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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Film Opens Chechen War Wounds




For Russian documentary filmmaker Alexander Nevzorov, the Chechen war he witnessed first-hand is proving a difficult habit to kick.


More than a year after the fighting ended, the controversial former television journalist and now nationalist legislator has released "Chistilishche," or "Purgatory," a new feature film that graphically depicts the battle for a Grozny hospital. The film is part of his effort to overcome the horrible effects of the war on his psyche.


"War is the strongest drug," said Nevzorov, 40. "In order to get over the addiction, one should make a film about the war and experience it once again slowly and seriously. I filmed 'Purgatory' and lost interest in fighting."


The film, which premiered on ORT television Monday night, is based on real events that Nevzorov witnessed in Grozny on Jan. 4, 1995. "Purgatory," which follows three documentaries on the war, including one called "Hell," is two hours of nonstop bloodshed and gore, designed to bring war's brutality to life.


"I know that sweet feeling of disgust and hatred for war," Nevzorov said in a foreword to the film. "The film is my chance to let people feel the way I do."


Scenes of atrocities abound in the work, including the crucifixion and decapitation of hostage soldiers. Most of the film's atrocities are committed by the Chechens.


The graphic depictions of violence gave ORT management serious doubts about showing "Purgatory," according to the channel's spokesman Grigory Simanovich.


"We are very careful when it comes to showing footage of blatant violence and erotica," he said, adding that such material can damage the reputation of Russia's most popular family-oriented channel. Other management concerns, he said, included the film's "pro-Russian and, in certain scenes, pro-Chechen zeal."


Nevzorov has run afoul of the censors before. ORT, which used to broadcast his news program "Dni," or "Days," was reprimanded by the Judicial Chamber of Information Disputes for abusing media freedom and stirring ethnic hatred after screening Nevzorov's previous documentaries, which also contained numerous gory scenes.


To avoid a mass negative reaction from viewers of Nevzorov's newest work, the channel broadcast a preview of the film for 10 days before it was aired, with a warning to children and "people with weak nerves."


"Many people in our country don't accept Nevzorov," Simanovich said. "He himself says that he's a sick, pathological man addicted to the war. But if what he's talking about is true, then a man with such a painful sense of reality managed to adequately show the pathology of war."


The plot of "Purgatory" pits Russian Colonel Vitaly Suvorov, charged with defending the hospital, and 100 18-year-old Russian conscripts, whom he bitterly refers to as "[former Defense Minister] Pasha Grachev's present to [former Chechen president] Dzhokhar Dudayev," against a gang of international mercenaries, including Afghan mujahedin, black Americans and female Lithuanian snipers with a penchant for shooting off Russian soldiers' genitals.


The mercenaries are led by Chechen Dukuz Israpilov, a former surgeon at the hospital who says angrily that his mission is to "remove a malicious tumor -- the Russians."


In the middle of the bloody chaos, Suvorov vainly calls for reinforcements as Israpilov, armed with a Japanese police radio, interferes to humiliate him. "What did you learn in the Soviet army, you pig?" he hisses, and orders a young hostage soldier killed in front of the radio so the Russian commander can hear his screams.


In another of the film's gory scenes, Suvorov orders the driver of his one and only tank to "bury" the bodies of dead Russian soldiers. For about 10 minutes, the tracks of the tank mush up lumps of human flesh in the mud of the hospital's courtyard, accompanied by dramatic pseudo-Russian music.


The battle is eventually won by the Russians, but a note at the end of the film tells viewers that the building was seized by Chechens once again. The nightmare goes on.


Many Russian viewers were perturbed and befuddled by the film.


"This is a very unsettling picture. It brings you to a moral dead end," said Tatyana Savinova, 22, who watched the film because she expected it to portray the war in a strikingly different way from any movie she has seen. "It must be a strictly personal view of a man burnt by the war. I understand that exaggerations are aimed to affect certain people in charge, but who is going to assume responsibility for it?"