November 6th 2007 · Prague Watchdog / Ruslan Isayev · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS · ALSO AVAILABLE IN: RUSSIAN 

Mikhalkov's film "12" screened in Moscow and Chechnya

Mikhalkov's film "12" screened in Moscow and Chechnya

By Ruslan Isayev

CHECHNYA - At the end of last week Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had a screening at his residence in Novo-Ogarevo of Nikita Mikhalkov’s film 12. The screening took place in the presence of the film crew and the presidents of Ingushetia and Chechnya. After watching the film, Putin said that it “brought a tear to the eye”. The movie also received positive reactions from the film crew and the two presidents.

Over the past fifteen years the Russian film industry has created an entire cinematic genre that is based on Chechen subjects. Practitioners of the genre have included Alexander Sokurov, Andrei Konchalovsky, Nikita Mikhalkov, Sergei Bodrov Jr., and many other directors. Russian filmgoers are now more inclined than they were to enjoy watching films about the psychological effects of the war on the minds of Russians and of Chechens themselves. But almost invariably these films bear the clear marks not only of distortion, but also of attempts to manipulate society.

The plot of 12 is extremely simple: 12 jurors are deciding the fate of a young Chechen man accused of murdering his stepfather, who is a Russian soldier. At the beginning of the film 11 of the 12 jurors are ready to find the Chechen guilty. But by the end, after many hours, the jury is compelled to reach the unanimous verdict that the boy is innocent.

As usual, one of the characters in Mikhalkov's film is played by the director himself. It is he who utters the key words to the effect that if this young Chechen is set free, the aggressive environment in which he lives will prove to be more destructive to him than prison. The lad is found innocent, and Mikhalkov’s character finally takes him under his wing.

The film lets viewers imagine themselves in the role of the jury, but not without bestowing the customary sobriquets on Chechens, such as "vermin,” “rats”, “animals", etc. It also contains a large number of serious factual errors. This is understandable, as it is designed for a Russian audience, not a Chechen one. The director takes no account of Chechen traditions, not does he even try to do so. In one scene the boy's father is shown shouting abuse at him for dancing the lezginka; in another, after the father’s death, no relatives can be found to take the lad into their family; and the mother’s relatives become reconciled to the fact that she has living with a Russian soldier.

Immediately after the Novo-Ogarevo viewing, the film was shown in Chechnya on one of the local television channels there.

"It left a bad taste in one’s mouth, the taste of Mikhalkov’s bile," said Arbi, a resident of Grozny who saw the film. "I really didn’t like the film at all, because it’s highly unlikely that a jury would discuss the fate of each individual Chechen like that. They’d be much more likely just to vote, and that would be that,” he added.

"The film is not about Chechnya, but the Russian public, and Chechnya appears in it as a kind of catalyst," Timur Aliyev, editor of the Chechen Society newspaper believes. "The jury is really made up of today's Russian society, and unfortunately that society is not prepared to open its eyes to what is around it. Like a sponge, it has absorbed the whole of the negative image of Chechens that’s been fed to it by propaganda. In my opinion, the film is a feeble attempt to show that Russia is trying to knock that out of itself. But it still can’t get by without some surreptitious jeering at liberal forces, of the kind that’s presented by one of the jurors," Aliyev said.

"How can it be that a Chechen woman who has just buried her husband marries a Russian soldier? Why didn’t Mikhalkov’s Chechen interpreters advise him that this is impossible? Why did a Chechen actress play the role? It’s shameful!" Salavdi, who teaches the Chechen language, says angrily. "The film is no better than the ones in which Russian spetsnaz officers kill five or six Chechen guerrillas with a single shot," he believes.

Natalya Estemirova, who is a member of the Chechen branch of the Russian human rights organization Memorial, said: “Mikhalkov’s film touches on a theme that is a very painful one for Chechens – that of Russian justice for Chechens. It would be nice if the fate of all Chechens who are accused of something in Russia were to resemble the fate of the movie’s hero. In fact, however, scores of innocent Chechens are given long periods of imprisonment for crimes they didn't commit. In other words, Mikhalkov is doing what he knows best, but his film won’t get an Oscar."

(Translation by DM)


 · Film "12" on the website of the Trite production company
 · Film "12" on IMDB
 · "12" as Putin's defence (, 19.10.2007)



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