Citizen K (Alex Gibney 2019) UK and USA

Reviewed by T Romaine – Viewed at AFI Film Festival.

Citizen K Poster

Citizen K is a well made documentary, from the master storyteller Alex Gibney. It is a parable to Citizen Kane (Orson Welles 1941) with Mikhail Khodorkovsky as the charismatic tycoon who ends up in exile with his riches. The film’s co-star is Vladimir Putin, which is illuminating and frightening in these political times.

Somehow Khodorkovsky becomes the underdog of this story. He is an unabashed Russian oligarch who gets rich from corruption and steals from the citizens who are suffering and desperate. He said that he grew up poor. That might explain how cold and calculated he is getting to the top. Early on in the film, there is a remarkable shot of a tv tower in the center of two monolithic, austere Communist buildings. This is both foreshadowing that Khodorkovsky will get his greatest power from controlling the media, and also a symbol of Khodorkovsky isolated between forces that will later crush him, Putin and the oligarchs who want to keep power.

In this story, Khodorkovsky was vilified in Russia as the enemy during his trial and imprisonment but later became a folk hero for Russians who want to democratize Russia. Putin made a strategic move to free Khodorkovsky from prison ahead of the Sochi Olympics and exiled him to England. Khodorkovsky said that Putin believed that exile was preferred over martyrdom. The film has extensive historical footage, in depth interviews and stunning arial shots in Russia. This will instantly be in the canon of most important and relevant documentaries of all time.

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