Tovarisch, I Am Not Dead (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner30/04/2008

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 83 mins

Interesting documentary that tells a captivating story, though the central mystery of Urban's life goes frustratingly unresolved.

What's it all about?
Tovarisch, I Am Not Dead tells the remarkable story of filmmaker Stuart Urban's father, Garri Urban, a Polish-born doctor who survived both the Holocaust and Stalin's Gulag before eventually escaping to England. However, when he wrote his autobiography (also called "Tovarisch, I Am Not Dead", after a line Urban uttered after being shot), doubts were expressed as to its veracity, so, after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Stuart Urban accompanies his father (with a camera) to Moscow with the aim of retrieving his KGB file.

What they find on their journey is both moving and remarkable, from the revelation that Urban is still on an official wanted list, to an emotional reunion with his former fiancee, Noka, after fifty years and finally to the partial suppression of his KGB file because the full details, an officer tells Stuart, "would make your hair stand on end". Over a decade later, after Urban's death, Stuart still feels that there are unanswered questions, so he sets out to retrace his journey.

The Good
Stuart Urban has assembled a large amount of material, from footage and old photographs to revealing interviews with Garri's brother and ex-fiancee - thankfully, Garri was a bit of a home movie fanatic back in the day, so we're able to get an idea of what a charismatic and larger-than-life figure he was as a young man. The anecdotes that surround his colourful life are truly breath-taking, although the brother also turns out to have a story that is just as shocking.

The Bad
Unfortunately, there are huge gaps in the story, as if Urban put down the camera in 1991 and didn't pick it up again until 2004. Similarly, the full story remains tantalisingly untold and it's frustrating to realise that Garri himself wanted it that way.

Worth seeing?
In short, Tovarisch, I Am Not Dead is an intriguing and frequently moving documentary that is fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. Worth seeing.

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Content updated: 13/12/2017 12:58

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