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Poisoned by Polonium 

Wednesday, Apr 2 2008

Andrei Nekrasov's documentary indictment of the Putin regime is inelegantly structured, flops when it goes "gonzo," and gets uncomfortably indulgent, but it does have morbid credibility to spare. Two of Nekrasov's primary interviewees — the regime-antagonistic journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the whistleblower exile Alexander Litvinenko — were killed, very possibly in politically motivated assassinations, during the time this material was shot. The latter's death by radioactive contamination begins and ends the film, with a concluding montage identifying Litvinenko as one corpse among thousands produced by the New Russia. Nekrasov doesn't seem to anticipate having an audience in his homeland: His film's early chapters give a remedial history lesson in Russia's grand tradition of informers, political imprisonment, and graft. Special focus is placed on the KGB, which, in the post-Soviet years, morphed into state-security FSB. ("Meet the new boss, same as the old boss...") Nekrasov keeps Putin in the crosshairs while enumerating the allegations: The bombing attacks in Russia attributed to Chechen separatists were sacrificial inside jobs. Fronting "a regime of profiteers," Putin has managed to hush up his history in money laundering and the misappropriation of relief funds. "Vertical power" is a synonym for czarism. So, at best, this is a serviceable pamphlet in contemporary Russian dissent for the uninitiated.

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Nick Pinkerton


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