Alexei Navalny: The Real Story

We are happy to have this opportunity to speak with Colonel Jacques Baud about Alexei Navalny, a man touted in the West as a “hero.” Colonel Baud sets the record straight.

The Postil (TP): Now that an Oscar has gone to the documentary Navalny, and given your own excellent book (The Navalny Case: Conspiracy to Serve Foreign Policy), which rigorously undermines everything that this documentary presents as the “truth,” please help us understand, and get beyond, this “mystique” of Alexei Navalny. What is it about Alexei Navalny that appeals to the West?

Jacques Baud (JB): Like other characters picked by the West (like Juan Guaido in Venezuela or Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in Belarus), he gives the image of a new, good looking, younger, more dynamic leadership. He is very present on social networks, where he has the vast majority of his audience. He therefore speaks to a young audience (mainly 15-30 years old) which is very influential and sensitive to Western propaganda on social networks. Like his Venezuelan and Belarusian counterparts, he has no real experience of politics.

A more demanding audience sees this as a disadvantage, but for a younger audience, they have not been “compromised” in the political system.
In Russia, he is relatively unknown outside the big cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg. Generally speaking, the Russian public is more demanding than the Western public and more traditional in its preferences. This is why it appeals to a public that is not very politically active. In the West, we have a totally wrong perception of its importance on the domestic political scene. As with Juan Guaido, the West overestimates the popular support for this marginal opposition.

For the United States, the advantage of selecting challengers who are unknown to the general public is that it is easier to create myths. We have today in the West, especially in the 15-30 age group, individuals who have very little general culture, no real-life experience, not the slightest bit of knowledge about foreign cultures and who see the world through Instagram. Especially in the United States, when you see how any influencer can trigger collective hysteria, you see that it is not difficult to create heroes artificially.

The Western media present him as the “leader” of the opposition in Russia. However, even the fact checkers of the very Atlanticist French newspaper Libération, recognized that he is simply the most visible opponent. He is part of the so-called “off-system” opposition, composed of small groups often located at the extremes of the political spectrum that are too small to form parties.

In 2010, on recommendation of Garry Kasparov, Navalny was invited to the United States to attend the Yale World Fellows Program. This is a 15-week non-degree training program at Yale University, offered to foreign nationals, identified by US neocons as “future leaders” in their respective countries. It is his only credential and his only real “accomplishment.”
In Russia, Navalny advocates for the rights of small shareholders in large companies. He created an Anti-Corruption Fund (FBK), which won him sympathy in the West, but also a lot of mistrust in Russia. For his accusations against Russian personalities seem to be more driven by politics than by facts. In 2014, he was convicted of libel against Duma deputy Alexei Lisovenko. In 2016, the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Swiss Confederation dropped a complaint improperly filed by Alexei Navalny against Artyom Chaika, son of Yuri Chaika the Prosecutor General of Russia. (In 2020, Yuri Chaika, Prosecutor General of Russia was removed from office by Vladimir Putin, for suspicions of corruption, without apparent ties to his son’s case). In 2017, the Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, filed a complaint against Navalny for defamation and won. In 2018, Navalny lost a defamation suit against businessman Mikhail Prokhorov.

TP: How well-connected is Navalny to Western power-brokers?

JB: Navalny and his organization are largely supported financially by former Russian tycoons, such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Besides this, the Navalny affair is part of a US-led influence scheme that combines resources from NATO’s Center of Excellence on Strategic Communication, the UK Integrity Initiative (II), the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and others, such as Conspiracy Watch in France.

The II was created in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian crisis, and in November 2018, the British government confirmed that it was funding it. It is run under the aegis of the British Foreign Office (FCO), responsible for the Secret Intelligence Service (MI-6) and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in charge of cyberwarfare, associated with this initiative. It is funded by the British Ministry of Defense and Army, the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense and NATO, and aims to combat Russian disinformation in Europe. The II uses the BBC and Reuters to promote an “official” narrative, while the II is built around private intelligence and IT marketing networks, agencies such as Bellingcat, and relies on national “clusters” made up of correspondents in each participating country.
The NED was created in 1983 in order to take over some of the CIA’s tasks, so that the latter could concentrate on more ” robust ” activities. It is an NGO (or, more accurately, a “quasi-NGO”) funded mainly by the US government and Congress. Shortly after its creation, The New York Times described it as follows:

On its website, the NED does not specify who receives its funding, but a 2006 US embassy cable from Moscow indicates that it funds Navalny’s Democratic Alternative movement. An analysis of the projects financed by the agency suggests that Navalny and his associates receive about $1.8 million per year.

Furthermore, on October 9th, 2020, John Brennan, former director of the CIA, tweeted:

Imagine the prospects for world peace, prosperity and security if Joe Biden were President of the United States and Alexei Navalny were President of Russia. We’re almost halfway there …

In short: “We are working on it!”

Without going into all the details here, Navalny as a politician is of no interest to anyone, neither in the West nor in Russia. I don’t even think that the United States seriously believes that he could be an alternative to Vladimir Putin. In reality, he’s just a small cog in a larger project to subvert Russia. Let me remind you that the objective of the United States is the disintegration (officially: decolonization) of Russia. The Navalny affair is symptomatic of a great country (the United States) that has become incapable of rising higher than its main competitors and has been reduced to seeking to destroy those who seek to surpass it. In fact, Navalny is the symbol of the United States’ weakness.

TP: He has a long history of criminality, is a convicted felon, and is serving time. What political faction, if any, does Navalny represent in the Russian political scene?

JB: Politically, his image is not very bright. In 2007, he was expelled from the center-right party “Yabloko” because of his regular participation in the ultra-nationalist “Russian March” and his “nationalist activities” with racist tendencies. He is an activist for ultra-nationalist causes. At that time, he shot a video where he mimes shooting Chechen migrants in Russia is eloquent. In October 2013, he supported and encouraged the race riots in Biryulyovo, castigating the “hordes of legal and illegal immigrants.” In 2017, the progressive American media outlet Salon, claims that “if he were American, liberals would hate Navalny far more than they hate Trump or Steve Bannon.” In 2017, the left-wing American media outlet Jacobin, even referred to him as the “Russian Trump.” In fact, as the American Foreign Policy Magazine of the American University of Princeton noted in December 2018, he emerged thanks to far-right groups, and his ideas make him more akin to what is called “populist” in the West. I suggest you watch this excellent interview with two Russian left-wing activists by Aaron Maté of The Grayzone, which illustrates the gap between reality and what our media is saying about Navalny.

Approval rate of Vladimir Putin

Figure 1 – Vladimir Putin’s popularity rating has remained relatively stable since February 2022. An inflection was observed after the withdrawal of Russian-speaking forces from the Kharkov region in September. Generally speaking, the Russian population supports his government’s actions.

Of course, our media suggest that there was “a first Navalny” and that he has since changed. Thus, in February 2021, in a TV program devoted to Navalny, a Swiss journalist claimed that “from his ultra-nationalist beginnings and his anti-migrant declarations, there is almost nothing left in Navalny.” This is pure disinformation. In April 2017, Navalny told the British newspaper The Guardian that he had not changed his mind. In October 2020, a journalist from the German magazine Der Spiegel asked him, “A party had expelled you because of your participation in a Russian nationalist march in Moscow. Have your views now changed?” Navalny replied: “I have the same views as when I entered politics.”

In order to better demonize Vladimir Putin, the West claims that he is a nostalgic of the USSR and maintains a confusion between today’s Russia and the USSR of the Cold War. This confusion makes it possible to hide the fact that the main opposition to Vladimir Putin (even if moderate) is the Communist Party. Moreover, I remind you here that the USSR included Ukraine and that the Soviet leaders who committed the most crimes (such as Josef Stalin, Leon Trotsky, Moisei Uritsky, Genrikh Yagoda or Lavrentiy Beria), were neither of Russian nor Orthodox culture.

Attempts are being made to portray Navalny as the victim of the Russian “regime” because of his beliefs and his political influence. The French media RFI suggests that he has been banned from running in the 2018 presidential election for political reasons. This is incorrect. In fact, the reasons are legal, exactly as practiced in other countries: Navalny was then serving a probation sentence in connection with the Yves Rocher affair.
Navalny began his career as an entrepreneur in the 2000s. Following a common practice in Boris Yeltsin’s Russia between 1990 and 2000, he bought up companies in order to privatize their profits (an illegal practice that led to Vladimir Putin’s fight against certain oligarchs, who ended up taking refuge in Great Britain or Israel). In the first case (Kirovles), Navalny received a 5-year suspended prison sentence.

But the most “controversial” case is the one involving the French cosmetics house Yves Rocher. It’s a relatively complex affair, with a tangle of companies and accounts, some of them offshore. The best description of the case can be found in the Yves Rocher press release and on Wikipedia (in Russian!) In short, it’s a case of embezzlement through abuse of an official position, pitting the Russian state against Oleg Navalny. In 2008, Oleg Navalny, Alexei’s brother, was a manager at the Russian Post Office’s automated sorting center in Podolsk. To facilitate the delivery of Yves Rocher products to the sorting center, he pressed the French company to use the services of a private logistics company: Glavpodpiska (GPA), which belongs to the Navalny family. There is clearly a conflict of interest and a situation of corruption, which has led to an official investigation. It is important to note here that Oleg Navalny is the main defendant, while Alexei Navalny is “only” an accomplice. This is why Oleg has been sentenced to 3 and a half years’ imprisonment and Navalny to 3 and a half years’ suspended sentence.

Oleg and Alexei Navalny appealed this decision to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), arguing that the sentence was politically motivated. Contrary to what some Western media claim, the ECHR did not invalidate this judgment, as it did not judge the substance of the case, but its form. On 17 October 2017, the ECHR issued its verdict, partially upholding the two brothers on certain points of law and concluding that the Russian justice system should pay them compensation. However, it rejected the allegation that their conviction was politically motivated (paragraph 89).

In fact, after Navalny was charged in the case against the French firm “Yves Rocher,” he was placed under probation, under the terms of which he had to report twice a month to the Russian corrections authority, until the end of his probationary period (December 30, 2020).

Navalny’s failure to comply with this obligation led to his arrest in early 2021. He had already broken this rule 6 times in 2020 (twice in January, once in February, March, July and August), but the Russian authorities had then shown leniency. As the Swiss TV correspondent in Moscow observes, Navalny “has never been sentenced to prison, unlike many other opponents.” So, despite his many offences, and contrary to what is claimed in the West, Navalny has benefited from unusual leniency. So much so, in fact, that some (conspiracy theorists) in Russia believe he is being used by the Kremlin to weaken the main opposition parties.

