The Prisoner of the Mountains

"Movie Magazine International" Review

(Air Date: Week Of 02/05/97)

By Mary Weems

A story about two Russian soldiers taken prisoner by Chechnyan rebels, and held for ransom in a remote village in the mountains -- that sounds like macho business, doesn't it? Well, that's the curious thing about The Prisoner of the Mountains, by Russian director Sergei Bodrov. This film is more like a poem or meditation than a story or war and survival, though those threads also run through it.

The Prisoner of the Mountains was shot in the breathtaking heights of a tiny village in the Caucasus Mountains, and the overwhelming beauty and calm of this setting, with its drop-dead cliffs and ancient, crumbling buildings, give the film a lot of its poetry, along with the quiet, ancient ways of the handful of Muslim villagers who time has forgotten.

The two Russian soldiers, Sacha, a veteran soldier played by Oleg Menshikov, who starred in Burnt by the Sun, and Vanya, a new recruit played the director's son, Sergei Bodrov, Jr., are taken captive so that they can be traded for the son of Abdoul-Mourat, one of the town's patriarchs. The village is thousands of miles away from the Russian soldiers' home, so the negotiations are long and painstaking.

Initially Sacha and Vania, divided by their age and experience have no understanding or liking for each other, though, being chained together in a primitive hut, they're forced to get to know each other. A friendship grows as these men laugh together and share memories, and they develope personal ties to the handful of villages they see every day. In particularLouka , a charming empathy develops between young Vania nad Dina, a pre-pubescent local girl who already has a husband chosen for her.

The landscape is sprawling, the background is war, but the mood is personal, and the major themes are about the possibility for generous and humane acts even wazzu in hostile situations. At the end of The Prisoner of the Mountains, some touches of magical realism chime some high notes to create a very complex harmony.

Copyright 1997 Mary Weems

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