Urban Cinefile
"I wish there'd be more of a science to it, and I wish I had some great, calculating, grand scheme for life; it's just really what comes to you. "  -Actor James Woods on making his choices
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Two Russian soldiers, Gilin Vanya (Sergei Bodrov jr.) and Sacha (Oleg Menshikov) are captured in an ambush by Chechen rebels. Taken to a mountain village, they find themselves as hostages of Abdul-Mourant (Djemal Sikharulidze), an older man who wants to exchange them for his own son who has been captured by the Russians. The two soldiers have to deal with their captivity in the remote mountain village, with Abdul's young daughter Dina (Susanna Mekhralieva) and her uncle Hassan (Alexander), both of whom care for the prisoners.

"A story about two Russian soldiers taken prisoner by Chechen rebels, and held for ransom in a remote village in the mountains - that sounds like macho business, doesn't it? Well, that's the curious thing about The Prisoner of the Mountains. This film is more like a poem or meditation than a story of war and survival, though those threads also run through it. Shot in the breathtaking heights of a tiny village in the Caucasus Mountains, the overwhelming beauty and calm of this setting, with its drop-dead cliffs and ancient, crumbling buildings, give the film a lot of its poetry, along with the quiet, ancient ways of the handful of Muslim villagers. Initially, Sacha and Vania, divided by their age and experience have no understanding or liking for each other, though, being chained together in a primitive hut, they're forced to get to know each other. A friendship grows as these men laugh together and share memories, and they develop personal ties to the handful of villages they see every day. A charming empathy develops between young Vania and Dina, a pre-pubescent local girl who already has a husband chosen for her. The landscape is sprawling, the background is war, but the mood is personal, and the major themes are about the possibility for generous and humane acts even within hostile situations. At the end of The Prisoner of the Mountains, some touches of magical realism chime some high notes to create a very complex harmony. This is indeed a very special film."
Paul Fischer

"Set against a backdrop of austere, spectacular settings, Sergi Bodrovís film leaves an impact that is surprisingly gentle, after travelling a journey of contrasts; gentle yet one of passions and extremes. The themes of war and its futility, hatred and killing are juxtapositioned with those of beauty, laughter and hope. The relationship between the two prisoners evolves from necessity and the resulting bond is beautifully developed; the scenes where they are exercising and dancing with sheer joie de vivre is unexpected and uplifting. There is a certain simplicity about life in the mountains and the philosophy of its inhabitants. The characters we meet each leave an impression. The guard without a tongue; the mother who loves her son; the poignancy of the young daughter Dinaís matter-of-fact approach to life or death. Where did her childhood go? Bodrov weaves a magic loom in a timeless land where the imposing nature of the sheer cliffs, and mountainous rockfaces are contrasted with gushing waterways, peaceful meadows and grazing sheep. A thoughtful film of vivid images, brought vivaciously to life by plaintive flutes and pipes leaving haunting melodies in the air."
Louise Keller

"Itís sobering to contemplate that this film is an updated version of a Leo Tolstoy novel written 150 years ago, describing very much the same sort of situation in a nearby region. On that level, it is a powerful anti-war film, leaving us with that feeling of senseless tragedy that pervades so much of human history: there is always a futile war being fought. What makes this film a special, if melancholy delight, is the view of each character - large or small - as an idiosyncratic, flesh and blood human being, whose motivations we can sometimes understand, sometimes not, with whom we can empathise and then not, who we can embrace and then strangle. Bodrov strives for much more here than anti-war sentiment: he teases out some of the most complex, contradictory elements of human nature and displays them through not one but several kaleidoscopes. The brutally simple emotion of a father wanting his son back alive, the fatalism of people facing death, the extraordinary ease of personal interaction between vastly different people . . . and throughout, a maintained tension that wafts along with the melancholy melodies of folk-derived music. It offers more genuine emotions in an hour and a half than any footy grand final."
Andrew L. Urban

Email this article

Oleg Menshikov and Sergei Bodrov Jr: "...the relationship evolves from necessity..."


CAST: Oleg Menshikov, Sergei Bodrov Jr, Djemal Sikharulidze, Susanna Mekhalieva

DIRECTOR: Sergei Bodrov

PRODUCER: Boris Giller, Sergei Bodrov

SCRIPT: Arif Aliev, Sergei Bodrov, Boris Giler (Based loosely on Leo Tolstoyís Prisoner of the Caucasus)


EDITOR: Olga Grinshpun, Vera Kruglova, Alain Baril

SOUND: Yekaterina Popova-Evans

SET DESIGN: Valery Kostrin

RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes



AWARDS: Cannes 1996 (International Critics Prize and Audience Award); Karlovy Vary (Grand Prix); Nominated for Best Foreign Language, Academy Awards & Golden Globe Awards

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020