Friday, August 12

A Russian taboo: film explores the death of a common soldier in Syria | Films

A new Russian film tackles one of the country’s great taboos: the role of Russian mercenaries in hot spots around the world and the toll this takes on the families of often-unknown soldiers who die in combat.

“Mom, I’m Home,” produced by Alexander Rodnyansky, who is well known to the critically acclaimed and Oscar-nominated Leviathan and Loveless, tells the story of a mother searching for her son after he was told he was killed. while fighting for a private military company in Syria.

The film, based in Nalchik, a city in southern Russia, follows Tonya, a local bus driver who begins a grueling battle with authorities, demanding answers about her son’s role in a war that officials say. they don’t know anything.

“A story about a mother’s anger, pain and despair over the death of her child is universal and recognizable to audiences around the world,” said Vladimir Bitokov, the film’s director. “We wanted to show that fight in the context of the largely taboo subject of Russian mercenaries.”

Hundreds of Russian mercenaries are believed having died while fighting in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011.

Bitokov said the film’s script was inspired by a series of reports from relatives of mercenaries searching for their loved ones. “We read everything we could about this and used real life stories as details,” he added.

Various outlets, including The Guardian, have written about how Russian soldiers have reportedly fought in Syria as part of the private military company Wagner Group, a shadow group linked to the Kremlin.

Kseniya Rappoport as Tonya in Mama, I'm Home.
Kseniya Rappoport as Tonya in Mama, I’m Home. Photography: Wild Bunch

Wagner allegedly also sent mercenaries to Ukraine, Libya and other African countries where Russia has a strategic interest.

The United States says the Wagner Group is run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s Chef” for his catering businesses that organized dinners for the Kremlin.

Prigozhin denies all ties to Wagner and the Russian state claims that it uses mercenaries to promote its interests abroad. Private military companies are officially banned in Russia, while the semi-legal framework under which mercenaries operate means that relatives of the deceased often hear conflicting information about their loved ones and sometimes it takes weeks for their bodies to be returned home.

The film first premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September and has acquired an international distributor, although its release in Russia has not yet been scheduled.

Rodnyansky said the goal of the film was not to do “an in-depth study of mercenaries,” but to show how the industry can lead to strong personal drama.

“The story would not have worked if we showed the death of a regular Russian army soldier in Syria because the authorities would have been forced to help the mother; he would be his responsibility, ”Rodnyansky said.

“Everyone knows that there are mercenary groups, they are an open secret. However, they are not recognized, which leaves our heroine fighting on her own. “

Despite reports of hundreds of mercenaries abroad, much of the inner workings, as well as the geographical scope, of Russian private military companies remains secret.

Former and current mercenary soldiers rarely give interviews and relatives of the deceased, like Tonya in the film, usually receive around £ 60,000 and are told not to contact the media. Russian journalists reporting on private military companies are frequently threatened. harassed or defendant. In 2018, three Russian journalists were ambushed and killed in the Central African Republic while investigating Wagner’s activities in the country.

Rodnyansky said he never hesitated to support the new image. “Most of the films I’ve worked on provoke discussions and tend to become polarized. That’s what good movies should do. “

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