In order to claim that the revocation of his suspension is politically motivated, some say that Navalny was physically unable to fulfill his obligations. France 24 declared that he was unable to do so “because he was simply hospitalized in Germany.” France 5 explained that “he was in a coma,” and Swiss television (RTS) that “he was convalescing in Germany after his poisoning.” These are simply lies.

In fact, his obligation to report was suspended by the Russian authorities for the duration of his hospitalization at the Charité in Berlin. The Charité hospital doctors’ report, published on December 22, 2020, confirmed that he had been discharged from hospital on September 23, 2020 and that his symptoms had disappeared on October 12, 2020.

On December 28, the Russian prison authorities sent Navalny a warning (copied to his lawyer and press officer) to report for duty, but he ignored it.

In fact, since September, Navalny has been involved in the final editing phase of his film on Putin’s Palace. That’s why he won’t be returning to Russia until the end of January 2021. The Russian penitentiary authorities could hardly have disregarded this new offence of almost 3 months and revoked his suspended sentence. Navalny no doubt hoped to benefit once again from the authorities’ leniency; but with the broadcasting of his film, and his calls for sanctions against Russia, this was probably naive on his part… Because under these circumstances, even if the Russian authorities had wanted to show – once again – leniency towards him, this would have been incomprehensible to Russian public opinion.

TP: The documentary presents him as a serious threat to Putin. Is there something that these documentary filmmakers know which leads them to this conclusion?

JB: No, Aleksey Navalny is neither the main, nor the most important, nor the most dangerous opponent in Russia, he’s simply the most visible. He has only marginal significance in Russian politics.

Navalny has adopted the concept of “smart voting” or “tactical voting” in order to attract votes from the extremes of both the right and the left – which are not sufficiently numerous separately to field candidates in the elections. The principle of Navalny’s “smart voting” is to give your ballot to anyone but a member of the United Russia Party (Vladimir Putin’s party). It therefore works on a logic that is not based on preference, but on hatred…
The opposition associated with him is far from democratic and unified. It gathers disparate factions of the non-parliamentary opposition ranging from the extreme right to the former Stalinist communist party.

It comprises individuals who are opposed to the system, but who have neither a common vision nor a program for the future of the country. It is also a young opposition, which is informed by social networks and is relatively unstable. It is therefore essentially an opposition that seeks to overthrow Vladimir Putin without being able to provide an alternative. This explains why this heterogeneous opposition has only a very minor support in Russia. Navalny’s electoral strategy shows that he has no plans for Russia, and that the aim here is not to seek the best for Russia, but to destabilize the current government. This is why the West supports Navalny.

In fact, the Western narrative tends to suggest that the Russian population’s choice is limited to Vladimir Putin and Aleksey Navalny. This situation is very similar to what was observed in France during the presidential elections of 2017 and 2022: Emmanuel Macron was facing Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the extreme right. Then the choice of the voters was very simple: they picked the one they hated the least. In the case of Russia, the problem is even simpler, because Vladimir Putin’s popularity is considerably higher than Macron’s, while Navalny is almost unknown.

Thus, the only effect of promoting Navalny is to diminish the importance of the systemic opposition, the only one able to counter Putin. So I think Vladimir Putin should thank the Western propaganda media for weakening his opposition!

Navalny’s popularity in Russia peaked in 2020-2021, after his alleged poisoning and the movie on Putin’s alleged palace. But looking at the number of protesters across Russia at this point, one has to admit that the support to Navalny is marginal.

Navalny approbation rate

Figure 2 – Navalny’s approval rate 2013-2023. His alleged poisoning and the issue of the movie on “Putin’s Palace” helped to make Navalny better known to the Russian public. Today, Navalny remains politically insignificant. (Data: Levada Center)

Number of protesters across Russia on January 23, 2021

Figure 3 – Number of protesters in the demonstrations in favor of Navalny, after his arrest in January 2021, as his popularity was at the highest. These figures were compiled by the independent Russian media ZNAK. If compared to the millions of protesters in France in 2018-2019 and in early 2023 (not to mention the number of casualties!), demonstrations in Russia are anecdotal. (Source:

TP: Then, there is the well-known incident of Navalny’s “poisoning.” Could you shed some light on this?

JB: On August 20, 2020, during his flight from Tomsk to Moscow, Alexei Navalny is taken by violent stomach pains. The flight is diverted to Omsk so that he can be hospitalized urgently. At this stage, no analysis or indication allows to determine the exact nature of Navalny’s ailment, but his spokeswoman claims that he was deliberately poisoned. Rumors on social networks about a bad combination of alcohol and drugs are quickly dismissed as “defamatory” by our media. They readily prefer – without any evidence – a more fanciful version: a poisoning with “Novitchok” ordered by Putin.

As soon as Mr. Navalny arrived at the hospital in Omsk, Russian doctors diagnosed a metabolic disorder. About ten minutes after his arrival at the hospital, they administered atropine, in order to avoid complications in case of intubation, as explained by the Russian opposition media Meduza. The problem is that since atropine is a product also used as an antidote for nerve agent poisoning, some conspiracy theorists have deduced that the doctors “knew” that he had been poisoned with Novichok, an extremely dangerous nerve agent that was allegedly used against ex-agent Sergei Skripal, in 2018.

But if this had been the case, the medical staff in Omsk would have received him with proper protective equipment! On Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Dr Aleksandr Sabayev explained that the doctors quickly realized that it was a metabolic problem and administered atropine at a much lower dose than that used in cases of poisoning.

In fact, we know what Russian doctors found in Navalny’s blood and urine, thanks to a photo of a document published by the Russian opposition website Meduza. Since no signs of nerve agent were found, our media simply did not report it!

On December 12, The Times of London, followed by the New York Post and DW, claimed that the Kremlin had attempted a second poisoning of Navalny in the Omsk hospital before he left for Germany, accusing Russian doctors of “complicity.” These media are simply liars and invent a conspiracy theory. In fact, the report of the German Charité Hospital, published in The Lancet on December 22, reveals that Navalny had a German doctor by his side in Omsk, 31 hours after the onset of his symptoms – that is, as early as Friday, August 21 – and that by the time he was transported to Germany “his condition had improved slightly.” Thus, according to the German doctors, their Russian colleagues not only stabilized Navalny, but their treatment was effective. So Navalny’s relatives and our media lied (once again).

There is little evidence to assess the relevance of the Western accusations of 2018 and 2020. The analyses carried out by the German, French and Swedish military laboratories in September 2020 remain classified and have not been published nor shared with Russia, despite its requests. As it stands, therefore, we have only the scientific results published by the doctors who treated Navalny in Omsk and Berlin, the declassified version of the OPCW report and – to a certain extent – the government’s answers of 19 November 2020 and 15 February 2021 to questions from German parliamentarians.

The analyses of the military laboratories suggest in vague terms the presence of Novitchok (but their content is unverifiable). The observations of civilian doctors tend to contradict their conclusions, while the government’s answers seem much less categorical than the media and hide behind military secrecy when the facts seem to contradict the declarations.
On August 24, the Charité hospital declared in a press release that the clinical analyses “indicate intoxication by a substance of the cholinesterase inhibitor group.” However, the doctors in Omsk had not detected any. So: conspiracy? No, not necessarily. As the opposition media Meduza says, the German doctors were looking for evidence of poisoning, while the Russian doctors were looking for the cause of Navalny’s illness. Since they were not looking for the same thing, their results were different, but not inconsistent.

In October 2020, the Swedes released the results of their analyses, noting that “The presence of [REDACTED] has been confirmed in the patient’s blood.” The name of the substance is blacked out, so we don’t know what it is. But we can assume that if it were Novichok (as Western countries expected), there would be no reason to conceal it. On January 14, 2021, the Swedish government refused explicitly to declassify this result in order “not to harm relations between Sweden and a foreign power,” without specifying whether it was Germany or the United States. So, we don’t know what’s going on, but we do know that Sweden is a country where honor is a fiction subject to political interest: already in the Julian Assange affair, the Swedish government had literally “fabricated” the rape accusations against him, according to Nils Melzer, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.

On December 22, 2020, the analyses of Navalny’s fluids published by the Lancet as an appendix to the Charité doctors’ report is one of the few documents available containing scientific data. They allow us to draw a number of conclusions. For example, the presence of cholinesterase inhibitors could simply be explained by the antidepressants Navalny took himself, most likely in combination with alcohol. This would explain why his symptoms are totally different from those of Sergei and Yulya Skripal in 2018, who are claimed to have been victims of the same poison. It should be noted that neither the Skripals’ nor Navalny’s symptoms are consistent with neurotoxic poisoning.

Furthermore, the German doctors’ documents reveal that when the French, Swedish and OPCW took their samples – 15 days after Navalny’s arrival in Germany – his cholinesterase levels were close to normal.

At this stage, these French, Swedish and OPCW laboratories were only able to detect “cholinesterase inhibitors,” but not the substances found at La Charité, such as lithium or drugs, which were thought to have caused them to appear. In the absence of published results, we don’t know exactly what they found, but it’s likely that having no other explanation for the presence of these inhibitors, they were led to conclude that it was Novitchok.

By keeping their results secret, these laboratories had probably not anticipated that the German doctors would publish the results of their analyses. Thanks to the latter, the hypothesis that Navalny was the victim of accidental poisoning appears more likely than deliberate poisoning.
Navalny must obviously have known this, just as he must have known that these results were going to be published; and it was probably to disqualify their conclusions that, the day before the Lancet article was published, Navalny staged his telephone conversation with an “FSB agent.”

TP: Is Navalny yet another “anti-Putin” tool of the West? Or is the documentary simply capitalizing on the emotionalism surrounding the war in Ukraine?

NB: In fact, since the early 1990s, the central tenet of American strategy has been to maintain its supremacy on the international stage. This is the Wolfowitz Doctrine. Until the early 2000s, the United States had the advantage of having as an adversary a Russia rebuilding after the fall of communism, and a China that did not yet have the economic importance it has today.

The Bush administration’s withdrawal from disarmament agreements in 2002 created mistrust in Russia. This explains why President Putin is seeking to assert his country’s position and its right to security. This led to Vladimir Putin’s speech in Munich in 2007, which the United States took as a declaration of war.

This situation has led the United States to adopt a destabilization strategy that includes support for non-systemic opposition.

The American strategy against Russia is very comprehensive and includes a wide spectrum of means. It is described in detail in a set of two documents drawn up by the RAND Corporation, the Pentagon’s main think tank: Extending Russia: Competing from Advantageous Ground and Overextending and Unbalancing Russia. The war in Ukraine is the most visible since February 2022, but there are also the tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Transnistrian region, the destabilization of Syria, etc. The support for Navalny is part of this overall strategy.

