Prisoner Of The Mountains

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

In the mountains of Chechyn, Sergei Bodrov tells a simple story of a father's attempt to save his son. The guerilla war against occupying forces continues. When an armoured personnel carrier is ambushed out in the country, two Russian soldiers are taken prisoner, chained together in a hovel and used as barter for the release of a teacher who is in prison.

The film's lack of sophistication is enormously in its favour. The landscape has a pristine beauty and the way of life a simplicity that is traditional and harsh. These mountain communities are locked into their culture like goats in a barn. The concept of foreign occupation is an insult to their pride.

The Russians are strange beasts. Sasha (Oleg Menshikov) loves war. He is in his element, acting the devil-may-care. Being in Chechyn is an excuse for role playing. Being chained to a kid, who is so green and scared he hasn't bloodied himself in battle, is not his idea of a holiday. He thinks the villagers are idiots for not killing them.

Vanya (Serge Bodrov Jr) finds Sasha's abrasive manner incomprehensible. He has to spend days, even weeks, in a shed with this man. Why can't he make the best of it? Vanya's innocence attracts the village chief's daughter, who can't be more than 13. They have a friendship that is hardly spoken and yet mutually understood. Vanya is interested in the people and the place, what goes on around him, something Sasha would never understand.

The relationship between the two men evolves naturally, as does their fate. Escape is the only hope. But how? Will Vanya have the courage to kill a man? Will Sasha curb his murderous nature? Will the girl be blamed for helping her new friend?

Bodrov tells the story with an economy of style, using villagers as actors to good effect. Menshikov gives a performance that is immensely attractive, ultimately dangerous and always unpredictable. Errol Flynn would have approved, except Menshikov has the edge. He is charming and ruthless. A disturbing combination.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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The trials of two soldiers captured by rebels.
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Director: Sergei Bodrov

Writer: Arif Aliev, Sergei Bodrov, Boris Giller

Starring: Oleg Menshikov, Serge Bodrov Jr, Jamal Sihouralidze

Year: 1996

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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