A documentary can often fall down upon the basis of its images. Too many interviews and it becomes a succession of talking heads. A lack of seemingly pertinent visuals and it can become a rambling exercise in arty pretension. The visuals in The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov are certainly serviceable, but there are three images that linger. The first is a shot of numerous billboards that have popped up around Russian-annexed Crimea, boldly emblazoned with three words (Crimea, Russia, Forever) with a photo of Vladimir Putin approximating a smile that makes him look like a less benevolent Mr Burns. The second is news footage of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych actually snapping his pen in frustration at a press conference. And finally there’s a shot of the subject of the documentary, Oleg Sentsov, ruefully smiling as he stands inside a literal cage in a Russian courtroom.
Sentsov, an acclaimed filmmaker, was accused of being a terrorist ringleader, plotting explosive attacks in a variety of towns and cities on the Crimean Peninsula to destabilise the region after it came under Russian control. The evidence against him was problematic, even from the most subjective point of view. It can be said that subjectivity is the (minor) weak point in director Askold Kurov’s excellent documentary, and while the fact that proceedings very much met the definition of a show trial, there were some interesting facts that emerge later in the piece, almost as an aside. This is the information that Sentsov was helping to provide food to Ukrainian military units during the (still ongoing) conflict. This association with the forces that the Russian military were trying to quash feels like a revelation and perhaps helps to demonstrate why he was targeted so viciously.
But even so, the evidence against Sentsov was hugely underwhelming, and the disbelief on his face during key points in the trial makes it look like he still believed it was some sort of elaborate joke. Sadly, it was not, and this documentary makes for fascinating, if frustrating, viewing.
The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov does not have a UK release date yet.
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