Navalny ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Daniel Roher. Stars: Alexei NavalnyYulia NavalnayaDasha Navalnaya 

I’ve been making documentaries for about 28 years, but if somebody asked me what kind of films I’d like to make, I would probably answer “one like Navalny”. Which might give you an idea of how much I liked it.

It doesn’t even feel like fly-on-the-wall documentary, but it’s constructed, edited and scored more like a real edge-of-your-seat thriller. In the cinema where I watched it, the audience gasped, laughed, held its breath and was gripped, as we followed Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, recovering in Germany after an attempt on his life, putting the pieces together trying to find out who tried to poison him (and almost succeeded) and finally getting ready for his return home… whatever the consequences.

Right at the start of the film Navalny is asked by director Daniel Roher what kind of message he wants to send his Russian people if he gets killed. Navalny stops him straight away “Oh, come on, Daniel! No, no way. It’s like you’re making movie for the case of my death! This is a thriller!”. And boy, it really is!

There’s a sequence half way through in which he’s trying to catch a possible murderer red-handed, with a phone call, which is so tense that I must have held my breath as if I was underwater for minutes for fear of making any noise.

One of the (many) striking things about this film is the incredible access they managed to get (though we will find out right at the end, that some was concealed from them too). You really feel privileged to be so up-close and personal with this Navalny.

The picture that comes out is one of a confident man, with great charisma (he’s very good in front of a camera), a wonderful sense of humour and exceptionally brave.

Of course we also watch this with a little bit of hindsight. 18 months after his interview for the film Navalny is still in a Russian prison with little hope of coming out anytime soon. All of which makes the documentary even more poignant. At the same time everything that’s going on in Ukraine right now, adds an extra layer of urgency to the whole thing.

It is obvious that Roher has an agenda and his anti-Putin sentiments are very apparent throughout the film, but that doesn’t stop him to ask Navalny some uncomfortable questions about his nationalist past. At some point Roher even leaves his camera running and films some revealing behind the scenes with his man, showing how much he’s aware of being in front of camera (“your eyes are too harsh” he’s whispered at some point by an assistant. “Smile a bit”) as well as some of his insecurities (“My English is not good enough”). They are small moments, perfectly calibrated and intentionally well-placed in the film, which make Navalny even more human and likeable than he already is.

Whether it’s actually Roher directing or Navalny himself pulling the strings behind the scenes is not 100% clear, but that doesn’t make this film any less gripping, entertaining and infuriating at the same time.

“Navalny” won both the documentary audience award and the festival favourite award at the Sundance Festival and it’s not hard to see why.

It is a timely, important, daring and inspiring piece of work, as well as a terrifying and depressing testament to the power that the current Russian leader still holds over his country (and the rest of the world).

On a side note, it’s interesting to notice how this film has glorious reviews everywhere (rightly so) and yet it mysteriously scores only 5.6 (out of 10) on the IMDB website. Spooky.

One thing you can do is go and watch it and tell your friends too!

Navalny is showing at the Curzon and it’s available for streaming on its website.

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