′Navalny′ documentary hits theaters in Germany | Film | DW

The new documentary takes viewers back to a time before Russia launched its war on Ukraine; a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin was perceived by the world as a tough ruler who muzzled human rights activists, government critics and opposition figures and did not shy away from murder. however, despite such horrors, few could have imagined at the time that he would one day wage a brutal war on a nearby country. 

Alexei Navalny was poisoned by hired killers and nearly lost his life. The documentary follows the anti-corruption activist as he links his poisoning to Kremlin. And despite the danger that surely awaited him, as soon as he was back to health after recovering in Germany, Navalny returned to his homeland to continue his campaign.

As a fearless Putin opponent, Navalny has become an icon in Russia and around the world

Navalny’s rise

Canadian director Daniel Roher accompanied and interviewed Navalny during his stay in Germany. By using both archival and privately taken footage, he shows how the opposition figure has managed to mobilize the masses in Russia, making his voice heard as Putin’s main opponent.

Throughout the years, Navalny has become the Russian leader’s greatest adversary and is so loathed by the Kremlin leader that he rarely speaks his name.

The documentary explains how Navalny has been jailed multiple times, repeatedly placed under violence. It shows harrowing footage, including Navalny lying on a stretcher after the fateful poison attack before he was initially admitted to a Moscow hospital.

A team of hired killers

The family then arranged for Navalny to be taken to Berlin’s Charité hospital, where he was put into an induced coma. When he awakens and is told that he has been poisoned by the nerve agent Novichok, he laughs and says that already the Kremlin could not be that stupid.

The film discloses how Navalny and his team discovered the plot to have him killed

Daniel Roher and his cameraman are present when Navalny and his family move to the Black Forest in southern Germany, where he slowly recovers from the attack and comes into contact with Bulgarian journalist Christo Grozev from data journalism organization “Bellingcat.” Using purchased data, Grozev shows him that he was not alone on his journey to Siberia, where the poisoning took place, but that at the same time a special commando of the Russian secret service, a “secret killer team of the FSB,” was on his heels.

More suspenseful than a fictional thriller

The documentary is as thrilling as any fictional story. Posing as a Kremlin subordinate, Navalny calls a chemist and gets him to explain why the assassination attempt failed, thereby uncovering a Kremlin plot to murder him. consequently the team uncovers the Kremlin’s plan and Putin’s lies — he has always denied hiring contract killers to go after his competitor.

Feeling he needs to continue his fight with Putin on Russian soil, Navalny returns to his homeland in January 2021.

At the airport, he is arrested and taken away while the world watches.

Almost closest, he was taken to court on what have been called trumped up charges — likely the Kremlin’s attempt to keep the now larger-than-life star out of the public eye.

In March 2022, his two-and-a-half-year sentence in a maximum security penal colony was extended for another nine years. He was ruled to be responsible for “large-extent fraud” and “contempt of court.”

Navalny returned to Russia in January 2021 and was arrested

In his films, director Daniel Roher aims to tell powerful stories that reach a worldwide audience. He attained acclaim in 2019 with his music documentary “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band.” In it, he tells the story of the musicians who attained recognition as Bob Dylan’s backing group before taking on the name The Band.

Festival success

“Navalny” was shown at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where it won the documentary audience award and the festival favorite award.

It opens DOK.fest Munich film festival on May 4 and is released in German theaters one day later.

The film is not only about the unwavering courage and optimism of Alexei Navalny, but also about the brutal mechanisms of the Putin system, which became apparent long before Russia waged war on Ukraine.


This article was originally written in German.

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