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Monday
Mar032008

Tycoon

For many among us, outlaws will always be heroes.  Not only because most people do not benefit from laws, regardless of the society in which these laws were created, but also because most people during their lifetime do not become fantastically rich, famous, or infamous.  There is little glamour to the quiet, average (and often very good) life which many brave souls are content to pass but which few find inspiring.  Throughout history we have hailed renegades, from Simon Magus to Robin Hood to Jesse James, to the gangsters and goons worshiped by current generations, as the triumph of the simple man over the elite, the rebellion of the downtrodden that halted the unending reign of supremely divine tyrants.  Yet there is nothing bold or revolutionary about the luxurious wealth or hedonistic pursuits which this outlaw eventually flaunts.  Once power has been attained, you will never find a more bourgeois, money-grubbing, rule-oriented manager, since now the laws protect him from, well, other potential revolutionaries.  He is self–serving to the point of justifying his actions by claiming he alone was strong enough to stand up to the authorities and bring them to their knees.  And he will use every legal stipulation and wile to keep his property and influence from the hungry masses whom he invariably shuns.  Since the last twenty years in Russia have seen the mercurial rise of more than one such individual it may be a fine time, on the occasion of the Russian elections, to review this film.
 
The film is based on a novel by Yuri Dubov, who was once the confidant of this billionaire in exile and public enemy of the Russian government denounced as having robbed his fellow citizens blind, deaf, and dumb.*  Whether such thievery actually occurred is less important than whether this life, romanticized as it surely must have been for the screen, could possibly provoke any aesthetic interest in us whatsoever.  The answer is yes, but not for the reasons one might think.  In this version, Berezovsky is given the first name of a philosopher, Platon (Vladimir Mashkov, above) and a last name that is almost that of a rather tremendous but troubled artist, Makovsky.  A little research would tell you that this shift in nomenclature, while elegant, is also not coincidental: in 2004 Berezovsky officially changed his name to Platon Elenin (again a letter shy of a poet’s name).  And all this shifting and guising has much to do with the subject matter, a traditional game of oneupmanship during the years in which the smart exploited what the law neglected, and found a way to circumvent the few stipulations it did contain.  So perhaps we should not be surprised that the novelty of unlimited capitalistic profit in post–glasnost Russia did not yield a new way of spinning an old greedy tale of young (and old) greedy men and the women who love them.  And in the same way, each action by Platon and his gang of cronies, a harmless bunch of smart but ostracized men, is given added weight by the revolution around them.  

The fictional Platon is a master of disguise, mood, and manipulation, as would be, we surmise, anyone moving in such dark and dangerous circles.  He emerges from this maelstrom in one piece due in no small part to his charisma, played up fabulously by Mashkov, a handsome and talented actor who exudes what one reviewer calls “reptilian charm” (there is no better description).  Detailing the plot might dissuade you from seeing the film, so I’ll just say that events do not unravel chronologically and, despite some half-hearted attempts, Platon’s love life remains secondary to his financial profile.  Nevertheless, the political implications of his rise to prominence and its rather minor subplots are not nearly as interesting as Platon’s own maneuvering, inevitable betrayal, and apotheosis – a story which, in the end, should sound extremely familiar.  Are the characters three-dimensional?  No, and for a very good reason: although one-man shows sometimes feature guest performers, these sidekicks only get billing far from the center and in very small print.  Tycoon is a upsized, occasionally preposterous tribute to one and only one of those magnates; everyone else is only important insofar as they help him achieve his goal.  
  

Unfortunately, nothing co-opts the spry and creative mind more than monetary success.  Even the wildest of imaginations considers, at least for a few moments, the life of material wealth and the ease and comfort such a life brings.  There is nothing wrong with ambition, nor with money per se; but when the goal of life and work and all your hours and minutes becomes a relentless hunt after greater and greater fortune, perspective on life’s best offerings is soon lost.  What Platon’s perspective is on the matter may be hard to say, because one gets the distinct impression that he really thinks of himself as some kind of artist.  And what you think of this tycoon, an oligarch in the original Russian, may reflect what you think of the new Russian revolution.  But then you may think of other riches – a live filled with goodness, love, laughter, curiosity, learning, and selflessness – and smile.  And you may gladly cede those outlaw desires to the Platon Makovskys and Charles Foster Kanes of the world.

* Note: Berezovsky ostensibly took his own life on March 23, 2013.

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