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The purpose of this essay will be to look at the film ‘Prisoner of the Mountains’ and try to define whether there is a relationship between nationality, generation and gender. ‘Prisoner of the Mountains’ tells the story of two Russian soldiers whom after an ill fated patrol are captured by Chechen rebels and held hostage. The soldier’s dislike of each other is clear to see from the start with them being of completely different experience and background. Zhilin (played by director Sergei Bodrov’s son) is a naive, raw recruit in contrast to the battle hardened Sascha who can be recognized as the conniving Mitia from ‘Burnt by the Sun’.
However, after being forced to spend time together the two form a strong friendship that helps them through their ordeal.
The film is set against the impressive backdrop of the Caucasus, a region inhabited by varied sized nations and various religions. Although their borders may be blurred by the harsh landscape, each country remains fiercely independent with the inhabitants being strongly patriotic.
We can still see the feeling involved today with the attacks going on in Russia by Chechen rebels. Most famously the theatre and school attacks. However, with their ways of life not having changed for generations, it becomes slightly clearer why they are so opposed to being ruled by a different country. This stubbornness is shown by the looks of disgust when the prisoners enter the village. The Russians in ‘Prisoner of the Mountains’ are seen as invaders and treated as the enemy.
It would have been impossible for the director to make such a film without a strong sense of history and by purposely using actors from the village; it gives it a ‘real life’ feel. Kauffmann rightly highlights that “These are faces that were there before the czars and after, that survived the seventy years of the New Order. Thus, visually, Bodrov underscores his film with history.” (1997, p24) The idea behind the film did not originally come from the director but has been adapted down the years by different authors.
Pushkin first wrote about a captive soldier in his poem but it was more famously told as a short story by Leo Tolstoy one hundred and twenty years previous to the film. Bodrov, who had heard the tale as a child, took the theme from ‘Prisoner of the Caucasus’ (the name of the story) and adapted it to fit in with the current situation in the Chechnya region. However, the original was strongly biased with the author making it patriotic by portraying Russian soldiers as brave and calling the captors “evil smelling”. Bodrov tries to stay impartial throughout ‘Prisoner of the Mountains’ by keeping it balanced, presenting both sides plights however he does not shy away from showing their darker sides.
Examples of this are apparent throughout the film. Sascha swilling back vodka and randomly firing his machine gun into a billet after a disturbance does not exactly endear the viewer towards his character. The same goes for the Chechens. Even though we see the male guard Hassan’s lighter side when he is laughing with the hostages, we also know that he killed his wife’s lover after an affair. After time goes by though, Sascha’s snappy temperament mellows and we begin to warm towards him although the blatant disregard for his own life is confusing at first. His only concern is that if he dies, he wants somebody to look after his child.
The age gap between certain characters seems to have a lot to do with the kind of relationships that they form. We are introduced to a young girl called Dina whose attitude towards the prisoners and interaction with other villagers is way beyond her years. However, although she may seem to be wise, she is still left vulnerable by her age. It’s hard to believe that she is only twelve years old and it is interesting to know that she came from the village that they filmed in (a mountain village called Rechi in Dagestan). Apart from the interaction between the two soldiers, Zhilin’s relationship with Dina is interesting for different reasons.
Kauffmann again says “Every day Dina brings the Russians their rations and is childishly, reticently, fascinated by Vania (Zhilin)…These two are enemies, a fact that is never completely lost.” (1997 p24) However, because of their youth and to some extent their naivety, they seem to connect on the same level. It becomes a little strange though when she talks of no one wanting to marry her due to a lack of dowry and even more strange when Zhilin offers to marry her himself either out of pity or as a loving gesture. It seems to be part of the Chetchnyan culture to marry young.
Gender is also important as to the temperament of the characters. It is stated by Andrew that “In all three tellings, the basic plot situation is men seeking to prove their own manhood by attacking, imprisoning and, if necessary, killing other men.” (No date, p2) One could agree with this as in a mainly male dominated film, the few women involved, for example Zhilin’s mother, are shown in a completely different light. They don’t carry weapons and don’t drink excessively. Once the mother has found out that her son has been taken into captivity, she rushes from her home to the prison where Abdoul Mourat’s son is being held.
Here she believes she will guarantee the release of Zhilin however things don’t go to plan when Mehmet shoots the policeman we know to be his son. Dina is similar, she doesn’t hold the vengefulness that the males show and even when she knows her last brother alive has been killed, she still fetches the keys for the young soldier to open his shackles. The trust between the two innocents is founded early on when she delivers food.
In return he builds a toy bird which as Gillespie and Zhuravkin (1996, p58) suggest, acts as a symbol of freedom. It isn’t just Dina he builds trust with; he also earns respect from her father by fixing his watch not long after being captured. Although Zhilin is dressed up in his camouflage, the audience soon forgives him as he is said to be a poor soldier by Sascha and never manages to fire a shot.
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