The paradox is that Russia got involved in Ukraine to protect the people of Donbass, which is a very popular cause in Russia. The same goes for Crimea, which was an autonomous entity just before Ukraine became independent in December 1991. Moreover, Vladimir Putin’s popularity, already very high, has been further boosted by the terrorist attacks carried out in Russia by Ukraine and supported by all Western countries.

So, Navalny is part of a comprehensive effort to discredit and ultimately to isolate Russia on the international stage. However, the impact of this campaign on the internal situation in Russia is debatable. The patriotic sense of the Russian population is very high and even Navalny’s partisans tend to support the government. For instance, I noticed that non-systemic opposition websites very often show different views from those of the West. Although there is still a domestic opposition to the Special Military Operation, we can see that it remains very stable and marginal.

TP: Thank you so very much for your time. Any last words?

JB: It’s ironic to see European politicians taking up the cause of Navalny, an extreme right-wing nationalist, who approves of the annexation of Crimea (and declared in the pro-western Moscow Times that he wouldn’t give it back if he came to power ), who has never expressed a concrete project for Russia, who has sought to enrich himself through embezzlement, and who represents none of the values that Europe claims to defend!…

Navalny Documentary Disinformation

How do you make a good propaganda film? How do you expose it before it wins a truth-telling award and embarrasses the prize-givers—before they discover it’s a pseudo-documentary that has been nominated for an “Oscar”—before the white envelopes are opened before millions of people on Oscar night, March 12th?

Of course, the film won, as Americans are easy to deceive, by films as well as by governments.

 “Navalny” is a slick production full of easily-documented fabrications, disinformation, with lots of clever visuals to distract and manipulate viewers. It is about Russian political activist Alexei Navalny, who according to the respected Levada Institute has shown 2% support in Russia. But he and the film have a great deal of backing in Washington and London.

The three people credited as the production’s authors are Canadian Daniel Roher; he admits he has never visited Russia nor speaks Russian. Bulgarian Christo Grozev of Bellingcat; this is an organization openly hostile to Russia which acknowledges financing by governments of the U.S, UK and Europe, including by the National Endowment for Democracy, which took up the CIA’s funding role when that was exposed. In this video, U.S. officials admit its role as a NATO asset. And Russian Maria Pevchikh; she has worked for Navalny’s organization but has lived mostly outside Russia since 2006 and in 2019 obtained a British passport. Here’s a video about her curious connections to the UK government, a job in the UK parliament and insider information that Navalny would then [how did he know it] reveal about Russians accused of corruption. Another Navalny connection to the UK is his associate Vladimir Ashurkov’s role as an asset of the Integrity Initiative, an operation of the British MI6. CNN and Der Spiegel, which have put their names on the findings, acknowledge they joined an investigation by the group Bellingcat. This challenges the film’s credibility as an independent production.

The film’s hero, Alexei Navalny, has strong Washington ties. Navalny was a 2009-2010 fellow of the Open Society Foundations financed by George Soros, which supported a network of opposition NGOs in Russia before being banned in 2015. Then in 2010, he graduated from the Yale World Fellows which was called the White House Fellows under Bill Clinton’s presidency and is now the Yale Greenberg World Fellowship, after the donor, who got naming rights. The first program director of the Yale fellowship was Dan Esty, energy and environmental policy adviser for the 2008 Obama campaign.

Navalny’s Racism

When Navalny returned from the U.S. to Russia he continued the “nationalist” ie. racist anti-migrant activities he had started in 2007, when he was a founder of the National Russian Liberation Movement (NAROD). When NAROD was announced in 2008, it included the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), a far-right, nationalist and racist organization. In addition to opposing illegal immigration, the DPNI targeted Russians from ethnic, religious, and sexual minority backgrounds. It provided assistance to Nazi skinheads implicated in attacks on foreigners, representatives of sexual minorities, anti-fascists and adherents of “non-traditional religions.” In a speech, the founder said, “We will free Europe! Russia will be white!” And “We are the real power, not those who are hiding in this Torah!”

In this video, Navalny compares ethnic minorities to cockroaches, and says that using a swatter or a shoe against them was no good. Note the faces on the left and the garb of the threatening man on the right. The words under the photo say HOMOSAPIENS. And under that BEZPREDELIUS.

A Russian analyst said: The word is a combination of two words: “bez”, which means without and “predel” which means limit. The ending “ius” is added to the word “bezpredel” (“беспредел”) to make it sound like a Latin word. Google translates it as “lawlessness,” but the use comes from criminal jargon and meant actions that were not allowed by the unwritten criminal code of conduct in correctional institutions. In early days the meaning of this word was “actions that go beyond all written and unwritten laws.”

And that is how Navalny describes the men in the photo. The analyst said, “The three people in the photo look very familiar. They are Chechens,” from the Caucuses. Navalny says, “In such cases [dealing with such insects] I recommend a handgun.” See the video on YouTube.

The “new political nationalism,” Navalny said at the time, “should become the core of Russia’s political system.” Such public activities and statements apparently didn’t prevent invitations by the Open Society and Yale.

Navalny’s NAROD stopped operating in 2011, the year the Supreme Court of Russia declared its partner DPNI an extremist organization and banned it. Navalny said NAROD “organizationally failed” but formulated a “very correct platform.” His education about “democracy” in the U.S. apparently didn’t change his racism.

Director Roher says in the film that, “he was known for having flirted with the extreme right.” “Flirted?” It looked like a pretty solid marriage! Roher says he has to ask Navalny about his “early days” when “he walked side by side with some pretty nasty nationalists and racists. Had he moved beyond that? Had he actually become a reverse dark knight?”

Navalny apparently rejects the proffered knighthood. He responds: “Well, in the normal world, in the normal, political system, of course, I would never be within the same political party with them. But we are creating coalition, broader coalition to fight their regime…And I consider it’s my political superpower, I can talk to everyone. Anyway, well, they are citizen of Russian Federation.” Sounds rather mild compared to the enthusiasm of his public statements for NAROD. Roher ran some other videos of Navalny’s past, but somehow missed the cockroach one. Or any details of what the far right was doing to the people they reviled.

(American “liberals” cheering Navalny and the film should see the video. Would they “cancel” him? Or do virulent racists who attack Putin get a pass?)

When Navalny returned to Russia, he also started an anti-corruption campaign, which admittedly was more on Washington’s agenda than the racism. It was endorsed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Navalny allied with exiled oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky; he had been jailed for ten years for documented tax evasion using offshore shell company transfer pricing to launder profits of oil company Yukos, which he obtained through the infamous corrupt loans for shares deal in the Boris Yeltsin years.

However, a few years earlier, Navalny had had his own criminal fraud problem, along with his brother Oleg.

In 2008, when the state-owned Russian Post decided to end collecting parcels from clients’ distribution centers, Oleg Navalny, persuaded several companies to shift to the privately owned Chief Subscription Agency (GPA), not revealing it was a company he, Alexei and their parents had just set up in tax haven Cyprus. Later, Yves Rocher Vostok, part of the French cosmetics firm, sued that they were deprived of free choice and weren’t told GPA was using subcontractors which charged around half as much as they paid GPA and that the Navalny cutout kept the difference as profit. A court gave Alexei a suspended sentence of 3 ½ years and his brother a prison sentence of the same term.

The European Court on Human Rights found, “By all accounts, GPA was set up for profit-making purposes and the applicants thus pursued the same goal as any other founder of a commercial entity.” So, in spite of questionable insider tricks, the European court deemed it no crime, because that is how business is done. But it was still an ethics problem for the “fighter against corruption,” because some people think that making money off such insider dealing is unethical.

Although the plaintiff Yves Rocher was part of a French company, which sued for damages in France, Western media depicted the trial as a sham instigated by President Vladimir Putin and didn’t report the full details of the case. Navalny’s violation of his conviction parole by failing to return to Russia as soon as he had recovered his health in Germany were the grounds for his arrest on January 17, 2021, and his subsequent court sentence to prison, where he remains. U.S. court rules for parole violations would not be different.

Navalny also became a player in America’s Russiagate operation. He published a video in 2018 claiming that Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska acted as a messenger between President Donald Trump’s ex-campaign chief Paul Manafort and a top Kremlin foreign policy official. The Trump-Russia stories have all been proved false, including this one. However, Navalny has not corrected his anti-Trump video. This confirms not only his standard for truthfulness in documentary work, but also what allies he has made in the U.S.

But Washington’s boy was not so popular in Russia. During the Russian regional election campaign of 2020, Navalny was making regular trips out of Moscow to promote his anti-corruption organization. He claimed popular support, though according to the Levada Poll, he was drawing no more than 2% among Russians countrywide – less in the regions, more among the young in Moscow.

On August 20th, winding up a campaign in southeastern Siberia, Navalny got on the regularly scheduled flight from Tomsk to Moscow and fell ill. On the pilot’s decision, the aircraft made an unscheduled landing in Omsk, and Navalny was taken to a city hospital. The emergency ward staff treated his symptoms and stabilized his condition. A medical evacuation aircraft arrived from Germany the next day after Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, received Kremlin permission for his treatment in Germany, and he was flown from Omsk to Berlin August 22, with his wife accompanying him on the flight.

Navalny has had a history of medical conditions known to reflect the sudden reduction in blood sugar and cholinesterase levels – diabetes and allergies leading to anaphylactic shock. This information, which had been reported in Russia and by Navalny sources well before the Tomsk incident, was not make public after his arrival in Germany. Indeed, Pevchikh told the BCC Navalny did not have diabetes. For someone without diabetes, Navalny’s glucose level would have been dangerous. However, according to IntelliNews, published in Berlin, “Navalny said himself that he suffered from diabetes in 2019.”

The earliest claims that Russian intelligence agents had poisoned Navalny were made by CNN, which said they were based on a Bellingcat investigation. The CNN articles, December 14 and 21, 2020, scripted the essence of what the film produced the following year and released in 2022.

The film starts with Navalny returning to Russia after several months in Germany and then goes to flashbacks.

In one of the flashbacks Navalny makes an admission whose honesty is worth noting. He is complaining that he has gone to Novosibirsk in Siberia to make a movie about local corruption. He says, “I expected a lot of people who’d try to prevent our filming, confiscate our cameras or just break our cameras or try to beat us. I expected that sort of things and I was very surprised, like, “Why is nobody here?” “Why is there kind of…” I even have this strange feeling like, like a lack of respect. Like, seriously? I’m here and where is my police?” This is evidence from Navalny himself that he was far less important than he, the western press, and the filmmakers claim he was. It casts doubt from the beginning of the Navalny film that the president of Russia was out to get him and sent hitmen to Tomsk.

