The subject couldn’t be more topical. Jos de Putter’s portrait of the Chechen freedom fighter Khozh-Ahmed Noukhaev had its world premiere in Toronto in September, only days after Russia resumed the war against the very independence movement that crushed the Russian army three years ago.
Before they withdrew their troops the Russians managed to lay the Chechen capital of Grozny in ruins (the same goes for the Chechen economy) and Noukhaev seems to spend most of his time in a bulletproof car on the battered roads between Chechnya’s remote villages. Noukhaev ruled the Chechen Mafia when it gained a foothold in Moscow in the eighties, and then went on to use his illegally-earned fortune to help finance the Chechen liberation war. The Russians – not surprisingly – regard Noukhaev as a criminal, whereas most of the Chechen consider him a hero, a modern-day Robin Hood. In de Putter’s film all character witnesses testify to the second view, but neutral viewers will be tempted to side with Russians, too.
Athough he’s on screen for most the film, our view of Noukhaev’s character mostly remains on the surface. An innocent little conversation in Istanbul reveals it all, though. Noukhaev is playing chess with his right-hand man Mansour Jachimczyk and asks him whether he’s aware of a false move he just made. Jachimczyk looks confusedly at the chessboard, while Noukhaev comes up with the answer to the riddle: “Your mistake is to play with me at all.” In this little scene, Jos de Putter subtly delivers his psychological profile of the film’s main character: a man who is just as dangerous and power-hungry as he is charming.
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