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Wednesday, 2 October, 2002, 11:47 GMT 12:47 UK
Billionaire's tale is Russian hit
Boris Berezovsky
Boris Berezovsky is now living in London

A Russian expat invites a director and an actor round to his London flat to watch a film.

Nothing too unusual about that, perhaps.

But the film - recently released in Russia as Oligarch - is the director's own, and stars the actor playing a role inspired by the evening's host, exiled multi-billionaire Boris Berezovsky.

Oligarch is loosely based on the infamous life of Mr Berezovsky, a mathematician-turned-powerbroker who fled to London amid corruption charges in Russia.

Despite his immense unpopularity in Russia, the film broke box office records on its release last month, raking in almost 400,000 in its first week.

Vladimir Mashkov
Mashkov hopes the film will give him Hollywood success
Mr Berezovsky says he told his guests exactly what he told BBC News Online.

"As a work of art I think it is primitive. But I appreciate the effort to understand people like me," he said.

"It is the first attempt in recent Russian cinema to understand the motivations of those at the peak of power, who drive reforms and make changes rather than cope with them."

Levers of power

Oligarchs were the group of powerful Russians who gained massive influence in the unseemly scramble for wealth and power during the 1990s.

The film is based on a book about those times written by a businessman close to Mr Berezovsky.

Screen oligarch Platon Makovsky is played by Vladimir Mashkov, a heart-throb currently seeking success in Hollywood.

By contrast, Mr Berezovsky is 56 and balding.

But just like his real-life counterpart, Makovsky moves from mathematics into business, makes a fortune in the automobile industry, and ends up wrestling with the Kremlin for the levers of power.

The film depicts a life of opulence
In one scene, Makovsky says: "If we can't win over the Kremlin we'll build our own."

Rather predictably given the film's relatively sympathetic portrait of a widely despised figure, Mr Berezovsky welcomed the film's initial success in Russia.

"If people can learn to like a character like Platon then it is good for Russia," he said.

"Platon has the desire to be free, the will to fight for freedom."

Substitute "Boris" for "Platon" and you'll recognise the film struck a biographical nerve.

New Russians

Mr Berezovksy, who is wanted in Russia on charges ranging from corruption to car theft, has been waging a campaign from London against President Vladimir Putin, who he claims is building an increasingly authoritarian state in Russia.

But his controversial business dealings mean he is usually perceived in Russia as a corrupt money-grabber rather than a freedom fighter.

The film will be released in the West as New Russians, and many of the scenes reflect the opulence associated with that term.

At a no-expense-spared birthday party thrown in the grounds of his country palace, Makovsky arrives on an elephant and is given Miss Universe as a present.

Oligarch poster
Oligarch has smashed box office records
Director Pavel Loungine says the film is an attempt to understand recent Russian history through the rise - and fall - of the oligarchs.

"An oligarch has the power to change not only their personal life but laws and the nature of the state," he told BBC News Online from Paris.

"But they have also paid for their position. And we have all paid in some sense over the last 15 years. Our attitude to love, friendship, money - everything was turned upside down."

There must have been a few arguments that evening at Boris's place.

The director claimed that the era of the oligarchs was finished.

"They became dinosaurs in front of our eyes. That epoch has passed," said the film-maker.

"I can't agree with that," the businessman responded.

"It has only just begun."

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05 Mar 99 | Europe
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