But let’s get to the fabrications at the heart of the film. There’s a long section about how Christo Grozev, identified as working for Bellingcat, buys travel and contact data on the Darknet to find the names and phone numbers of Federal Security Service (FSB) agents who had been traveling on planes to Siberia in August of 2020. There is no way to verify that the charts and faces substantiate what Grozev and Bellingcat say they prove, at least not at any standard required in any prosecution service or court in the U.S. In fact, CNN reported December 14, 2020, “CNN cannot confirm with certainty that it was the unit based at Akademika Vargi Street that poisoned Navalny with Novichok on the night of August 19.”

The Great Phone Call Hoax

The real test of the veracity of the film, the “smoking gun” to which everything is leading, is the great telephone call hoax. 

Those who made the film have understood the psychology of manipulating audiences. Slowly you bring them into a secret scam to be played on the bad guys. In this one, it starts with Navalny putting on a body mike. Why? He is not going somewhere to secretly record someone. Only his own team is in the room. The real recording microphone is off camera, where the film audience can’t see it.

But the body mike is a special effect, it’s a dramatist’s stage trick. Click the arrow. Navalny speaks to the camera: “Now I’m totally feel like I’m an undercover agent, with the wired up.” Does the audience know they are the butt of a theatrical joke?

Navalny calls three “FSB” agents. This is a setup for a veracity diversion, a factoid – that’s a seeming truth disguising a fake. We can be sure of this now, because he says to each of them, “I am Navalny; why do you want to kill me?” And the fake people hang up. What is the point of that? It’s to convince the audience of Navalny’s film production that the FSB was being telephoned. The voices are not real, they sound the same – either computer generated or acted by a professional mimic.

But then there’s his pièce de résistance, the interview with “the scientist” whom Grozev tells Navalny to call, because he will be more likely to talk than the regular FSB agents.

Navalny declares (as translated), “Konstantin Borisovich, hello my name is Ustinov Maxim Sergeyevich. I am Nikolay Platonovich’s assistant.” He says, “I need ten minutes of your time …will probably ask you later for a report …but I am now making a report for Nikolay Platonovich … what went wrong with us in Tomsk…why did the Navalny operation fail?”

According to Bellingcat, (the real) Kudryavtsev worked at the Ministry of Defense biological security research center and is a specialist in chemical and biological weapons. Supposedly not so stupid.

The talkative “Konstantin” says, “I would rate the job as well done. We did it just as planned, the way we rehearsed it many times. But when the flight made an emergency landing the situation changed, not in our favor….The medics on the ground acted right away. They injected him with an antidote of some sort. So it seems the dose was underestimated. Our calculations were good, we even applied extra.”

Navalny was questioned by the Berlin Staatsanwaltschaft (District Attorney) on December 17, 2020. Did he tell them about the phone call to Konstantin Kudryavtsev, which allegedly took place on December 14?

The office confirmed the interrogation, but when I sent a link to Navalny’s claims about the December 14th “call” three days earlier, a spokesman said they could not comment further.

There are key clues to the film’s fabrications. They deal with dates and timing which are not subject to dispute: the dangers of Novichok, the date of “Kudryavstev’s” “cleaning” in Omsk, and the date of the phone calls.


First about the “poisoning.”

Yulia Navalnaya says in the film, “After a week I was unexpectedly called to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” As the Navalny group arrived August 22, that would have been about August 29th. “They said we have discovered that your husband was poisoned with an agent from the Novichok group.”

It was not the Charité lab that found this. The German Government announced not one week but two weeks after the group’s arrival that a laboratory of the German Armed Forces had identified a nerve agent from the Novichok group in blood samples collected after the patient’s admission to Charité. Link is to the Lancet report.

Unlike the civilian doctors, who had not found Novichok, the military lab would not release details of its tests. There was no toxicology report, no name of the expert in charge of the testing and of the interpretation of the results, no name and formula of the chemical compound of the “Novichok group.” The Germans refused to send any medical or toxicological evidence they claimed to substantiate the attempted homicide to Moscow prosecutors investigating the crime. From then on, by hearsay and without evidence, the story became the West’s “Putin poisoned Navalny.”

Second, Navalny’s underpants. Navalny, his wife Yulia, his assistant Pevchikh, his press spokesman, others in his group, and the reporters publishing what they were told had been claiming until that moment that the instrument of the Novichok, the poison vector, had been a tea cup at the airport café, then a water bottle in the Tomsk hotel room.

Pevchikh, she repeatedly told the press, had filmed the removal of the hotel room water bottles, taken them secretly to Omsk, then loaded them on the medevac flight to Berlin in the luggage of one of the medevac crew, and delivered them from the German ambulance into the Berlin hospital by hand. But then, after four months had elapsed, the story became underpants.

A CNN clip not in the film claims the poison was put on the underpants “across the seams” at the button flap, but in what form – powder, aerosolized spray, or gel? Was the FSB counting on Navalny not to notice or feel moisture as he dressed?  Was the poison then in direct contact with his body?

On the plane, Navalny fell ill, and the pilot diverted to Omsk, where he was transferred to a hospital. The calculated lethality of the dose should have been fatal after symptom onset. However, the first symptoms appeared only after several hours, and they remained non-lethal for at least one more hour between Navalny going to the toilet cabin on his flight and his reaching Omsk hospital.

The Timing of Kudryavtsev’s Trip and “Cleaning”

CNN declares that “Kudryavtsev” flies from Moscow to Omsk on August 25, five days after the event, to take possession of Navalny’s clothes and “clean” them. It displays a visual of a flight from Moscow. But the FSB would have known of the diversion to Omsk August 20th. Would it have waited five days to send an agent there?

Were the underpants still considered dangerous? Did hospital workers who undressed Navalny get sick? Many people were exposed to Navalny and his deadly underpants, but not one has been reported to have fallen ill. The passengers who attended him in the plane and who flew on to Moscow have not reported medical problems. (For how Novichok affects people, see data from a university research scientist and a Food and Chemical Toxicology paper.)

The film “Kudryavtsev” voice says, “When we arrived [in Omsk], they gave [the underpants] to us, the local Omsk guys brought [them] with the police.” Did any police fall ill?

“Kudryavstev” says, “When we finished working on them everything was clean.” He explains that solutions were applied, “so that there were no traces left on the clothes.” CNN, in its video, has “Kudryavtsev” saying that he also cleaned Navalny’s pants, not mentioned in the film. Navalny is shown in Berlin holding the underpants. Did the Omsk police ship the “decontaminated” item to Germany?

There are more Problems with this Story

There is conflicting information about whether Navalny’s underpants remained in Omsk.

Navalny’s press secretary Kira Yarmysh posted a tweet August 20, 2020 with the text: “Julia took Alexei’s things with her. She said that she did not allow them to be confiscated.” However, The Guardian reported September 21 that Navalny “demanded that Moscow return his clothes.” At any rate, the Charité Hospital said it did not test the water bottles or clothing.

Most important is the date of the phone call.

Ronald Thomas West, who identifies as a U.S. Special Forces veteran working in Europe, writes, with irony:

There is conflicting information about whether Navalny’s underpants remained in Omsk.

Navalny’s press secretary Kira Yarmysh posted a tweet August 20, 2020 with the text: “Julia took Alexei’s things with her. She said that she did not allow them to be confiscated.” However, The Guardian reported September 21 that Navalny “demanded that Moscow return his clothes.” At any rate, the Charité Hospital said it did not test the water bottles or clothing.

Most important is the date of the phone call.

Ronald Thomas West, who identifies as a U.S. Special Forces veteran working in Europe, writes, with irony:

West says, “ The poisoning happened on 20 August, the ‘hoax call’ is made on 14 December, and released by Bellingcat on 21 December. Now, wait a minute. The context of the call, a desperate demand for answers of what went wrong (Navalny didn’t die) for a report to higher up authority, is something you would expect within the first 48 hours, not nearly three months later. By the time this call was made, that dust should have settled and been vacuumed up by Russia’s intelligence services, everyone would have been debriefed by this time, including the target of the hoax call.”

The Trojan Horse

Maya Daisy Hawke, the film’s co-editor, makes an unusual admission on her website. She said “It’s the best thing I ever worked on; the highlight of my career,” and adds, “Navalny was a Trojan horse.” I emailed her and asked what she meant, pointing out that Merriam-Webster defines trojan horse as “someone or something intended to defeat or subvert from within usually by deceptive means.” She walked it back and said, “They were hastily chosen words on a personal social media post.” She declined further comment and told me to contact the film’s publicist. I did. Charlie Olsky of Cineticmedia also declined to answer questions.

The film supports an analysis of the Russian public that is fallacious.

An unidentified woman says, “What to do with Navalny presents a conundrum for the Kremlin, let him go and risk looking weak, or lock him up, knowing it could turn him into a political martyr.” A U.S. broadcast reporter says, “Unexpectedly, Vladimir Putin has a genuine challenger. More than any other opposition figure in Russia, Alexei Navalny gets ordinary people out to protest.”

However, Eric Kraus, a French financial strategist working in Moscow since 1997, explains, “Mr. Navalny was always a minor factor in Russia. He had a hard-core supporter base — Western-aspiring young people in Moscow and St. Petersburg — the ‘Facebook Generation.’ He was never much loved out in the sticks and could never have polled beyond 7% nationwide, even before the war. Ordinary Russians now increasingly see the West as the enemy. Navalny is seen as the agent of forces seeking to break or constrain Russia. Now, he would get closer to 2%.” (Kraus has been cited as an expert by western media.)

Kraus said, “He is the supreme political opportunist. In Moscow, speaking in English to an audience of Western fund managers and journalists, it is the squeaky clean, liberal Navalny. Full of free markets, diversity, and social justice. Hearing him a few months later out in Siberia, speaking in Russian, one encounters an entirely different animal – fiercely nationalistic, angry and somewhat racist – there, his slogan is “kick out the thieves” but especially “Russia for the ethnic Russians,” anyone without Slavic blood, especially immigrants from the Caucuses, are second-class citizens.” NAROD may be gone, but it’s still in Navalny’s heart. Unlike what Roher says, his “current days” seem pretty much like the “early days” of his cockroach film.

Another drama!

Finally, if readers can take any more drama, I ended up in the center of one!

