Who is Mikhail Khodorkovsky?
At one point in the past decade, he was the world’s richest man under 40. Today, he resides in a Siberian prison. Americans ought to know who he is, because he reflects who we are, and the way we do business.
In his new documentary, German filmmaker Cyril Tuschi aims to shed light on this enigmatic man, though he begins with a distinct disadvantage: He can’t film near the prison where Khodorkovsky is held, much less the man himself.
He makes do with eerie computer-animated sequences, imagining Khodorkovsky’s inner life. He also receives Khodorkovsky’s letters from prison, which, narrated in English, reveal a thoughtful and reflective soul.
Tuschi finally sees Khodorkovsky in the flesh, at a hearing the press is allowed to attend. He is granted a five-minute interview; a glass window separates them.
Up to that point, Tuschi confesses that Khodorkovsky has seemed “like a phantom.”
Indeed, all of the other interviews assembled for the film paint a complex and contradictory picture.
Perhaps a young hitchhiker, interviewed in one scene, sums it up best: Of the Russian oligarchs of the post-
communist era, Khodorkovsky was the “best of the worst.”
Khodorkovsky’s colleagues describe him as being in possession of an “aura” that made him the boss of the room.
After the fall of the Soviet Union and the beginning of privatization, Khodorkovsky became the head of oil company Yukos. He won the company on a bid of about $300 million, and turned it into a $6 billion business in just a few years.
Some accused the billionaire of having been specifically chosen for Yukos, and then working in collaboration with the government.
But years later, Khodorkovsky’s relationship with President Vladmir Putin turned sour, and Khodorkovsky was arrested for fraud. Many claim the arrest was political revenge, though theories vary.
Yet Khodorkovsky also opened centers for students and orphans.
Now young people in Russia as well as Westerners are calling for Khodorkovsky’s release.
So is Khodorkovsky a victim or a villain? Perhaps he can be both.
As Tuschi’s film digs deeper, it seems to offer less information. Clearly, many people have been, and still are, affected by this phantom of a subject. This story is not over.
Starring Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Pavel Khodorkovsky, Marina Khodorkovskaya
Written and directed by Cyril Tuschi
Running time 1 hour, 41 minutes