Everything can be justified in war – “Voyna” [2002 Russia]

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Aleksey Balabanov looks at the Chechen conflict through the eyes of a liberal-but-nationalistic Russian in his war-time drama, “Voyna” [Eng. Title: War]. But I somehow also get the feeling that he’s mocking us Brits in the process.

The film pulls no punches in critiquing war, by emphasising the unfairness of it all, and showing how it is the innocents – those caught in the crossfire, that suffer the most. It is a realistic depiction of their despair, helplessness, and suffering, caused through random acts of violence committed by both sides.

A British couple – John and Margaret (played by Ian Kelly and Ingeborga Dapkunaite respectively), are taken hostage along with young Russian soldier Ivan (Aleksey Chadov) by a brutal Chechen commander Aslan (Giorgi Gurgulia). Ivan is set free not only because he’d been useful to Aslan, but also because no one’s willing to trade him for a ransom, and kidnapping is after all a business like most others – you don’t stock things that no one wants to buy. John is allowed to leave so that he could travel back to England and find the necessary money for fiancée Margaret’s release. Most of the action takes place upon John’s return to Russia, and his journey to the war zone with Ivan.

Ivan’s Rambo-like heroics take the film dangerously close to Hollywood-territory, but is saved due to its intermittent return to reality. Ivan is also the film’s narrator, disclosing events at a military tribunal, after being accused of killing Russian citizens – the people who died during his rescue of Margaret and a wounded Russian captain. The film could have been an excellent satire had the characters not been taken so seriously. But the intense drama, with its impressively grim outlook and gruesome depictions of brutality from both sides, unfortunately looses some credibility, in going out of its way to create a sorry British stereotype in John – as one whose only motive is driven by selfishness, not nearly concerned about the conflict, and confining his conscience to merely criticising the violence. One would expect John, whose character is a Shakespearean actor touring and performing in Georgia, to have a broader view of the world, considering that that country too had tense relations with Russia prior to the Chechen conflict.

Despite this flaw, it is a gripping drama with good performances from Aleksey Chadov and Ian Kelly who play Ivan and John respectively. The film can also be seen as a coming-of-age of drama, during which Ivan the lad becomes a ‘true’ man. For those who enjoy action packed films with a touch of drama thrown in, this one is Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Ingeborga Dapkunaite and Viktoriya Smirnova
The slender actress Ingeborga Dapkunaite plays Margaret and appears nude on a couple of occasions – first when her Chechen captors ‘allow her the luxury of a bath’ in a raging torrent. The second scene is when she is rescued by John and Ivan – she’s discovered clinging to the wounded Russian captain that she’d fallen in love with. John goes berserk after finding her in an emaciated state amidst subhuman conditions, with tell-tale signs of extreme sexual abuse. There is also brief nudity from a cute Viktoriya Smirnova, who plays Ivan’s friend-in-bed.

Ingeborga Dapkunaite and Viktoriya Smirnova nude in Voyna

Brief scenes of nudity from Ingeborga Dapkunaite and Viktoriya Smirnova in Aleksey Balabanov’s Chechen war-time drama, “Voyna”.



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