As a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, I was invited to a November 9, 2022 “Navalny” screening by CNN at 30 Hudson Yards in Manhattan. The post-film moderator was Timothy Frye, professor of post-Soviet foreign policy at Columbia University; the speakers were the filmmakers. I recorded them. Frye asked about “the one scene where Navalny is talking and getting the fellow to, you know, tricking him into speaking.”

Filmmaker Roher explained the political purpose: “And then the war started and what I understood was that this film became not just a film but we were now on a mission to remind the world that Vladimir Putin is not Russia and Russia is not Vladimir Putin and is Navalny.”

In the talk-back, I asked a question. “My name is Lucy Komisar, and I’m an investigative journalist. I want to delve more into the Kudryavtsev story. Mr. Navalny was questioned by the prosecutor in Berlin on December 17th. And three days earlier was the phone call with Kudryavtsev. Did he tell the prosecutor about the phone call which I assume they would have to check the authenticity of, and what did they determine about him? He claims on the phone call he examined these things on August 25 …. But on August 20….” (In fact,“Kudryavtsev” didn’t give the August 25th date, Bellingcat did.)

Interruption by Prof. Frye: “This is all on the issue and nobody else. Which is that after we stop in 10 minutes. There will be drinks. Okay, that’s….”

LK: “The point is the press secretary said Alexei’s things were taken by Yulia before that, and she didn’t allow them to be seized. So how could they have been examined by this man after they were already taken away? And finally, the Berlin doctor said they didn’t detect any poisoning in Navalny’s blood, but two weeks later it was the German Armed Forces laboratory that said, yes.

So, all these things I think are contradictory and I would like to know the facts of why these contradictions exist.”

Christo Grozev: “Almost none of this was actually correct and including the sequence of events. I mean this was reactive and FSB officer on screen on recording that I made on my phone confessing to all of that.”

LK: “You said it’s him, but we don’t know it’s him.”

Grozev: “Well, I think the rest of the world knows and now okay. Be nice to know who you work for because….”

LK: “Oh, is this gonna be a [Joe] McCarthy question now?”

And at the end, Prof. Frye: “Well, thank you, Tim, Maria, Christo and Daniel. Thanks also to CNN HBO Max Warner Brothers Pictures … .”

He invited us all to drinks at Milos, a trendy restaurant in the complex. I went to the reception and asked Roher if I could interview him. He screamed at me, Noooo! And accused me of working for the Russians.

Then on the 17th I got an email from Nancy Bodurtha, Council on Foreign Relations Meetings and Membership Vice President. She had received complaints about my “conduct” at the screening. She threatened that I could be dropped from membership.

She said: “I have received numerous complaints concerning your conduct at CFR’s November 9 documentary screening and discussion of Navalny. As stated in the member handbook, CFR is committed to maintaining a civil and respectful environment. All members are expected to exhibit the highest levels of courtesy and respect toward speakers, moderators, staff, guests, and one another. As a nonpartisan organization committed to hosting a wide range of viewpoints and perspectives to be debated and discussed freely, it is essential that the Council foster an inclusive and welcoming environment free from verbal, written, or physical harassment of any kind.

Per the Council’s By-Laws, a member may be dropped or suspended from membership for any conduct that is prejudicial to the best interests, reputation, and proper functioning of the Council. 

Please be advised that further misconduct may result in suspension with the possibility of the termination of your membership as determined by the board of directors.”

I replied:

“Dear Ms. Bodurtha

Regarding “numerous complaints concerning your conduct at CFR’s November 9 documentary screening and discussion of Navalny” which you cite, please send me copies of the complaints, including who sent them. I’m sure you agree that a Council member has the right to specifics on such an attack. If a person seeks anonymity, that raises questions about the truthfulness of their charges.

Did you investigate the complaints? If not, why not? If so, what were your findings?

Do you know what I said at the meeting? Like many journalists, when I ask a question of public figures in a public place, I record the interchange to make sure I can quote correctly.

[Here I repeated the recorded Q&A.]

What part of my question do you find objectionable? What as a journalist did I not have a right to ask? How was this harassment? Does courtesy and civility mean one cannot challenge what a film or speaker says?

Does allowing a wide range of viewpoints end when the challenge is to a view a Council staff member may not support? Were my statements deemed so dangerous that you voice a threat to throw me out of the Council? Who signed off on the decision to send me your notice?

After the film, I attended a reception where I encountered the filmmaker Daniel Roher and asked if I could interview him. In the presence of many people, he screamed at me, No! and said I was working for the Russians. Pretty much what Christo Grozev suggested. This persuades me that the “numerous complaints” came from Roher and his collaborators.

I look forward to you telling me who made the complaints, what they said, if you investigated their truthfulness and what in the above citation you find objectionable.

I don’t like attempts at intimidation. Neither should the Council. Nor would the Board. If I was not intimidated by killer racists in the early 60s, when I spent a year as editor of the Mississippi Free Press, I will hardly be intimidated now.

This persuades me I must write an article about the film and mention the “complaints” and your threat, which I dismiss as part of the cancel culture and deeply harmful to our society. Accordingly, let’s be clear that this exchange is on the record.

Lucy Komisar”

Her response was

“Lucy:  I acknowledge receipt of your response to my email and reiterate the Council’s expectation that members exhibit the highest levels of courtesy and respect toward speakers, moderators, staff, guests, and one another.  Best, Nancy”

Navalny, Bellingcat, and the filmmakers have made a documentary about the FSB creating not a professional hit, but a plan for immeasurable chaos, with high odds of failure and exposure to the public. The only professionalism is the filmmakers’ strike against their targets: the western media, the film’s audience, and maybe voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Linked to by Johnson’s Russia List, ACURA (American Committee on US Russia Accord), Naked Capitalism, Occupy the Future / Alternative Bankingand the Member Wall of the Council on Foreign Relations.

And the winner is…..envelope to the deep state and its asset Bellingcat, with a shout out to Victoria Nuland and her acolyte Antony Blinken, plus the mainstream and soi-disant independent media for turning a blind eye to the film’s fabrications.

This film, feeding Russophobia, primes Americans to support Washington’s proxy war against Russia in Ukraine even with the danger of nuclear annihilation. That golden Oscar should be draped in black.

This article has been attacked by Bellingcat, the US-UK deep state asset. That is an endorsement!

Note new book The Navalny Case: Conspiracy to serve foreign policy by Jacques Baud, colonel of Swiss intelligence in charge of intelligence on the Warsaw Pact countries during the Cold War.

Lucy Komisar is a well-known investigative journalist. This article appears through her kind courtesy, from her website.

Pierre Legendre: The Last “Renaissance Man”

Pierre Legendre (1930-2023) was one of the greatest thinkers that France has produced in modern times. His rich and nuanced thought, which encompassed history, philosophy, film, psychoanalysis, anthropology, and the law, he himself characterized as “dogmatic anthropology.” His passing on March 2, 2023 marked the end of an era in that he was the last “Renaissance man,” one learned in so many fields of knowledge, least of which was his mastery of a beautiful Latin style.

The French philosophy, Pierre Musso, author of Introductions à l’œuvre de Pierre Legendre [Introduction to the Work of Pierre Legendre], published just a few days before the thinker’s death, assesses and comments on the monumental legacy that Legendre has left behind. Professor Musso is in conversation with PHILITT, through whose kind courtesy we bring you this interview.

PHILITT (PL): The silence that followed the death of Pierre Legendre outraged some of his readers. Do you share this indignation? How do you explain the relative indifference of the academic world towards his thought and his work?

Pierre Musso (PM): I am not overly disturbed by the low media profile of Pierre Legendre’s death. Legendre himself did not particularly like the media or academic circles, and avoided them as much as possible. When one sees the tributes that the media pay, especially in the audiovisual sector, to various popular personalities—which Legendre was not—one can legitimately think that it is rather to Legendre’s glory that he was not celebrated in this way. Moreover, Legendre has always been a contrarian, on the fringes of academic and, of course, media institutions.

The real cause of this post-mortem silence, in my opinion, lies in the sheer ignorance of Legendre’s work in these circles, and in particular in France. If his work remains important and widely disseminated, notably his first film, La fabrique de l’homme occidental [The Fashioning of Western Man] (1996), with the text published in the collection of the Mille et une nuits [Thousand and One Nights], it is especially known and recognized abroad. There are already translations in German, in part in Italian, in Japanese, and some in English.

Paradoxically, many thinkers have been inspired by Legendre, often without quoting him. Legendre has been, as he himself said, “plundered” a lot, for a long time, including by intellectual luminaries who do not necessarily refer to Legendre’s work when quoting him. This is the fate of important works. His work spanned some sixty years, from the 1960s to the present. He pursued his work with constancy and on the fringes of institutions and disciplines. And this work is immense. Immense not only by its volume—some forty works, including his ten “Leçons [Lessons],” which contain the essence of his thought—but above all by its originality and complexity. I prefer to call it a cathedral work. In other words, a monument with an architecture of great complexity, but which offers several entrances and where one is free to go and admire this stained-glass window, that work of art in one corner, that text in another.

One of the aspects that explains the difficulty of apprehending Legendre’s thought is that he cannot be put away in a compartment, educed to a discipline. Legendre was not simply a jurist, a psychoanalyst, perhaps a philosopher and probably more an anthropologist. He himself would have gladly called himself “founder of dogmatic anthropology,” which is obviously incomprehensible, even dangerous, for most media.

PL: As you write in the introduction to Introductions à l’œuvre de Pierre Legendre [Introductions to the work of Pierre Legendre], “a scholar at the interface between science and poetry,” Legendre stands out from recent thinkers because of his erudite style and his multidisciplinary analysis that spans two millennia of the history of thought. In your opinion, what is Pierre Legendre’s genius—in the sense of the Latin ingenium?

PM: Legendre’s fundamental intuition is that of symbolic determinism. What is it about? Legendre places at the heart of his thought the question of why? This question was formulated, to put it simply, by a Father of the Church, Isidore of Seville, an encyclopedist of the 6th-7th century, who asked both why live and die? And how to live and die? The question of why is that of meaning; and, beyond meaning, that of the symbolic, knowing that the “speaking animal,” as Legendre calls it, constantly asks itself the question of why, and is aware of this constitutive intrigue of its being, transmitted from generation to generation. The stake, to “institute the human animal,” is to build founding narratives, myths or fictions, which answer this question of the why?

