The dark secret of the Kremlin unravel in this story of the former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko poisoned lat November in London told in his own words and in never seen before footage and interviews with his widow, his friends and his alleged killers. Written by
Anyone who believes that government-sanctioned repression and political skullduggery ended in Russia with the collapse of the Soviet Union - and the attendant dissolution of the KGB - will find much to disabuse them of that notion in "Poisoned by Polonium: The Litvinenko File," a disturbing and eye-opening look at what life is like in that recently "liberated" country.
Alexander "Sasha" Litvinenko was, of course, the outspoken critic of the Putin government whose death by polonium poisoning in 2007 made international headlines. Litvinenko's "crimes" went beyond mere criticism of policy, however; an ex-KGB agent himself, he accused the FSB - the Russian secret service, a direct descendant of the old KGB - of being behind the terrorist bombings that rocked Moscow in 1999, bombings that he and others claim were carried out for the express purpose of ramping up public outrage against the Chechens whom the government knew would be blamed for the atrocities. It was Litvinenko's "insider" knowledge and willingness to speak out despite tremendous risk to himself and his family that led activist filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov to seek out and befriend him. With this unlimited access, Nekrasov was able to interview Litvinenko at great length for the several years leading up to his death. He even got to film him as he lay dying in a hospital room in London, where Litvinenko had been granted political asylum. It is these interviews that make up the bulk of Nekrasov's informative and shocking film.
With these interviews and others - for Litvinenko is not the only one fearless enough to speak out on camera - Nekrasov has provided a scathing portrait of life under the Putin regime: the state-sponsored secrecy, the corruption and torture that is still being carried out on a regular basis, the repression of intellectual and political dissent - all holdovers from the dark days of Communist rule. Nekrasov's main thesis is that things haven't changed all that much in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and that the promises of a fledgling democracy are being perpetually undermined by those at the highest echelons of governmental power. And, as Litvinenko saw it, one of the reasons the Russian leaders ginned up a war with Chechnya in the first place was to legitimize its continued use of strong arm tactics in an ostensibly non-totalitarian society. Hence, the explosions in Moscow.
Of course, none of this willingness to speak out against injustice comes without a steep price for all who choose to do so. And make no mistake about it; Litvinenko is not the only person Nekrasov interviews who turns up dead under mysterious circumstances before the movie is over. But for other whistleblowers the pushback from the FSB has come in the form of threats, blackmail, fabricated evidence, trumped-up criminal charges, destroyed reputations and false imprisonment.
Perhaps most depressing of all is the general indifference Nekrasov has found to what is happening in his country - indifference on the part of not just the Russian populace and the national press but the world at large, an apathy that only encourages the government leaders to continue their suppressive ways.
This may be a tough movie to sit through at times, but what it has to say about a nation - and about the few citizens courageous enough to stand up against its systematic abuses - cries out to be heard. It helps to ensure that Litvninenko will not have died in vain.
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