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28 THE U3T 20 Feb-S Mar 1998
Making a drama out of a crisis: Sergei Bodrov directs Prisoner Of The Mountains
Director SERGEI BODROV took his life in his hands when he filmed Prisoner Of The Mountains near war-torn Chechenya.
Words: Andrew Pulver
Filming in a war zone, as Sergei Bodrov can attest, is no joke. ’The conditions were unspeakable,’ he says. ’Eight hours by a terrible road from the nearest village, no running water, no electricity, nowhere to stay except people's houses. For the first few days, everyone was sick as a dog.’
The Chechens’ fight for independence from Russia, which forms the backdrop to Bodrov’s movie Prisoner Of The Mountains, IS now in a state of uneasy truce after a settlement was reached in the summer of 1996. For two years previously, however, about 80,000 lives were lost in eighteen months of savage fighting that saw humiliation after humiliation exacted on Russia's dispirited conscript army by the Muslim inhabitants of the Caucasian region.
Bodrov is matter-of-fact about the risks the production ran. ’They’re great people, these mountain people; they’re wise, they knew what we were trying to do. The fighting was close; it was three hours’ walk to Chechenya. Even though we thought we'd picked a safe place, there was an attack on a hospital not far away and it was a bloody mess.’
I spoke to many Russian soldiers in the military hopsitals, he continues, ’and no one had anything bad to say about the Chechens. In fact, many said they understood their fight: they were fighting for their homes, and the whole thing was a stupid bloody mistake.’
Bodrov has come to make this film — and secured a place in the international limelight that the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination brought with it — by a curiously roundabout route. Siberian by birth, be briefly studied spacecraft engineering, then jOll'lEd the Mosfilm studio as an electrician.
A spell working on Tarkovsky's Stalker propelled him toward directing and his non-conformist tendencies —- nurtured in satirical pieces in Brezhnev-era humour magazines — resulted in films like Non-Professionals (1985) and Freedom ls Paradise that, despite the more tolerant climate of the Gorbachev regime, resulted in official displeasure. A relish for Hollywood sensibilities, however, led him to international co-productions like White King, Red Queen and / Wanted To See Angels, and a co-writer’s credit on Somebody To Love, a recent movie from Alexandre ‘Four Rooms' Rockwell.
But a feeling for both Russia’s literary heritage (’I always wanted to make this Tolstoy story') and an ability to capture the essence of a tragic but
'Many people said they understood the Chechens’ fight: they were fighting for their homes, and the whole thing was a stupid bloody mistake.’
topical human catastrophe, have led Bodrov toward a humanist document that is even-handed in its treatment of both the hapless captive and the restless guerrilla who breaks the cycle of violence.
'I wanted to show it's a war,’ he concludes. 'ln war there are simple rules — you kill your enemy. But if everyone follows the rules, war will last forever. In this story, somebody changes the rules.’
Gilmorehill, Glasgow, Sat 21 Feb, Fri 27 Feb-Sun 1 Mar; Glasgow Film Theatre, Mon 23-Thu 26 Feb; Edinburgh Filmhouse from Fri 6 Mar. See review.