Nowadays, in Western society, the question of why is largely evacuated. Either it takes refuge in traditional religions, or society only responds to the question of how, to the question of norms and technique. We are thus faced with what Legendre calls a “wandering of the symbolic” or a “symbolic disintegration;” that is, a phenomenon of de-symbolization. This means for Legendre that there are several forms of “rationality.” That of the principle of non-contradiction, first of all, the rationality of logic in the Aristotelian sense and a fortiori in the Hegelian sense; that is to say, the constant rise in abstraction in rationality. Legendre borrows from Husserl the term of “surrationality” to characterize the West of today, where Bachelard spoke of “surrationalism,” in reference to surrealism.

The second form of rationality, fundamental, is that of the dream or the myth, where the principle of non-contradiction does not function anymore. This is the beauty of dreams, which explains why we spend half our lives dreaming, whether asleep or awake. This second rationality, just as important as the first one, is occupied by beliefs, myths, religions. This word “religion” did not please Legendre very much. In his last works, in the last ten years, since Lessons IX, he preferred the notion of “fiduciary,” borrowed from Paul Valéry. This term introduces the notion of fides, faith, which structures a civilization from its founding myth, which belongs to the symbolic, a term that could also be discussed at length.

The third form of rationality, which has often been buried in the West but which is very prevalent in many societies, concerns the corporeal. This last one gave place to Pierre Legendre’s works on the dance, La passion d’être un autre [The Passion to be Another (1978)]. If one does not have in mind these various forms of rationality of the speaking animal, one locks oneself, as the West does today at the time of the Techno-Science-Economy, only in the surrationalism or the technical, economic and techno-scientific hyperrationality.

In this respect, the accusation of conservatism made against Legendre does not stand up to analysis. Indeed, symbolic determinism is a reaction to what other currents, for example Marxists, have called “economic determinism” or still others “technical determinism.” Basically, as I write in a provocative way in these Introductions, one could link Legendre to a whole neo-Marxist or neo-Marxian current, a current which, against this formula of economic or technical determinism prevalent in Marx, Engels or Lenin, has valorized, within the Marxian matrix, the question of cultures, of the symbolic and of the imaginary. I am thinking in particular of Gramsci, Cultural Studies, the Frankfurt School (Adorno, Horkheimer). From this point of view, we can make a connection, which I myself sketched out in La Religion industrielle, between Legendre’s contribution and these currents. In any case, to classify Legendre among the conservatives is of little interest.

PL: At what moment and in which work do you situate the birth of “dogmatic anthropology” and the Legendrean project of subjecting the West to a kind of great genealogy or psychoanalysis?

PM: To understand Pierre Legendre’s project, one must first understand the meaning he gives to dogmatic anthropology. Legendre deliberately borrows a word, that of “dogma,” which he describes as “dangerous, sulfurous,” since “dogmatic” is often used to characterize fixed thought. Legendre in fact reinvests the Greek etymology of “dogma” (δόγμα), that is, that which appears and which, in its appearance, is a feint. It is thus a staging, a dramatization of the symbolic which, etymologically too, is the link that separates, according to the image of the dollar bill torn in Western filmss to find itself at the end of a contract. This link that separates refers to the unspeakable and the invisible: God, the Fatherland—one thinks of Kantorowicz’s text on the formula “to die for the Fatherland”—the Republic, Peace, and other beliefs or founding myths of our societies. For example, it seems to me that one of the major myths in the West today is that of scientific progress, established as a myth by positivism in particular. The institutions, their norms and their laws, in a society, are established and founded “in the name” of a symbolic myth, of a founding fiction. Pierre Legendre often quoted in his work this formula from the Middle Ages: Fictio figura veritatis est, i.e., “fiction is the figure of truth.” This aspect is fundamental to Legendre.

The nodal moment in Legendre’s work seems to me to be his thesis, supervised by Gabriel Le Bras and defended in 1957, entitled, “La pénétration du droit romain dans le droit canonique classique : recherche sur le mandat (1140-1254)” [“The Penetration of Roman Law into Classical Canon Law: Research on the Mandate (1140-1254”)]. Legendre was later greatly influenced by historians such as Ernst Kantorowicz or Harold Berman, who showed how the West was built, starting with what Berman called the “Big Bang of Western thought,” namely, the “papal revolution,” i.e., the Gregorian reform. For Legendre, as for Kantorowicz, this rupture of the eleventh and seventeenth centuries is the key moment when Roman law, inherited from the Empire which possessed a powerful normativity without answering the question of why, met Christianity; a kind of faith without law. This encounter was essentially born of the compilation made by the medieval jurist Gratian, an author often cited by Legendre as the founder of Western institutions, in the Decretum Gratiani or Concordia discordantium canonum (1140). This Decree, prolonging the “papal revolution,” maintains that man is governed according to two measures, which, on the level of institutions, will result in the opposition and the hierarchy between the papal authority and the power of the emperor, the spiritual foundation and the normative foundation. It is therefore the meeting of two monuments: the legal block inherited from Roman law and the heritage of Christian spirituality.

The intuition of dogmatic anthropology is really explicit in 1974, with the publication of L’amour du censeur : essai sur l’ordre dogmatique [The Love of the Censor: An Essay on the Dogmatic Order]. The notion of “dogmatic” appears clearly for the first time in the title of the work. With Jouir du pouvoir. Traité de la bureaucratie patriote [The Joy of Power. A Treatise on Patriotic Bureaucracy], these are the two founding texts of Legendre who, until 1982-1985, with the publication of Leçons II. L’empire de la vérité : Introduction aux espaces dogmatiques industriels [Lessons II. The Empire of Truth: An Introduction to Industrial Dogmatic Spaces], gave rise to a dogmatic anthropology. He then extended this reading of the Gregorian reform in the following works, sometimes giving the impression of repeating himself, as Lucien Sfez reproached him for doing when he devoted a long chapter to Legendre’s thought in his Critique de la communication [Critique of Communication]. Legendre repeats himself, in my opinion, because he discovered a fiduciary structure, an invariant throughout history, which he finds, with Kantorowicz and Berman, in the Gregorian reform: the double structure of man governed by the rationality of reason or normativity and that of myth. These two forms of rationality mentioned above were assembled during the Gregorian reform and thus constitute an institutional structure of the West.

Here we enter the second period of Legendre’s work. Indeed, Legendre establishes a junction, notably from Lessons II that led to his film Dominium mundi (2007), between the “Gratian moment,” in the twelfth century, the luminous century of the High Middle Ages, and the hyper-technological rationality of the “managerial revolution” of the twentieth century, named as such in James Burnham’s important book, published during the Second World War: The Managerial Revolution: What is Happening in the World (1941). Legendre notes that management has a relationship to the governance of the world that is faithful to Gratian’s decree but obeys a single measure: efficiency. The why is evacuated at the cost of a de-symbolization: what remains is the how, which Legendre calls the “Gospel of Efficiency,” the dogma of effectiveness that results from the industrialization of the West. His strength is thus to have noticed that from the Gregorian reform came two major institutions of the West: the State based on law, which is at the heart of his reflection, and the Enterprise based on management. His criticism of the disintegration of the State, quite rightly, makes him value management as a new form of rationality in the West.

When Legendre, in this period, tried to think the essence of institutions, he also did so from linguistics, taken up by Lacan. What characterizes the human, the speaking animal, is that he divides words and things. He thus enters, by definition, in the representation and to dissociate himself from the narcissistic image, that is to say from the enclosure, as Lacan underlined it; between oneself and his image, man needs a third party, the Big Other in the Lacanian sense. Any society is structured according to a ternary scheme, which Legendre takes from classical anthropology. But if we leave ternarity to enter a binary structure, as is the case in the contemporary West, where the institution dialogues with rationality alone, the balance of society is threatened. Any society is ternary because the human animal distinguishes words and things by the word. The first symbolic institution is therefore language. Following in Lacan’s footsteps and borrowing from Saussure’s linguistics, Legendre erects the bar that separates the signifier from the signified, a first form of institution of the Third. In the mirror stage of Narcissus, there is also a third term between the subject and his image: the mirror.

Finally, a last period of his work stands out after 2009, in the last fifteen years of his life. This moment of his thought is devoted to the question of the religious. Legendre wanted to produce a film on religion, following his three famous documentaries: La fabrique de l’homme occidental [The Fashioning of Western Man], Miroir d’une nation: l’ENA [Mirror of a Nation: Ecole Nationale d’Administration] and Dominium Mundi: l’Empire du Management [Dominium Mundi: The Empire of Management]. Having run out of time, he left us only one work, Les Hauteurs de l’Eden [The Heights of Eden] (2021). In the texts of this period, he shows a preference for the word “fiduciary,” deeming that the word “religion” is worn out. As he often wrote, one does not know a society that does not have a fiduciary architecture, a staging in aesthetics, music, theatrics, etc.; and this, whatever the society and not only in the West.

This interest in the fiduciary leads him to make one last great discovery, in Leçons IX. L’autre Bible de l’Occident : le monument romano-canonique [Lessons IX: The Other Bible of the West: The Roman-Canonical Monument]: the idea of “Schize” [“split”], according to a term borrowed from Lacan. Just as the Gregorian reform provides the link that separates, the foundation of the symbolic, the Schize designates the moment when, while the juridical block, that is to say the structure of rationality and normativity with which the West is endowed—that of management and law today—remains indestructible, the symbolic enters into complete erosion. The West can substitute a myth for the other, pass from God to the Republic, from the Republic to the Nation, to Progress, etc. At the time of the Schize, the link that separates is separated: separation prevails over religion which, etymologically, designates both the reading (religere) and the link (religare). The knot that held the two aspects, distinguishable during the papal revolution, is broken.

PL: Aware of the de-civilization that is taking place, in the light of the Techno-Science-Economy, in the “managerial West,” Legendre seemed, in his last works, to be definitively leaving a ship that is sinking more and more at each “bifurcation,” according to the term you use in Le religion industrielle. How did the author of l’Avant-dernier des jours [The Penultimate of Days] envision the next decades of the West?

PM: In several places in his work, Legendre criticized the Durkheimian approach to religion. According to Legendre, a great rupture took place from the moment when religion became an individual and subjective choice. Hence his preference for the term fiduciary. Originally, religion designates that which founds and governs the whole society which is held together by this foundation: myths, beliefs etc. Legendre criticized, for example, the existence of a free market of religions, the “to each his own belief,” which has as a consequence that the answer to the why is in the individual sphere. This de-symbolization leads, according to him, to a social disintegration, since the foundation of society, which makes it constitute and transmit itself from generation to generation, comes from the collective answer to the why, which constitutes the identity of the West and the genealogy of each society.

