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Agnieszka Holland’s “Burning Bush” Raises Not-so-historical Spectre of Russian Occupation

Agnieszka Holland's "Burning Bush" Raises Not-so-historical Spectre of Russian Occupation

It wasn’t so long ago that Russian tanks were rolling through Eastern Europe and subjugating their neighboring country’s peoples. Oh, wait: that was just a couple months ago in Ukraine. But Agnieszka Holland’s wonderfully engaging miniseries,”Burning Bush” (opening theatrically at New York’s Film Forum today), set in Prague 1969, takes this historical moment to create a sensitive and resonant account of Russian totalitarianism that should now feel all too familiar. 

From my review in the Utne Reader this month: 

Five months after Russian tanks invaded
Czechoslovakia, a student named Jan Palach set himself on fire to protest the
occupation. Burning Burn tells the suspenseful tale of what followed. A sprawling account, shrouded in
fear, paranoia and moral ambiguity, the film follows several individuals affected
by Palach’s act of resistance: his grief-stricken mother and brother; their
shrewd female lawyer and her husband; the student activists who support him;
the investigating police who want to prevent further acts of immolation and
unrest; and a Communist party member who exploits Palach’s death. 

And they are
all, as one character says, “stuck between mill stones.” Originally produced as
a three-part miniseries for HBO Europe, this first-rate political drama is like
a great novel, both emotionally and intellectually satisfying, and filled with
an array of complex characters caught within the throes of a tumultuous history.

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