Welcome to Chechnya(HBO)
Directed by David France
Rating: ****(4 stars)
For a two-hour documentary as stark brutal and uncompromising as Welcome to Chechnya the inherent deception in the presentation is jarring. But here’s the thing: what you see in this harrowing harangue on homophobia is not the reality. The characters have all been given new faces digitally, a kind of nod to Face/Off that would probably make the stricken hounded gay characters roll their eyes in rare amusement.
Rare, because they have little to smile about. Being gay is definitely being happy in Chechnya.
Be warned. Welcome to Chechnya does not make pleasant viewing. Blurred video images of helpless men and women being kicked to the ground will sicken you. So if you are looking for lockdown comfort, look elsewhere, This is a harsh, unforgiving look at the wages of homophobia in a small Muslim country in the Russian federation where homosexuals are hounded, brutally tortured and often killed.
This is the story of an activist organization which takes upon itself the thankless job of sneaking out scores of gay-lesbian folks from Chechnya. A task that sounds like pages of script from Argo but is actually far more dangerous. Because here the fate of the escapees is pre-determined.
The Chehnyan leader, a bigoted bloodthirsty despot, denies the genocide of the gay community. Just as a certain toothbrush-mustachioed bastard had denied the genocide of the Jews a century ago. History repeats itself in brutal ways. Though I must say the persecuted community, in this case, is luckier than many of the marginalized oppressed communities in the world. At least the homosexuals of Chechnya could dream of a better life. They have hope. Some backward communities in third-world countries have nothing.
Though this hardhitting powerful documentary brings to us the untold stories and unshed tears of a brutalized fraternity I am afraid it doesn’t go far enough in probing how far brutality destroys humanity and humanism. We get first-person accounts of Maxim who flees the torture in his country and is later joined by his partner and his family. The process of rehabilitation and healing struck me as being cursory. I wanted to know more about how deeply the victims of state violence were wounded. But the camera seems in too much hurry to bother to hold still on individual anguish.
There is too much work to be done. There are deadlines to be beaten. Flights to be caught before the brutal regime catches up.One such fugitive is the lesbian Ananya who was given a choice by her uncle. Either she has sex with him or he tells her father she is gay. Ananya chooses neither. At least she has choices created by people who still have a conscience. Thank God for the merciful. Especially those with cameras in their hands if not halo around their heads.