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  • Writer's pictureFabioIMPoppi

"Captain Volkogonov Escaped"

"Remember this: They insist that they are innocent, because they really are... innocent. The people we interrogate aren’t really terrorists, spies, or saboteurs. But there is a reason why they end up here, with us. Because they are all unreliable elements. For many reasons. Some have questionable backgrounds. Others had their relatives repressed. They disowned them, but still hold a grudge. Some are actually Polish. Or German. Which means a soon-to-be spy. Some of them just don’t love the Motherland. Yes, there are people like that. They just don’t, and that’s that. It’s incredible how many of these unreliables there are. It’s...very dangerous. You know the times we’re living in. The country is surrounded by enemies, war is inevitable. How will these unreliable elements behave when it starts? Yes, they’re innocent right now. But they will be guilty later on. We can’t just sit and wait for that to happen. For them to turn into traitors, spies, terrorists, saboteurs...It will be too late. That is why we lock them up and execute them. Today. Now. Beforehand. It’s called 'preventative action against potential enemies'. That is the work you and I are doing."

This chilling rationale sets the philosophical tone for Natasha Merkulova and Aleksey Chupov's "Captain Volkogonov Escaped," set in Stalinist Russia in 1938. The film follows Captain Volkogonov, a loyal enforcer of state terror, who becomes a fugitive seeking redemption after being accused of crimes.

The opening scene, set in an ornate palace ballroom with an immense chandelier, features young, shaven-headed men playing volleyball. The game degenerates into roughhousing and wrestling, showcasing the raw aggression that defines their masculinity. This scene juxtaposes the decaying grandeur of old Russia with the brutality of its revolutionary heirs, highlighting a society where power is maintained through violence, mirroring the oppressive environment that shapes Volkogonov’s existence.

Volkogonov’s transition from feared interrogator to fugitive embodies the film's exploration of the thin line between hunter and hunted. His loyalty to the state crumbles as he becomes a target of the very system he served, underscoring the precarious nature of power. This transformation is poignantly depicted when Volkogonov flees upon noticing his comrades being summoned for “re-evaluation,” a euphemism for their impending doom. His flight marks the beginning of his quest for redemption, driven by a vision in which he must seek forgiveness from his victims to avoid damnation.

The philosophical core, revealed in the preemptive rationale of the opening quote, exposes a regime that punishes potential future threats in the present. This dystopian logic fosters fear and suspicion, where innocence is transient and guilt is preordained. The regime justifies its brutality as safeguarding the future, reflecting deep moral corruption.

Volkogonov’s quest for redemption, driven by fear of eternal damnation, introduces a spiritual dimension. However, his motives are selfish, driven by fear of damnation. This complex portrayal prevents the film from descending into simplistic moralism, presenting Volkogonov as a flawed individual grappling with his guilt and mortality. His journey is marked by failures as he encounters the sullen rage and madness of his victims’ loved ones, highlighting the futility and complexity of seeking true forgiveness in a corrupted system.

The non-linear narrative structure mirrors Volkogonov’s fractured psyche and the chaotic world he inhabits. This approach, while enriching the film’s psychological depth, can make it a demanding watch. The blending of action sequences with introspective moments creates a dynamic yet heavy atmosphere, reflecting the oppressive weight of the historical and personal themes.

Ultimately, "Captain Volkogonov Escaped" critiques the moral bankruptcy of a regime that sacrifices individual lives for illusory collective security. Through Volkogonov’s journey, the film challenges viewers to confront the unsettling reality of a world where innocence is fleeting and redemption is tainted by self-interest. The visceral cinematography, anachronistic costuming, and propulsive score enhance this dark tale, underscoring the superficiality of physical fitness and aggression in totalitarian societies while leaving Volkogonov's internal evolution somewhat underdeveloped.

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