Patryk Vega, also known as Besaleel, is one of Poland's biggest filmmakers, best known for movies where the good guys take down criminal gangs and the gangsters who lead them. His most recent effort will be his English language debut, and the gangster he wants to bring down is Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He's calling it an "artistic protest" against the Russian president and his war in Ukraine. Right now, Vega's film is in its conceptual stages, but he has already raised $12 million to begin production. The filmmaker says he wants to help Westerners understand the mind of a man like Putin.
"Americans and even Western Europeans fail to comprehend Putin," he said in a statement. "I am a person stigmatized by communism, as I grew up in communist Poland. At the same time, I have been shaped by the audiovisual culture of Hollywood. For that very reason, I find myself capable of translating the intricacies of Eastern culture into the language of the West."
The script was originally called "The Vor In Law," a Russian mafia term that loosely translates to something like "The Godfather." A concept trailer links Putin to the Russian mob as far back as 1990, when Putin was an international adviser to Anatoly Sobchak, the mayor of Saint Petersburg.
He was also deputy mayor and head of the Committee for Foreign Economic Relations. Putin's position allowed him to issue licenses and contracts to conduct foreign trade inside the Soviet Union. Later investigations found that Putin used his position without authorization in thousands of cases, leading some to agree with the Polish filmmaker that Putin has been corrupt ever since.
Vega's film is pitched as a political thriller and psychological portrait of Putin, which would bring characters from the real world together with cultural figures from Russian and Western art.
"I want the characters of saints and demons in my movie to be perfectly blended into the world of Saint Petersburg's streets [full] of ragged and disheveled people with tormented Russian souls," Vega said.
"Putin" won't be Vega's first foray into political films. In 2019, he released the limited television series "Polityka," which lampooned the right-wing Law and Justice Party in Poland on the eve of national parliamentary elections. The series depicted members of the party engaging in cheating, bribery and other dirty tricks to gain an upper hand.
Before the series was released, he warned Law and Justice Party leader Jarosław Kaczyński to "be very afraid" that the show would be unrelenting in its depiction of Law and Justice members who are "bad, immoral, unpatriotic and capable of all sorts of misdemeanors." Law and Justice won the parliamentary elections anyway and has been the majority party since 2015.
The bulk of Law and Justice's voter base comes from historically Russian-dominated areas of Poland. Since the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the ruling party has been outspoken in its opposition to Russian aggression, and was instrumental in persuading Germany to send advanced Leopard II tanks to Ukraine, putting Patryk Vega and the right-wing party on the same side, at least temporarily.
Vega is one of Poland's most successful filmmakers, earning more than $100 million in box-office revenues. It's safe to say he knows his audience. With the release of "Putin," we'll find out whether he can speak to Western audiences, too.
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