"Thieves by law", written/directed by Alexander Gentelev
Is documentary as good as the access a filmmaker is able to obtain? In most cases yes although I’ve seen a number of boring films with great access to their subjects. “Thieves by law” succeeds bringing to us three real Russian gangsters. Two of them admit their murderous and chilling past, the third, the most famous one, plays an innocent, yet does not particularly bother to hide his amusement with the situation.
Actually just after the screening I was not convinced that the characters were real. It was too much of good stuff from the filmmaking point of view. I thought that perhaps it was all staged. Then I learned that one of the heros (the "innocent" one) is on the FBI most wanted list as the most famous Russian mob figure. OK, it’s a real documentary, showing real gangsters.
Their agreement to appear in the film says volumes about our times. The fact that they openly give interviews and that, after seeing the film, whoever wants to could probably quite easily locate them, even though they are on the Interpol search list, proves that what they do is pretty much sanctioned by the powers that run the show on this planet. Obviously the film is done only by the grace of its heros, as it clearly serves their PRs, personal whims or other objectives.
If it’s true that 20% of the world’s financial trade is mafia based no wonder the guys in the documentary don’t hide their faces, nor do they mind telling stories of killings they committed in the past.
Alexander Gentelev, who has made the documentary, supposedly in the ‘90s survived a bullet because of a thick wand of notes in his breast pocket. Alexander appears briefly on screen. He does look like a guy who can access powerful gangsters, make them talk and walk away alive. Bravo.
The most mysterious is a poker face gangster who having retired from mafia (yeah, right) wants to be a film director. However watching the sequence about his filmmaking plans (which I think includes a real snuff clip) there is a sense that perhaps for the first time in his life, he faces a challenge he may not be ready for.
In a subtly implied inference the film at this point seems to be saying that even a ruthless, smart and powerful gangster most likely will fold trying to make a (good) film. Because it takes more than mastering intimidation, stealing and murdering in cold blood to become a good filmmaker.