Two Russian soldiers force a Chechen hostage to be their guide through hostile territory to find captured comrades in the contempo Russian war story "Captive." Considering how nationalistic, bellicose and often downright racist Russian films on the subject of Chechnya can be, helmer Alexei Uchital's contribution to the genre looks almost liberal and pacifist by comparison.

Two Russian soldiers force a Chechen hostage to be their guide through hostile territory to find captured comrades in the contempo Russian war story “Captive.” Considering how nationalistic, bellicose and often downright racist Russian films on the subject of Chechnya can be, helmer Alexei Uchital’s contribution to the genre looks almost liberal and pacifist by comparison. This ought to boost its export potential offshore, but unfortunately, the conventional pic feels mechanical if well-meaning. At home, helmer’s rep and pic’s subject should yield more interest, especially on ancillary.

A Russian army convoy comes under attack in a Chechen mountain pass. Only two enlisted men, taciturn crack sniper Rubakha (Viacheslav Grekunov) and his more easygoing friend Vovka (Petr Logachev) manage to escape and make it back to their base. The two subsequently join a maneuver in the forest nearby, during which Rubakha captures a young, strikingly handsome Chechen soldier (Irakli Mtskhalaya), later revealed to be named Djamal.

Script, by Timofei Dekin and acclaimed Russian novelist Vladimir Makanin (working from his own short story), makes it clear the commanding officers are corrupt, illegally dealing arms on the side to Chechen warlords. Worried that the brass will trade Djamal in a hostage exchange, Rubakha and Vovka spring him out of jail and force him to lead them through the mountains to the Chechen encampment where their captured fellow soldiers are being kept.

Although Djamal barely speaks to them at first, the three men grow closer over the course of the arduous journey, with Rubakha in particular and the captive developing a rapport. When they find the Chechen encampment, however, their fragile trust is put to the test.

Dialogue makes constant references to what a “beauty” Djamal is, creating a homoerotic subtext that could also be detected in helmer Uchitel’s last, “Dreaming of Space,” in which men were far more at ease with each other than with women. Perfs by all three leads convince; thesps appear to be doing their own stunts, no mean feat considering the script requires them to often scramble up hillsides — in Mtskhalaya’s case, with his hands tied at one point.

Pic questions the macho posturing and corruption of the military, although it never engages the deeper causes of the Chechen conflict head-on. Apart from Djamal, the Chechens themselves are depicted as fairly one-dimensional brutes; however, much worse depictions exist elsewhere in contempo Russian cinema.

Pic was partly filmed in Bulgaria, but the terrain used, with its lush forests and craggy cliffs, serves convincingly for Chechnya. Tech credits are sturdy and respectable, but not particularly outstanding.

Captive

Russia

Production

A Rock Film Studio production, in association with Kamera, with the participation of the Federal Agency of Culture and Cinematography of the Russian Federation, the National Film Center of Bulgaria. (International sales: Central Partnership, Moscow.) Produced, directed by Alexei Uchitel. Screenplay, Timofei Dekin, Vladimir Makanin, based on a story by Makanin.

Crew

Camera (color), Yuri Klimenko; editors, Elena Andreeva, Gleb Nikulski; music, Leonid Desyatnikov; production designer, Andrei Vasin; costume designers, Mark Lee, Galina Deeva; sound (Dolby Digital), Kirill Vasilenko. Reviewed at Sochi Open Russian Film Festival (competing), June 14, 2008. (Also in Karlovy Vary Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 80 MIN.

With

Viacheslav Grekunov, Petr Logachev, Irakli Mtskhalaya. (Russian, Chechen dialogue)

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