Vojna (2002) from ICMS

And now for something completely different...

A Russian film. A region 5 disk, although it also plays on my region 2 dvd-rom drive. Now you're probably thinking how did ICMS come up with that? Well, about six weeks ago on a Russian internet site I stumbled upon some captures of a naked actress in some very intriguing situations. The film was this year's "Vojna" (war) and the actress was Lithuanian born Ingeborga Dapkunaite. Some of you may recognize her from Seven Years in Tibet and Mission Impossible starring Tom Cruise. The film only premiered in Moscow on March 14, so I had practically no hope of finding it on DVD already. But then I found Russian "internet-magazin" www.rushall.ru and they had it on their opening page! Although the website is in Russian only and I don't understand a word in Russian I finally did manage to click all the right buttons and the DVD arrived at my doorstep straight from St. Petersburg. Now let's take a look what the film is about.

So "Vojna" means war in Russian and we're dealing here with the war in Chechnya between the Russians and the Chechens. The movie starts with soldier Ivan Yermakov (Aleksei Chadov) telling us his story in flashbacks in what looks like a prison room. We see him arrive in a Chechen camp just when the Chechens are cutting off another soldier's head. We see how the Chechens mistreat their prisoners continuously and hold them captured in very bad conditions. Then we see John (Ian Kelly) and Margaret (Ingeborga Dapkunaite), a British couple, brought in. They're Shakespeare actors and were captured near the border with Georgia. They're put in the same hole in the ground as the other prisoners, among them a from the waist down paralyzed Russian army captain and a Jewish businessman, where they all have to answer nature's call in the same bucket in the same place. Luckily this is not shown explicitly in the film.


Ingeborga Dapkunaite has two nude scenes and not much else. In her first nude scene she had previously asked for a bath. Now the Chechens didn't have much bathing facilties in their camp, so they dragged her to a whitewater river and pushed her in the icecold stream with a rope around her neck. We hear her crying in terror but by the look on Ingeborga's face I had the impression she liked it. She is apparently a respected stage actress turned movie actress, so one can only admire that she accepts such a minor role with practically no dialogue in which she has to be stark naked in a chilling mountain river. Her second nude scene occurs near the end when she's liberated from the hole. Apparently the Chechens had just raped her and she is found, still very weak but stark naked, covered in mud and some fake blood under a blanket with the army captain on whom she had a crush. Our heroes drag her out of the hole naked as a jaybird of course. A real trooper, our Ingeborga. I can't wait for a remake set in Afghanistan with Julia Roberts playing Ingeborga's part.

Viktoriya Smirnova plays Ivan's girlfriend in Siberia and shows breasts and buns while getting out of bed.

Our soldier is also the only one who speaks English and therefore Chechen warlord Aslan needs him to surf the net on his laptop, another proof that Al Gore didn't invent some mind numbing thing but something that stretches the mind. We also find out -and this is for me the most interesting part of the movie- why the Chechens are fighting the Russians. We learn that the Chechens have their spies in all places in Russia and have people abducted for ransom to finance their war. At this point Aslan realizes he won't get much money for a simple soldier and an actor and decides to set Ivan and John free so they can raise the money. If they're not back in two months he says he'll rape Margaret and then cut her head or ears off.

We then witness how Ivan and John each go their own way. Ivan returns to his hometown in Siberia after having visited the captain's family in St. Petersburg. John goes to England to the Ministry of We don't give a damn about our Citizens and ends up selling everything he owns to raise the money. He also accepts money from a TV-station and in turn he has to film the whole deal. Those are the black and white images seen throughout the movie. Then he goes back to Moscow and heads for a ministry there but they refuse to help him as well. Ultimately he heads for Ivan in Siberia and pays him to help liberate Margaret. Together they travel trough Russia where we get a picture of corruption on every level in that country. I sincerely hope it isn't as bad as pictured here. But worse, they find no-one willing to help them on their mission.

So our two men decide to take on the Chechen rebels on their own armed with only one shotgun. They coerce a Chechen to help them, so our trio is now ready to free Margaret and the captain. They succeed in doing so but on their return they're attacked by the Chechens and nearly defeated. Then it's time for the deus ex-machina thing, a satellite phone with which they call the Russian army for help. This army was pictured as not very effective earlier in the movie, but this time they're here in a tick to assist our little group successfully. By now the film that had started more or less as an analysis of the Chechen war and a sociological study of Russian society has turned into an full scale action movie with explosions and helicopters everywhere. It is fully clear that the director, Aleksei Balabanov, has become a true Russian patriot and there is is no longer room for the Chechen POV, "all Chechens are bandits".

not available in Region 1

The Region 5 DVD itself is a splendid anamorphic widescreen transfer with beautiful menus. The picture is clear and sharp, the sound is DD 5.1 and DTS and there's even an audio commentary by Aleksei Chadov in DD 5.0 ! The commentary track however, like the extra's, has no (English) subtitles, so I couldn't understand a word of it. There's also a copy protected Sony CD with the soundtrack that refuses to play on your computer. The only downsides are the lack of English subtitles on the commentary and the extra's and the exorbitant price, certainly for Russian standards. Shipment included I paid over 40 Euro for this DVD and other DVD's aren't much cheaper in Russia. I would have expected quite the opposite in a country where people's wages aren't exactly high.

While he's at it the director also gives a huge sneer to our "justice" societies. Ivan is well and truly in prison, as we suspected from the start. The reason: when he fought the Chechens with John he was no longer a soldier but a civilian. And we can't have civilians taking the law into their own hands, can we? He ends up as the accused and the accusor is the Chechen whom he coerced to help him. We see that the other side can abduct people, beat and mutilate them and rape Margaret in total impunity. When he does similar things to liberate hostages after having asked in vain the authorities for help, he becomes the bad guy in our system. You know what I read in the paper the next morning after I watched this movie? "Husband of pestered teacher threatens pupils and faces court action". I wasn't surprised. Fiction and reality came together.

The movie lasts 120 minutes and, although at times it is more of a caricature, I was never bored and wanted to know the outcome. The images are all nicely composed and well lit. The action scenes in this sometimes violent movie are always realistic. There are no holes in the plot either, and the actors all do a more than decent job.  

The Critics Vote

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The People Vote ...

IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B.

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