Where Khodorkovsky, in the end, surrenders to the pressure and signs a deal with Putin, Nemtsov is without compromise. We know the result.

Sigurd Lydersen
A freelance writer on Russian politics in Norway.

Whilst Eric Bergkraut puts the audience in Khodorkovsky’s place, in the film My friend Boris Nemtsov (2015) we identify with its young Russian director Zosya Rodkevich – both as film maker and object of desire for the female-loving politician.

The Nemtsov assassination on 27 February 2015, at the bridge in front of the Kremlin, frames the film. We are introduced to the circumstances surrounding Nemtsov’s death through the naive questions and reflections of a bright Russian girl sitting on her father’s shoulders during the commemorative march across the fateful bridge.

Finally, we are part of the funeral, Nemtsov in an open casket surrounded by grieving family, friends and supporters. The contrast between Nemtsov’s dead body and the lively persona we got to know through Rodkevich’s personal portrait is immense.

We follow Rodkevich’s camera lens from the moment she is introduced to Nemtsov at the station prior to a train journey. The director’s prologue states that as a 22-year old journalist she applied to work on a film project about Nemtsov. All her prejudices about a narcissistic, conservative politician disappeared. An obviously enamoured and funny Nemtsov invites her to share his compartment alone – initiating the flirt which carries the film.

Alone with Nemtsov in his compartment, Rodkevich films him as he sleepily mumbles his general views on democratic struggle and life. At Nemtsov’s sparse Moscow flat, his wife complains that they have lived there eight years, and that their bed is broken. Nemtsov, wearing only his underpants, defends himself that the opposition should not own much out of consideration for personal freedom. During a training session at a gym, he explains to the young Rodkevich about his four children by three mothers, about his support and acceptance of them all, and his love of women. We also follow Nemtsov out on the town in Jaroslavl, ending up with him sleeping in a bed next to a cigarette-smoking lover. Rodkevich’s film enables us great closeness with Nemtsov through the viewpoint of the many women he desired.

In another scene, further into the film, the young, female film maker is alone with Nemtsov in a lift when he steals a kiss despite her mild objections. We, as the audience, are, along with the camera, squeezed into Nemtsov’s chest. What seems like sexual harassment by Nemtsov, becomes, in Rodkevich’s Russian presentation, an expression of the human and charming aspects to the Russian opposition politician. Nemtsov is reminiscent of the Russian poet laureate Aleksander Pusjkin, who was also a freedom-loving oppositional and a notorious flirt. We trail the politician Nemtsov around Russia; during the large anti-war demonstration in Moscow on 21 September which was led by Nemtsov, and during the trial of the blogger and politician Aleksej Navalny. We are given an insight into Nemtsov’s packed schedule of interviews, handing out fliers at stands, and smaller meetings with pensioners in the lead up to the regional 2013 elections in Jaroslavl. Rodkevich’s focus remains first and foremost Nemtsov’s charismatic personality and flirting, his friendship with the blogger Navalny, the PR-advisor and politician Ilya Yashin and the rest of the youthful environment that surrounds him. During a TV-interview on the streets of Jaroslav, Nemtsov is disrupted by Yashin. He thinks Nemtsov is too adamant in his criticism of the regime and the persecution of the regime critics, and that this will not make it through the censorship. This limitation of the most politically inflamed issues seems to also impact on Rodkevich’s presentation and angle.

Nemtsov’s patriotism, however, does surface: When the invitation to Thatcher’s funeral clashes with the Navalny trial, Nemtsov opts for the latter, and jokes that this is a test of his patriotism. During a TV-interview which Rodkevich films from the studio, Nemtsov explains that he dreams that his children will never wish to leave Russia.

During an interview in Siberia, Nemtsov points to the fact that although life has improved under Putin, it has also become more revolting.

During an interview in Siberia, Nemtsov points to the fact that although life has improved under Putin, it has also become more revolting. The majority of Putin supporters emphasises the former – whilst the middle classes in the cities who react and oppose, are more concerned with the latter, analyses Nemtsov.

Whereas Khodorkovsky undergoes a religious repentance in captivity and in the end crawls to the cross, Nemtsov laughs and flirts his way through Rodkevich’s portrait of him, like a superb Pusjkin of a reinstated Russian Tsardom of the 21. Century. Where Khodorkovsky, in the end, surrenders to the pressure and signs a deal with Putin, Nemtsov is without compromise. We know the result.


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