Navalny review: A timely, gripping documentary
James R | On 07, May 2022
Diretor: Daniel Roher
Cast: Alexei Navalny
In August 2020, Alexei Navalny was poisoned by Novichok, almost dying on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow. An emergency landing in Omsk led to his unlikely and fortunate recovery – and, once back to health, he began to work out who had tried to kill him. Navalny the documentary follows that investigation, and the result is a timely, urgent and gripping snapshot of opposition in every sense of the word.
That the FSB was behind the assassination attempt will come as no surprise to anyone, even if they don’t know the real-life events, but that doesn’t stop director Daniel Roher crafting something thrilling and inspiring. Watching Navalny simply persevering in leading an opposition party to Vladimir Putin’s rule is remarkable, as he doesn’t even let a near-fatal attack deter him.
Indeed, calling the film after its subject gets at once to the heart of Navalny’s status, as Putin tries to avoid mentioning him by name. The sheer amount of access that Roher has makes it immediately clear why he’s such a remarkable figure, charming, resilient and somewhere between a politician and an activist, having caught the public’s attention at anti-corruption demonstrations. He’s an intriguing figure, full of nuance and complexities, but is driven transparently by a clear purpose, and Roher taps into that straightforward charismatic through a string of to-camera interviews.
Weaving those with the procedural solving of his own almost-murder – including impersonating an FSB officer in one jaw-dropping stunt – Roher gives us a riveting ride through the personal and political stakes of standing up to the state. Arrested in 2020 after returning to Russia, he remains smiling and upbeat in his outlook – and after 90 minutes in his company, you might well be too. “If they decide to kill me, it means that we are incredibly strong,” he grins, matter-of-factly. After all, they already decided to try once.