From the moment when religion becomes an individual matter, a free market, contemporary beliefs, in the light of the Techno-Science-Economy, come under hyper-rationalism and technical or techno-scientific hyper-rationality. The “In the name of” has moved towards Progress, Performance and Efficiency. Now, the idea of Progress being, for a while, debated and in the process of disintegration, there remains the technocratic and techno-scientific hyper-rationality. The future of the West, according to Legendre, is the capitalism of the New Age, the technolatry of Silicon Valley, transhumanism; that is to say, the myth of immortality, calling into question all the limits that are at the foundation of the symbolic. Everything that is technically and scientifically possible must be realized—such is the great myth of Silicon Valley. We are entering into a pure positivist functionalism, driven by the mythology of techno-scientific progress. In this respect, for Legendre, the West is heading for disaster. A society that frees itself or abandons the symbolic is condemned to social decay. From this point of view, Legendre is rather pessimistic.

Legendre saw what the West does not want to see of itself, according to his formula, and therefore looked at it from the perspective of foreign cultures, especially those of the South: Japan, Asia and especially Africa, which he visited a lot. There are therefore other civilizations that have not abandoned the why, or that have given it a different content: community and territory in the case of Africa, for example. Through positive globalization, the concert of nations, the West brings to light the values of other civilizations called “of the South.” In this respect, if he feared an “end of the West,” like Spengler or an “end of philosophy” in cybernetics like Heidegger, Legendre emphasized that this decline valorizes other forms of civilization and seems to call for another positive globalization in the concert of civilizations.

PL: If he willingly recognized, with Blumenberg, the “legitimacy of modern times,” Legendre exposed, on the other hand, the “medieval crucible” of this same modernity. In the “secularization quarrel,” which goes back at least to Hegel, and in which he takes part in spite of himself, what is Legendre’s position?

PM: One cannot have a society without symbolism, without a foundation of beliefs and myths; this is, as I have already expressed above, the starting point of dogmatic anthropology. This is why, according to Legendre, there is no society that can be secularized. Religions or fiduciary structures remain, even if they become secular with the industrial religion of the “techno-science-economy.” In dogmatic anthropology, it is institutions that hold a society together. Now the institution, Legendre explains, is what makes the collage between the why to live and the how to live; that is to say between the symbolic and the norm. If institutions no longer produce this “glue,” according to a term borrowed from the neo-Platonists, the structure of societies collapses. Legendre often resorts to the architectural metaphor and describes the structure of societies, built like monuments. Hence the importance, for Legendre, of genealogy and the link woven between the “medieval melting pot,” where the foundations of this monument that is the West are laid, and contemporary Management, the current face that this same West gives us to see. Since his vision of history is not linear but sedimentary, what is deepest in history, like the lava at the bottom of a volcano, can become the most burning actuality.

What interested Legendre is the invariant structure of the institutions that make up society. If today the West is faltering, this means that its institutions, starting with the State, still a major institution in the organization of nations in the democratic West, are no longer doing their job of “bonding” faith and law. Thus, the balance of the dogmatic edifice of the West is threatened. This disintegration of the state institution is a distant consequence of the Schize. At the time of the Schize, the State “recovered,” so to speak, the symbolism of the Church by transferring the theological to other Referents. Then, according to the great revolutions of its history, those identified by Harold Berman—the Papal Revolution, the Reformation, the English, French, American and Russian revolutions, as well as the managerial revolution (end of the 19th-20th century)—the West was constituted and the State borrowed different “founding References.” Today, the West speaks in the name of efficiency, borrowing the managerial doctrine, which I call in a book the State-Enterprise.

But this collapse of the edifice goes back further. In the last millennium, the Church was the great founding institution and the State largely took over the Church model. This model of the Church-State became a nation-state from the 16th century, with Machiavelli, etc. It triumphed with the Treaty of Rome. It triumphed with the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) and Hobbes’ Leviathan (1651), the acme of the State model, until the French Revolution and the beginning of the 19th century. Moreover, the State constitutes, especially in France, the pivotal institution, to which Legendre devoted his very first works, in connection with the history of administrative law for example. When Legendre sees the State becoming a “ghost,” as he writes in Fantômes de l’État en France [Phantoms of the State in France], he obviously had in mind the French model, where the State is the institution of reference. The “lassitude of the state” and its disintegration was a major concern of Pierre Legendre. I hypothesize, in several of my books, that business and management could perhaps replace, and are already serving as crutches for, this decaying state.

PL: A scholar perched on the shoulders of other scholars whose heir he readily acknowledged himself, Pierre Legendre was first and foremost a scholarly reader. If one had to make—a legendary exercise par excellence—the genealogy of his thought, with whom would you compare the author of the Leçons [Lessons]?

PM: Beyond the contribution of psychoanalysis, law, history and anthropology, Pierre Legendre was first and foremost, in my opinion, a great scholar, therefore an encyclopedist, a walking library, such as no longer exists. Legendre spent his life not only in conversations with the greatest, but in libraries all over the world, his nose in manuscripts. One can compare him, of course, to historians such as Kantorowicz or anthropologists such as Lévi-Strauss, from whom he certainly drew inspiration when he thought up his dogmatic anthropology, a reference to structural anthropology. Legendre himself cited his exchanges with André Leroi-Gourhan, who studied the relationship of the human to the world, both technical and symbolic. This duality crosses, under different forms, the work of Legendre.

Moreover, we know that he knew Lacan, that he met him frequently, that the latter helped him to publish in his book series. Legendre insisted, moreover, that his work completed a subject that the Paris Freudian school did not want to tackle, namely the institution, a blind spot in Lacan’s approach according to Legendre. However, Legendre descended more immediately from Freud. From the latter, he retained a sentence that is essential to his reasoning, found in Civilization and Its Discontents (or The Discontent in Culture), published in 1935: “If the evolution of civilization presents such similarities with that of the individual, and if both use the same means of action, would we not be authorized to make the following diagnosis: have not most civilizations or cultural epochs—even the whole of humanity perhaps—become “neurotic” under the influence of the efforts of civilization itself?”

Legendre was mostly in the line of great scholars. I am thinking of Athanasius Kircher, the German Jesuit and encyclopedist who, in the 17th century, was more important and better known than Newton. This great scholar in all fields—mathematics, astronomy, medicine, archaeology, etc. – was, for Legendre, a personal friend, whom he met and left every day, in his library. This was not limited to the producers of texts, so to speak, but concerned many artists, in literature—J.L. Borges for example, whom he met; in cinema—Chris Marker, whom he knew well and quoted in his work; in painting—Magritte, whom he often commented on. Text and image were, for Legendre, inseparable. He cherished and quoted a formula of Saint Augustine: without knowing it, man “walks in the image,” starting with his own.

Legendre’s books are, for this reason, full of images, from medieval paintings to more recent advertisements. This is not an artificial juxtaposition or gratuitous erudition; it is a way for him to show how the thought structure of a society is transmitted across generations, or beyond the medieval melting pot. From the beginning to the end of his work, his task was to detect the structure of the invariant beyond the variations.

Among Legendre’s references, one can also think of Gratian, a great jurist scholar who compiled biblical, patristic and legal texts in the 12th century. Closer to home, we can better understand Legendre by thinking of the figure of Paul Valéry: philosopher, poet and writer. In short, Legendre’s references were always other encyclopedists combining science and poetry; whatever their personal approach and the historical moment of their work.

PL: During the last twenty decades of his work, Pierre Legendre paid particular attention to young students, to whom he devoted certain essays. The Introductions, on the other hand, also testify to the diverse receptions of his work. Did Legendre seek to become a school, or at least to have an intellectual posterity?

PM: Pierre Legendre was concerned with his heritage, it seems to me, since his first film, La fabrique de l’homme occidental, that is, since 1996. The film, when I showed it to my Master’s and DEA students at the Sorbonne, was a revelation and an enlightenment for many. The documentaries that followed, the small books he published after conferences at the École des Chartes (L’inexploré [The Unexplored], 2020) or at the Lycée Louis le Grand (La Balafre: À la jeunesse désireuse [The Scar: To the Desiring Youth] 2007), for example, where he addressed a young audience, also prove that. His latest works show a concern for popularization, insofar as his work and his style are often dry and difficult.

Nevertheless, Legendre’s first concern was that of transmission: to transmit the enigma of why? The great schools and universities bathed in positivism and scientism are primarily interested in efficiency, in performance; everything appears transparent and clear. Another anthropologist, Georges Balandier, also noted that the West is in a “technological and scientific hyper-power” that avoids the economy of the why, in other words a power without meaning. Legendre left, in his own way, the same message.

Moreover, we now see international readings of Legendre, cultural appropriations of his thought. The Introductions show it well: a great scholar like Osamu Nishitani, in spite of the complexity of understanding the West from Japan, has an original and profound apprehension of Legendre’s thought. The same is true of certain German and Italian scholars. The borrowings—I spoke earlier of plundering—sometimes give way to real appropriations. Like a Michel Foucault, Legendre will in my opinion be truly recognized when he is more widely translated into English. That is also what the West is all about. That is why Legendre preferred to conduct his scholarly conversations in Latin.

Win or Die: The Whites on the Big Screen

At the beginning of this year, the first film production of Puy du Fou, Vaincre ou mourir (Win or Die), was released. And what have we heard from the critics? An extreme right-wing, fundamentalist, reactionary, anti-republican (horresco referens), hateful and ideological film. Musty France, the bottom of the rotten barrel. The relentless criticism of Libération further adds so much vitriol that it passes for being funny. These hack-writers carry out their vile orders, driven by a hatred of the Catholic religion, along with a progressive left-wing ideology of the narrowest kind. Their frivolous and superficial agitation seems to appear like a devil thrown into the font or a vampire shrinking from garlic. So, it’s a pleasure to see this film, for the entertainment, certainly, but also to give the middle finger to these paragons of good taste and opinion.

If this film disturbs the media and cultural fauna and flora, it is mainly because it contrasts radically with the current production. The long agony of a French cinema, a slot machine for the small screen, subsidized, petty bourgeois, for easy-consumption, never ceases to churn out painful films, using the same ideas and the same ideology. And sure enough—during the trailers, two films, before the screening, were like pulling teeth. The first one, Léo et moi (Leo and Me) by Victoria Bedos, tells how a teenager, in love with the new boy in her class, tries to approach him during a party by dressing up as a boy. Léo becomes friends with the transvestite and much more, as he falls in love with her. Questions of gender, choice of sexuality, confusion of feelings and identities are all part of the story. And then, Un Homme heureux (A Happy Man), where Luchini, learns that his wife, Catherine Frot, has just changed sex to become a man. And that’s it.

