Where I Watched it: HBo MAX
English Audio Description?: Yes
My third of the five Oscar nominated documentaries, and the first one I actually agree with the nomination. I had no idea what this was. Navalny? I heard people try to pronounce it in their Oscar prediction videos, and I honestly thought everyone was having a stroke. Then, when i actually clicked play, I was like… oh. This guy.
Alexei Navalny stood in opposition to Putin’s regime in Russia, and some smart and enterprising documentarians started following him with cameras, not just getting some interesting thoughts from a would be Nelson Mandela, but also being around to capture all the attempts on his life. Watching Navalny react to his circumstances over the course of the film, you can tell that there is a fire within him, almost like he’s accepted his fate as a martyr in order to further the movement of a true desire for real democracy within Russia. Navalny has the makings of what could be a terrific leader, if the current leader wasn’t trying to kill him.
This reminds me so much of the situation in Venezuela which still has not actually resolved in the way I’m sure Juan Guido would want. Sometimes, even when democracy is on the front steps, it still can’t seem to get through an iron curtain of a door.
There’s a moment in Navalny where he is directly asked about how within the crowds at his rallies, there are Neo Nazi supporters. When pressed on the issue, Navalny doesn’t condemn them outright, which seems shocking, but he seems to suggest that he cannot be out there championing for every Russian to have their say in democracy… except those guys.
It reminded me a little of the big speech at the end of The American President, where Michael Douglas’s President says that sometimes democracy and free speech means letting someone stand and yell at the top of their lungs something that you would spend your whole life defending at the top of yours. It’s not an easy thing to look into a camera and answer that question, but Alexei Navalny seems to understand that the problem isn’t just simply fring radical racists in his country, but rather a system that is set up to give the illusion of democracy, while presenting none of its actual traits, led by a man who would seek to poison and imprison the only man willing to stand against him.
It’s no wonder this documentary won the BAFTA for Documentary Feature already this year. It’s just another notch in an otherwise incredibly strong year for documentaries, the overwhelming majority of which the documentary branch at the Oscars obviously didn’t see.
As far as the audio description, while Alexei is capable of speaking in English, he does not always do so. The primary function within this documentary is to translate the subtitles we cannot see, but also to help capture the footage the filmmakers have acquired. Footage that Putin doesn’t want you to see, and suggests there’s likely far more than just a handful of unhappy residents in his population.
I definitely endorse Navalny. Right now, of the five, it has my vote.
Final Grade: A