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The Far Country

Prisoner of the Mountains
Mountain Men: Sergei Bodrov Jr. (left) and Oleg Menshikov bide their time in captivity at the hands of rebel herdsmen.

Captives and captors forge a close bond in 'Prisoner of the Mountains'

By Richard von Busack

THE RUSSIANS were fighting Muslims in the hills long before Chechenya, long enough ago that Tolstoy once wrote a novella about it. Director Sergei Bodrov has updated the "Prisoner of the Caucasus" into Prisoner of the Mountains, a beautiful little movie about a wartime incident, high in the mountains dry with summer.

A Russian assault vehicle is ambushed, and two soldiers are captured. Sacha (Oleg Menshikov) is the older man; Vania (Sergei Bodrov Jr., son of the director) is the newer, callower trooper. The two are kept chained in the basement of a house by a herdsman who wants to exchange them for his son, who was earlier captured by the Russians.

Sacha, out of boredom, delights in scaring Vania, telling him that the locals like to castrate prisoners. The village is so small and the mountains so vast that the sympathy that grows between captor and captives changes the fate of these soldiers.

They're not nice Russians, though. Sacha admits that it wasn't patriotism that drew him into the army: "I was stupid, I needed money and I loved guns." And the villagers retaliate for an escape attempt by making Vania stay chained in a sewage trench.

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with Russian director Sergei Bodrov.

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Menshikov was memorable as the KGB serpent in Burnt by the Sun, and he's one of those actors who proves how round the world is. Menshikov looks and acts more like Kevin Kline than Kline looks and acts like himself. Both actors can stew in their own juices without trying to splatter you.

Prisoner of the Mountains was shot in the small village of Rechi in Dagestan. It is an extremely remote place. The buildings and interiors--especially of a small cafe that would strain to hold a dozen men--are decorated with simplicity and handsomeness.

Bodrov should also be commended for finding the beauty, gravity and sweetness of a nonprofessional actress who plays Dina (Susanna Mekhralieva) daughter of the Russians' captor. Dina, who is about to be married, and who develops a chaste crush on Vania, is perhaps 12. She's cool and proper with the new rights of being a woman, in a land where woman are practically of a different race from men. Looking over a soon-to-be-executed soldier, she tells him, sympathetically, that maybe he'll find a bride in heaven.

Bodrov's POW movie has the invigorating humor of the best films on the subject. In my favorite ironic moment, the prisoners tune in a radio that delights them with a song appropriate to their plight: Louis Armstrong singing "Let My People Go."


Prisoner of the Mountains (Unrated; 99 min.), directed by Sergei Bodrov, written by Arif Alier, Sergei Bodrov and Boris Giller, based on the novella by Leo Tolstoy, photographed by Pavel Lebeshev and starring Oleg Menshikov, Sergei Bodrov Jr. and Susanna Mekhralieva.

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From the February 6-12, 1997 issue of Metro

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