president of the United States, and the first half hour of the conversation is about just that: Did Russia influence the American election result? Did Putin know about it; did he order the hacking? Stone now seems much better prepared than before, asking direct questions that lead Putin to analyze the US election and Trump's victory. Archive footage from the American media (with Hillary Clinton, Obama, Biden, McCain and others) is cut in between the interview footage. From there, the conversation turns to cyber war, the Americans' use of the computer virus Stuxnet in Iran, the danger of world war, for a new Hiroshima and Nagasaki…
"It is not possible to bring fear to the Russian people," says Putin, who reflects on each of the questions he is asked.

The last part of the Putin interviews also works better because the first half hour is rigged as on one stage: two chairs facing each other in a large room. Next to director Stone sits the indispensable interpreter Sergei Chudinov on one side; on the other, photographer Anthony Dod Mantle sits pointing his little camera at Putin. They are surrounded by security guards, several camera and audio people, manufacturers; everything is visible, they are all part of a play, and now I accept the dramatic cut that confused me in the first episode. Maybe I just got used to it? After this, Stone goes to the Red Square, without Putin, he visits John Reed's grave, he says with a smile "Where is Trotsky?" This sequence fills the gap before the last meeting of the two men. Now, Stone questions Stalin, asks about Putin's parents, characterizes Putin himself as one of the world's richest men (Putin categorically refuses to have his bank accounts anywhere), and finally, of course: If you are elected in 2018, you will in 2024 having been in power for over 20 years, says Stone. Putin seems a little annoyed – for the first and only time in the four parts that make up the interview – over Stone's discussion of the question of whether power is corrupt.

Putin is touched when he mentions that he is a grandfather – the only glimpse of human emotion during these four hours.

The interviews are over. Oliver and Vladimir hug each other. Putin tells Stone that he, as a filmmaker, will have problems with this documentary – before again recommending Stone's wife to go to St. Petersburg during "the white summer nights." Then he leaves the place, with all his people, through the pompous halls. The show is over. The actors leave the stage.

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