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A chilling tale of justice in Russia

A few months later, Ivlev's wife and children, trying to join him, are detained at the airport until they miss their flight. When their pursuers are unable to contact their bosses for further orders, they get on another plane.

Collins' choice of topic was prescient. Russia's subservient legal system has become a topic of intense interest both in the United States and Europe, and Collins makes it a dark and compelling story.

In a report last summer, Freedom House, a nonprofit organization based in Washington that promotes human rights around the world, described deteriorating legal conditions in Russia.

"Russia's legal system remains under the dark shadow cast by the numerous high profile cases which suggest political and business influence on court cases," the report said. "Politicians and businesses in Russia typically use the law as a means to advance their interests."

As the 2012 presidential election approaches, the authorities are brooking no dissent. On New Year's Eve, police arrested opposition leader Boris Nemtsov as he left a legally sanctioned demonstration.

The judge refused to accept a video of the arrest as evidence and sentenced Nemtsov to 15 days in jail on the testimony of two officers, who said he was disobeying orders.

Georgy Satarov, president of the Indem think tank in Moscow, says the world should only expect the trend to continue.

"The indifferent attitude of the United States to what is going on in Russia contributes to the harsher trend," Satarov said.

Collins made her film as a statement against indifference. She financed it herself, first from her design business, I Pezzi Dipinti, then with the help of executive producer Pilar Crespi. (The ordinary viewer has yet to see it; her distributor is now trying to sell "Vlast" to television with eventual plans for a DVD.)

"It's cynical and dangerous," she said, describing a constitution and judicial system arbitrarily applied, "and we engage with Russia as if that isn't happening."

As her film concludes, the robber baron has become something of a political dissident. Arseny Roginsky, who served four years in labor camps in the 1980s for trying to write honest history, has recalled Khodorkovsky seeking a meeting with him to ask how he could make Russia a better country.

Before Roginsky's own imprisonment, the Soviet authorities told him to get out of the country. He refused to let them strip him of his birthright, and went to prison.

"This is my country," he said of his resistance, repeating himself, as if now for the defiant Khodorkovsky.

"This is my country."

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