Film: A people that time forgot

For those who think that Russian cinema is limited to Eisenstein and Tarkovsky, this film might be a revelation.

Prisoner of the Mountains is a type of Russian film most Westerners have not seen before. Were it shot in English, its release would not be limited to the ghetto of the "art-house" venues. And according to the film's director Sergei Bodrov, the Americans are going to produce a remake some time in the future.

The disarmingly simple story offers the viewer the staple set of attractions of popular cinema - some shooting, some romance, some humour.

Those who expect to understand what exactly the Chechen war was about, will not find direct answers in the film. The relationship between the dozens of large and small nations in the Caucuses are so complex that in comparison even the situation in Northern Ireland might seem more simple and straight forward. Instead, the film focuses on universal values and the relationship between the characters.

Two Russian soldiers are taken hostage by rebels in the mountains of the Caucuses. Abdul-Murat, a local patriarch, wants to exchange them for his son, imprisoned by the Russians. The two soldiers overcome their initial hostility to each other and one of them, Vanya, develops a romantic relationship with his captor's teenage daughter, Dina. The other one, Sasha, a more cynical and murderous type, organises an unsuccessful escape and pays for it dearly.

Vanya's mother arrives and convinces the head of the Russian garrison to exchange Abdul-Murat's son for the Russian prisoners. Abdul-Murat's son, meanwhile, is killed just when he was to be freed. The fate of Vanya seems to be sealed.

Loosely based on a story by Leo Tolstoy of the same name (in Russian - The Prisoner of the Caucuses), the film provoked a mixed and passionate response in Russia when it was released at the peak of the bloody Chechen war.

It was some time before Americans began to produce films about Vietnam. How is it that this movie was finished when nobody even knew when and how the Chechen conflict was going to end? The answer is two fold.

First, Russia started colonising the area in 1722 and has had a tumultuous relationship with this freedom-loving mountain region of the Caucuses ever since. Sergei Bodrov is only following the tradition of Russian art which deals with the issue. His characters do not fall into the "good" and "bad" categories. They are all people of flesh and blood who are forced by circumstances to become enemies.

The second part of the answer is that the project was planned before the Chechen war even started, and the intention was to make a film about a war, not the war.

If not for the modern day military ammunition and vehicles, the film could be well set 150 years ago, when Leo Tolstoy wrote his story. "They have lived through the Soviet era untouched by time," says Sergei Bodrov about the people in the village of Rechi where the film was shot. "They live as they did 1,000 years ago."

The area has no sewage system or water supply. Women still climb the mountains to bring the water from a spring. It is eight hours from the nearest town, and during the winter the roads are totally impassable. In Dagestan, which is similar in size to Scotland and with a population of just above two million, 36 languages are spoken, and it is not uncommon that people cannot understand each other.

Whatever the original intentions, the film was filmed in the mountains of the Caucuses and finished at the peak of the Chechen war. As soon as the film was released in Russia, Sergei Bodrov was vigorously attacked by many local critics. He was accused of making a film easily sellable in the West, which over simplified the conflict and portrayed Russians not as they are, but as Westerners would like to see them.

Some found this an advantage. "The film was definitely designed for a Western audience. This is what makes Bodrov unique," Andrei Plakhov, a famous critic said. "He has found a balance between an art film and a commercially successful picture."

The more down to earth reaction is represented by Vasily Kostikov, an army officer: "The war in Chechnya was a dirty and corrupt war. This film is an insult to anyone who fought in the war or was really affected by it".

Bodrov argues that his goal was "to make a human film". "I didn't want a bloody picture with shooting, hanging guts and torn off heads. I do not like this. I do not like war scenes. I am interested in what goes on between people."

The fascinating thing about Prisoner of the Mountains is that all the main characters are so different, so human and so loveable. Even the tough guy Sasha, cynical and cruel though he is.

Sasha is played by Oleg Menshikov, known to the British audience from Burnt by the Sun and also from his theatre performances in London after he was discovered by Vanessa Redgrave. It was reported he had quite a female following when in London. But there is more to him than good looks. He is a great actor with a great future. The 1992 Laurence Olivier award winner, he was recently approached by Steven Spielberg who offered him, though unsuccessfully, a role in one of his films.

In fact, the style of the movie, according to Sergei Bodrov, was influenced by his living in America. "It made me think more about the audience," says Sergei. "It is not a political film. They are interesting today. Tomorrow, they are old like newspapers."

`Prisoner of the Mountains' is on general release from today

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

    Maths Teacher

    £90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

    Maths Teacher

    £22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week