Bodrov Tells of Soldiers' Struggle

Prisoner of the Mountains directed by Sergei Bodrov starring Sergei Bodrov Jr. opening tomorrow at Kendall Square

In Chechnya, a peace treaty with Russia has been signed, but skirmishes continue--the bloodshed has not ended with political accord. In Sergei Bodrov's film, "Prisoner of the Mountains," politics as usual leads to a horrific, numbing climax as absent-minded doctors send adolescents to war and tanks roll down hilly roads too beautiful for bloodshed. Based on the Leo Tolstoy short story, "Caucasian Captive," "Prisoner of the Mountains" brings the people, not the politics, of war to the dramatic forefront, capturing the paralysis and pain felt by families caught in the middle.

Two Russian soldiers, young Vania, played by Bodrov's son Sergei Jr., and experienced Sasha (Oleg Menshikov) are ambushed and taken prisoner by a Chechen father. They are to be used as negotiating tools to facilitate the freedom of his son, who is being held in a Russian prison, despite the town leaders' repeated warnings that the Russians will bring nothing but trouble to every one.

Stunning cinematography makes up for a slow beginning. Filmed in the small country of Dagastan, Bodrov and his crew transformed a town that spoke 36 dialects and languages into a working set, using townspeople as extras in many of the scenes. Bodrov found a star in one of them, the twelve-year old Valentine Fedotova, who plays Vania's protector, the daughter of his captor. Silent at first, her incredible eyes convey innocence while her daily life conveys drudgery. With her mother dead, she is the woman of the house, the cook, the cleaner, the farmer and the care-taker. She cannot help but care for the boy Vania, whom she enchants with dance, jingling bells, bread and kindness, a rare commodity in war.

Bodrov is best known for his comedies, including "Trouble Maker," "The Beloved Woman of Mechanic Garvrilov" and "Very Important Person" and, despite their precarious predicament, laughter pervades the captives' existence. Sasha, who joined the army because he "was stupid, liked guns, and needed money," is an experienced and somewhat psychotic soldier who shoots rounds in open fields and yells a lot. He is a story-teller, a liar and a lush, and his influence on Vania leads to drunken dances, exercise routines to "Let My People Go" and a rather vocal victory for Vania in the town's fixed wrestling match.

The laughter slowly dies when Vania's mother comes to rescue her only son and the full reality of life and death are slowly realized. As a school teacher in Russia, she reads Vania's letters to her students, letters that are never long enough to satisfy her. When she receives a letter from the captive Vania asking for help, she leaves her life behind and enters the danger of Chechnya to save her son.

The journey marks the second time she has come to save Vania. As a child, he fell down an abandoned well and she searched for him all day. After he was found, she spent the next day filling the well so no other child would ever be hurt in the same way again. Years before, in a Russia she could understand, she could save her son, yet in war, she finds the challenge of saving him impossible.


While sitting across a cafe table with her son's captor, desperate father and desperate mother, Chechen and Russian, she appeals to Vania's captor, a man who, like her, knows the pain of losing a child to war. Yet even he is not moved. "We are enemies," he says. Negotiation and compromise are out of the question.

Plans are made, shots are fired, people are killed and lives destroyed. In a world run by revenge and caviar-eating captains, people cease to be recognized as a son, father, brother or someone's baby. The people of both countries become pawns, strategic markers to be won or to be terminated, their deaths furthering the cause of a government they cannot control.

"Prisoner of the Mountains," gives the people of Chechnya and Russia an unforgettable face not often seen in the haze of fire and gunshots, a face unscathed by politics, hoping desperately for peace