Typically, when directors lose out in the Oscar races, they say they're not disappointed even though they really are. But Sergei Bodrov won something much more valuable than a trophy.
"Prisoner of the Mountains," Bodrov's comedy-drama about the war between Russian forces and Chechen rebels, lost this year's Best Foreign Film award to "Kolya." As if by coincidence, the film was shown to several high-ranking Russian officials, including President Boris Yeltsin, last March. Later that spring, Yeltsin signed an agreement that ended the 18-month war in the republic of Chechnya."It sounds like I'm making this up, but people have told me it had a profound effect on (Yeltsin)," Bodrov said during a telephone interview. "I was skeptical at first, but these people seem to know what they're talking about. So I guess I believe them. But it seems very unreal to be talking about a movie ending a war."
The film is based on "Prisoner of the Caucasus," a Leo Tolstoy short story about two soldiers who are captured by a villager who tries to exchange them for his imprisoned son. But where Tolstoy's sentiments were firmly with Russian forces, in particular, the soldiers, Bodrov has portrayed both sides sympathetically.
"No matter which side you fall on in the struggle, the horrors of war are still very universal," said Bodrov, whose film is currently enjoying a limited re-release at the Tower Theater in Salt Lake City. "And the soldiers and villagers are human beings, which seems to get overlooked."
In the film, the prisoners, Vania (Sergei Bodrov Jr.) and Sascha (Oleg Menshikov), and their captor, Abdoul-Mourat (Djemal Sikharulidze), actually find grudging respect for each other - and the younger soldier, Vania, actually becomes friends with the villager and his young daughter, Dina (Susanna Mekhralieva).
"This really is a story about characters and relationships. All of them have to learn to make the most of a bad situation and find that they're not really so different after all," Bodrov said.
For the film, Bodrov decided to downplay the fighting to concentrate on the quiter moments, such as the initial distrust between the more experienced Sascha and the boyish Vania.
"A lot of the film is seen through (Vania's) eyes - how this boy is thrown into a man's world," he said.
Of course, using his own son, who was an unproven actor at the time, for that critical role made the already difficult task of adapting Tolstoy that much harder.
"It was a gamble, but I really couldn't see anyone else playing Vania," he said. "Of course, it kind of backfired because it made him a success. He's got his own TV show now, which is a little too much for me. But what can I do? I'm his father and I'm proud of him."
But the other performers, especially the veteran character actor Menshikov, made things somewhat easier for both men.
Bodrov also credits the simplicity of Tolstoy's story, which was actually written for children by the one-time Russian soldier.
"It's a great story that still works to this day. There's humor, drama, passion, great characters - everything you expect in great literature," he said. "And not only that, but he predicted Russia could never win a battle in the Caucasus mountains, which is still true today."