Prisoner of the Mountains (Russia)

Based on a Leo Tolstoy short story, Prisoner of the Mountains (Кавказский Пленник) tells a surprisingly heartfelt tale of two Russian soldiers held captive by Chechen “bandits” in the Caucases. Like most Russian films, Prisoner includes the same three elements (vodka, singing, dancing) while showcasing a different part of Russian culture – actually Russia’s since there were/are tensions with the Caucases.


Sasha (Oleg Menshikov) and Vanya (Sergey Bordov Jr.) are captured and held by Abdul-Marat (Jemal Sikharulidze) in order to conduct a trade for his own son being held by the Russian forces. On the surface, Prisoner is an atypical war film, but deep down provides a look into the tensions between Russians and Chechens, as well as the authority-subordinate relationship (Sasha is a sergeant).

The cultural dichotomy of the Caucases versus the Russian villages is a somewhat confusing one during the film, as it resembles time travel more than simple geographical movement. The Chechen village is entirely simplistic with cobblestone streets and houses, as well as the earliest signs of electricity. Meanwhile, the Russian town where Abdul’s son is held has cars roaming the streets, nicer houses and a more modern feel to it. This separation seems to add to the sense of entitlement the Russians have over the Chechen villagers, despite similar cultural practices.

The core of the film is Sasha and Vanya, not only becoming friends, but also befriending certain villagers with whom they are in constant contact, like Dina (Abdul’s daughter) and Hasan (their tongue-less guard). To the seasoned veteran Sasha, these are only temporary to get him through the ordeal before he ultimately will forget about them, but to the wide-eyed Vanya, these are relationships he genuinely enjoys and does not want to ignore if his desired freedom comes. Their dynamic is an interesting one since Vanya, while innocent and naïve, has a colder disposition to the world around him, while Sasha, who knows the terrors of the world, is more inclined to have a laugh with his captors than wallow in self-pity.

As mentioned, the typical Russian movie themes come to light. Soldiers trade their guns for two bottles of vodka, or turn down red wine and state their preference for the elixir of life. There is singing and dancing – of the nationalist and village variety.  The best part about Prisoners, as well as other Russian greats like Irony of Fate (Ирония Судьбы) and Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears (Москва Слезам Не Верит), is the almost classroom-like efficiency they introduce you to Russian culture. There is more to the Russian culture than the Soviet Union and these films are meant to educate, as well as entertain.

With a satisfyingly Russian ending (if you don’t know what that means, read some Dostoevsky, or watch the films above), Prisoner of the Mountains keeps you intrigued and entertained, despite a relatively slow pace. If you have not seen a Russian film before, I would strongly suggest watching the above (or Ivan Vasilievich Menyaet Professiyu) to get an idea of what a Russian film is like and then watch Prisoners. It’s definitely worth it.

No trailer, but here’s Siskel and Ebert. They’re reputable, right?

    • Dlh
    • May 27th, 2012

    Is a good burial all that the characters can expect?

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