David Gurevich

... I don't know if Vladimir Khotinenko's Moslem – the MOMA program's main attraction – will play at Kodak; if it does, the irony will be magnified. Does it go with popcorn? Judge for yourselves: a simple country lad named Kolya is taken prisoner in Afghanistan, converts to Islam, and, after seven years of captivity, returns to his home village. His readjustment is anything but peaceful. He prays to the Allah, he refuses to cross himself or to get drunk or steal or fornicate: in short, he is a major thorn in the hide of the villagers, including his own brother, a stone drunk and an ex-con. Even his long-suffering loving mother suggests that perhaps he should leave, for there will be no peace for him here.

The director loads the deck to the full with shots of Yevgeny Mironov's (who plays Kolya) pure Russian features, ovine blue eyes and flaxen hair, under his kaffiyah; of a lonely figure kneeling on a prayer rug in the middle of an oh-so-bucolic Russian meadow; of the mugs of fellow villagers frozen in vodka stupor; of their pseudo-democratic leader carrying wads of dollars in a sleek briefcase. There is nothing complicated about this competently shot piece of social criticism; at least, not until an Afghan war buddy shows up to settle the score for the six soldiers who died while trying to rescue Kolya from captivity. The film is a well-intended clarion call for religious tolerance and moral rebirth, as serious and urgent as an Op-Ed piece. Yet, though this film falls neatly into the tradition of engagé art, the Russian village, with all its mud and misery and vicious gossip, is palpably, breathtakingly real, which gives the film an emotional, if not intellectual, depth. ...