Shadow of Berezovsky Cast Upon Big Screen
By Kevin OFlynn
He fled Russia two years ago amid allegations of corruption, but billionaire businessman Boris Berezovsky will return Thursday -- at least in spirit -- when a multimillion-dollar movie, loosely based on his life, opens at cinemas across Moscow.
Instead of starring a balding, middle-aged businessman, however, "The Oligarch" will feature heartthrob Vladimir Mashkov -- once described as the "reigning Russian lover with Gypsy eyes" -- as the fictional Platon Makovsky, who, like Berezovsky, starts out as a mathematician before metamorphosing into a successful, and ruthless, businessman.
The much-hyped movie, a joint Russian-French production that will be released as "New Russian" in the West, is based on the book "Bolshaya Paika," or "The Big Slice," by Yuly Dubov, director of Berezovskys LogoVAZ auto company.
Pavel Lounguine, the director of the movie, said Makovsky should not be seen as a screen version of Berezovsky, 56, although he admits that the character was inspired by the exiled tycoon.
Widely demonized as corrupt money-grabbers, the oligarchs are cast by the movie in a fairly sympathetic light.
"Its about how a cultured, intelligent academic becomes a businessman and what happens to his soul," Lounguine said in a telephone interview, comparing the movie to "The Godfather" and "Citizen Kane."
"Hes nice and not so nice," said the Russian-born director, who lives in France. "Hes cultured, intelligent and passionate, and he destroys everything thats around him."
Lounguines comparison to Francis Ford Coppolas Oscar-winning movie might not sit too comfortably with Berezovsky, who once sued Forbes magazine for calling him "the godfather of the Kremlin." In addition, a book titled "Godfather of the Kremlin: Boris Berezovsky and the Looting of Russia," by Paul Khlebnikov, describes how Berezovsky siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars out of Russia.
Berezovsky has been linked by prosecutors to an investigation into embezzlement at Aeroflot, and he has been accused of funding Chechen rebels. Neither Chechens nor Aeroflot appear in the movie, however.
"The Oligarch" opens with a missile attack on Makovskys car -- echoing a car-bombing in 1994 in which Berezovsky himself was badly injured and his driver killed -- and goes on to look back at how he became an oligarch.
In the movie, Makovsky abandons science in the late 1980s to sell brooms and jeans, eventually building a huge business empire.
When he is not wheeling and dealing, Makovsky lives the kind of opulent life indelibly associated with rich New Russians. At a birthday party, for example, he rides an elephant, conducts an orchestra and is presented with Miss Russia as a gift. Berezovsky is also shown jetting around the world in a private airplane, buying a French chateau and sending his son to private school in England. It is only when he encounters corrupt Kremlin officials that his career comes to a tragic end.
"Its an attempt to understand history," Lounguine said, adding that the era of people like Berezovsky is now gone.
"The epoch of the oligarchs is finished," he said. "Its like in the beginning of the world -- they were like dinosaurs roaming Russia, big and terrible."
The movies favorable portrayal of oligarchs has led many people to accuse Berezovsky of funding the film himself in an attempt to persuade the public that the criminal charges against him are politically motivated.
The exiled tycoon certainly needs to work on his PR: An opinion poll earlier this year found that only 0.2 percent of Russians trust him, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Berezovsky denies that he financed the movies $5.5 million budget, although part of the film was filmed in the offices of LogoVAZ, at his request, and a number of real-life LogoVAZ officials even appear in it.
All the same, Berezovsky did not seem too happy with the movie in a revealing interview this week with Afisha, saying that acclaimed Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky was more his cup of tea -- in particular his masterpiece "Zerkalo," or "The Mirror." Another complaint he made about the movie was more down to earth.
"Do you know whats completely wrong in the film?" Berezovsky told the magazine. "They dont screw right -- I believe that, in this matter, a master [of the screen] cant mess up."
It is unlikely to be the last people hear of Berezovsky. The businessman, a self-confessed "fantastic egoist," complains of how not even half his life is covered in Dubovs book and that all the interesting things that have happened to him occur after the movies storyline ends in the mid-1990s.
"Dubov told me he stopped [the book] in 1994," said Berezovsky, perhaps pitching for a sequel. "And the most interesting things happened after 1994 ... the 1995 election of [former President Boris] Yeltsin, 1996 privatization, 1997 -- Chechnya, 1998 -- CIS, 1999 -- the Duma elections, the election of [President Vladimir] Putin and the bashing of [former Prime Minister Yevgeny] Primakov around the head using [Moscow Mayor Yury] Luzhkov."
Last week, Berezovsky was charged in absentia with car theft, along with his former LogoVAZ partner Badri Patarkatsishvili. In "The Oligarch," Patarkatsishvili, who is currently an adviser to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, is said to be the prototype for the character of Lari, a close partner of Makovskys