"In all my human-rights work, this is the first time I've defended a capitalist," says a Hague lawyer of the unlikeliest of political martyrs, ex-oligarch Mikhael Khodorkovsky, subject of Cyril Tuschi's documentary. Once the richest man in the world under 40—he helped found Russia's first private bank after the fall of Communism, then headed oil & gas giant Yukos—Khodorkovsky has been a prisoner in Siberia since 2003. Many in the West, certainly German director Tuschi, suspect that the embezzlement and tax-evasion charges against Khodorkovsky have been manufactured by Vladimir Putin's administration to silence the threat the businessman posed to the ruling party. (Since Tuschi's film, which catches up with Khodorkovsky at his second trial, the sentence has been extended through 2017.) Tuschi plays the on-camera investigative journalist in this five-years-in-the-making doc, which moves between corny illustrative cartoons, random man-in-street interviews, and sit-downs with Khodorkovsky's former Yukos executives, now exiled to "empty London offices" and Tel Aviv ("How I hate this sunshine," grumbles one, full of Russian spleen). Another pickup interviewee, apparently expressing the official Russian view, accuses Tuschi of making "free PR for the guilty person"—and though the PR bit is right on, Khodorkovsky goes some way toward questioning the guilt.
The defendant during one of his show trials.
Opens Fri., March 23 at SIFF Film Center. Not rated. 111 minutes.