Tovarisch, I Am Not Dead
(15) 83 min
Back in 1980, a Polish-born Jewish doctor Garri Urban published an autobiographical account Tovarisch, I Am Not Dead of his remarkable experiences in Eastern Europe during World War Two. Having fled the Nazis, who massacred many members of his own community and family he was sent by the Russian authorities to the Gulag for attempting to cross into Romania. Escaping from imprisonment, he spent years as a fugitive, before eventually crossing over to the West by pretending to be a German prisoner-of-war.
This conventionally structured documentary, directed by Urban’s filmmaking son Stuart, updates the book, focussing on a trip made by Garri and Stuart to the former Soviet Union in 1992. The now 70-something Garri is reunited with a female lover he hasn’t seen or heard from in some 50 years, and he attempts to get hold of his KGB file, which will prove that his wartime adventures really did happen in the way he has claimed.
The film suggests that Garri’s reasons for wanting to make the journey back to the archives are related to his desire to suppress rather than confirm the truth about his past: key evidence from the KGB goes either unreleased or is mysteriously destroyed. Perhaps Stuart could have revealed more of his personal feelings towards a father, who is shown in home-movie and video footage to be charming and domineering, playful and hypercritical of his offspring, but it’s still an absorbing and moving tale.
GFT, Glasgow, Thu 26 & Fri 27 May.