There’s also nothing much to say about Têtes givrées (Frost Heads), either, in which Clovis Cornillac plays a teacher who goes to save a glacier with his students, to fight against global warming—the Ministry of Ecological Transition validated this fi;m. Then, there’s the latest Asterix, entertainment for vegetative underdogs, gorged with filthy inculture and lukewarm Coca-Cola, coming in at a bloated budget of 65 million euros.

Between all this, there is Vaincre ou mourir (Win or Die). This film, without a big budget, without massive promotion, is good entertainment and nice propaganda. For a part of the film, however, something seemed to be wrong—there were no hysterical misandrist crazy women, no soy-boys in overalls, no one-legged black transsexuals, and no crazy non-binary interlopers. On the contrary, the women were as elegant and beautiful as they were virile and warlike; the brave and strong men of the Vendée had their orchids well-cultivated.

It is good to see a film about the period 1793-1796 from the other side. We have too often been formatted by the French Revolution of 1989 and fed with the great preconceived ideas about equality, liberty, the people, the poor against the rich, the evil, very evil nobility, the invincible Republic and the triumph of democracy over tyranny, all summed up in a kind of history for average Frenchmen in the Jack Lang sauce. The Villiers’ film has the merit of speaking to a wide audience about things so far removed from today’s France, so intimate to our society but so deep, however, in our common history—the king and the Catholic faith.

In this film, what do we see? Men who do not want to die out or surrender. They have an ideal: a Catholic and royal order. They will go to death, with bravery; they summon the great Roman virtues; they follow Christ; they go from feast to confession, from gallantry to artillery, sometimes with panache, sometimes with obstinacy. A phrase said by Charette is striking: “They are the new world but they are already old. We are the youth and the light of the world.” The glow in the lantern held by one of the king’s followers in the Vendée in the night, while they are being hunted, illustrates the hope of any struggle; the faith in the ideal, following the Lord who died for the truth. Throughout the film, we see white flags, priests and an ad orientem Mass, a close-up of a raised host. “For God and for the King” and other slogans that one could hardly hear except in meetings of the Action Française among young cubs full of testosterone, reach the viewer’s ears.

This well-paced film, which alternates between captivating battle scenes and informative scenes of hardly any length, pits the Whites against the Blues, the royalist Vendeans against the Republicans, in wars turned into butchery, where pitched battles give way to massacres and ravaged villages; where the art of war becomes a project of extermination of the Vendean race and has as its answer the defense of one’s land, the cult of the dead, the gift for one’s family, the loyalty to the King and the love of God, and oscillates between defeat and victory, hope and bitterness, the multitude of men and the solitude of the hero. A heroic breath breathes in the film. Charette, going to death and glory, becomes the romantic hero of lost causes and ruins. There are no concessions; peace is aborted because of the death of King Louis XVII, so one must either win or die. If one does not win, one dies. A beautiful radicality.

If Hugo Becker as Charette seemed, at the beginning, overcome by his role, undoubtedly himself frightened, he ends up before the firing squad as a martyr, rising to the heavens, alone and weary, piercing. Rod Paradot’s performance as a mad-dog resembles the boldness of the guys in my parish and complements Gilles Cohen’s performance as a quiet force. The actresses who play Céleste Bulkeley and Marie-Adélaïde de La Rochefoucauld are pearls among women. The dialogue sometimes lacks confidence; some lines are hollow, some ideas are avoided; the beginnings of the plot fall apart; but the whole, for lack of an extra sixty million euros, remains good, engaging, well directed.

As Alsatian as I am, far from Cholet and the two Sevres, the love of the Vendeans and the horror of the military expeditions of Kleber, a compatriot, touch me as if I were linked to these dead, French, massacred in hatred of religion and the old world replaced by a new one. The more we move away from the Revolution, the more we measure, in France, its terrible and deep effects; the violence of the ideas and the regime established, authoritarian under the guise of neutrality. This Vendéen heart, which has become a memory, summons a whole string of names, the illustrious viri of our France, and always reminds us, whether we are from the North, the South, or the East, of the blood of these Catholics who were led into genocide.

And the term, thrown like a ball and chain in the public debate, packed with all its explosive powder, does not detonate and divide as much the partisans, who see the mechanical will of the Republic to destroy the soul of the French and of France, with Reynald Secher or Le Roy Ladurie and Jean Tulard, as the more measured historians, like Jean-Clément Martin, cautious about the term “genocide” but sure of abominable massacres.

The film, although partisan, has many nuances. On the side of the Republicans, we find as many little gray and hateful men, little corporals, with the psychology of Manuel Valls, formed by a fascist and racist vision of the enemy, as those who, by opportunism or the march of history, took sides with the Republic for business or by chance. There were Kléber or Haxo, terrorists on legs, and Travot, seen as a just man, combining Catholicism and republic, assuming everything; and also Albert Ruelle, that kind of cynical deputy with the smile of a shrewd merchant. Among the Whites, the Count of Artois has it easy and confirms his mental obesity, his cowardice and his smugness. Against the intrepidity of Prudent Hervouët de La Robrie, there are the peace negotiations and the will to stop the fight by some, which stop the Vendeans from being made into total fanatics. The hero himself, Charette, brilliant, charismatic, brave and good, is caught in the trap of his radicalism, ending up isolated, answering an eye for an eye, worn out, on the verge of madness.

The film succeeds in being complex, and detaches itself from a thesis to be defended by posing a major problem: should the leader of men go all the way, even if it means running towards the massacre and his own defeat, in the name of an ideal, romantic in the end, despite the direction of history, and against political data? Or should he care, above all, about the common interest and his own, seek peace and compromise, if not survival, without ending up lukewarm, a centrist, or a coward in the eyes of history?

This is the difficulty of the one who sacrifices himself and puts his skin in the game, while others are complaining about their hemorrhoids in their country house in the Luberon, and in-between two appointments with the psychologist, as we all too often see, still, on screen, in the cinema.

Nicolas Kinosky is at the Centres des Analyses des Rhétoriques Religieuses de l’Antiquité and teaches Latin. This articles appears through the very kind courtesy La Nef.

Featured: Exécution du général Charette place de Viarmes à Nantes, mars 1796 (Execution of General Charette, Place de Viarmes, Nantes, March 1796), by Julien Le Blant; painted in 1883.

First Cinema in Iran

The first Iranian cinema spectator (1897 AD). and the first Cinematograph theater in Iran: 21 November to 20 December 1903.

As such eminent scholars as Farrokh Ghaffari and Jamal Omid have shown in the past, an Iranian‘s initial acquaintance with the cinema is first mentioned in Ebrahim Sahhafbashi‘s memoirs.

Ebrahim Sahhafbashi (Mohajer) Tehrani was born around 1858 and died in 1921 or 1922, at the age of 63, in Mashhad His full name has been copied from a note of his reproduced below his portrait in Name-ye Vatan, and his birth and death dates are approximations provided by his son, Abolqassem Reza‘i. He was fascinated with new technologies and inventions and his trade of eastern Asian goods took him several times across the world. He was a liberal-minded modernist and rather nonconformist in his clothing. Undoubtedly, following the first cinematographic representation in Paris in 1895, and soon after that in London, Iranians living in Europe at the close of the nineteenth century were able to see various films, but since no writings from them remains—or has come to light—the first spectator (as he is called today) must be considered to have been Ebrahim Sahhafbashi, in London, seventeen months after the first public representation in Paris.

He writes in his memoirs:

Yesterday, at sunset I took a walk in the public park… [In the evening] I went to the
Palace Theater. After song and dance performances by ladies [… and a show of acrobatics, etc., I saw] a recently invented electric device by which movements are reproduced exactly as they occur. For example, it shows the American waterfalls just as they are; it recreates the motion of marching soldiers and that of a train running at full speed. This is an American invention. Here all theaters close one hour before midnight.

Sahhafbashi was mistaken as to the cinema‘s country of origin, perhaps because the film he saw was American, as his reference to the Niagara Falls seems to indicate. There is no reason to believe that Sahhafbashi‘s interest in cinema, during his first encounter with it, went beyond that of a mere spectator, but it is also probable that the thought of taking this invention to Iran crossed his mind, although this is never mentioned in his writings.

According to sources known to the present, he was the first person to create a public cinema theater in 1903, eight years after the invention and public appearance of the cinema in France, six years after Sahhafbashi‘s seeing the cinema in London, and three years after the arrival of cinema equipment to the Iranian court.

Sahhafbashi perhaps held glass plate shows (akin to present-day slide shows) before making his career in the cinema. These were performed with the lanterne magique, known as cheraq-e-sehri in Iran. In good shows of this kind, a succession of black and white—or, even better, color—glass plates depicting a story (as in today‘s comic strips) was projected on a screen. The lanterne magique was used in Mozaffar-ed-din Shah’s court and a couple of such color plates have been identified in the Album House of the Golestan Palace. Viewing was affected with one or another type of jahan-nama, including the stereoscope, in which a pair of almost identical pictures were used to achieve a three-dimensional view. It consisted of a small (or large) box equipped with two viewer lenses and a slot in which the glass plates bearing the image pairs were inserted. Examples of this type of jahan-nama, for example of Verascope brand, existed in Mozaffar-ed-din Shah’s court and in the hands of private individuals, because I have seen glass plates of this type, both processed and unprocessed, in the Album House of the Golestan Palace. Another type of jahan-nama, the Edison Kinetoscope, was completed in 1891. It was a large, hefty machine in front of which the viewer stood to watch a very short cinema-like film through a pair of lenses on its top. Other types of jahan-nama, namely Mutoscope, Kinora and Théoscope, also existed, in which cinema-like moving pictures could also be seen. The Théoscope, for example, was small and could readily sit on a foot.

As concerns lanterne magique shows, Nazem-ol-Eslam Kermani writes in his Tarikh-e Bidari-e Iranian:

The (lanter majik) cheragh-e sehri appeared in Tehran in the sixth year of the reign [of Mozaffar-ed-Din Shah]‖, which corresponds 10 April 1902–29 March 1903. What Nazem-ol-Eslam Kermani means by (lanter majik) cheragh-e-sehri is unclear. If he means the kind of shows current at the time, which consisted of projecting a succession of various scenes depicting a story (as in today’s comic strips), these had certainly―appeared‖, even if they had not yet achieved wide popularity, before this date. But, if he means the onset of private and semi-private film viewing with the lanterne magique and then the jahan-nama, then the date does not conflict with that of Sahhafbashi‘s film screenings. It is conceivable that, following the warm welcome given at the court to various types of lanterne magique, jahan-nama and Cinematograph, and perhaps after a second travel to the West in 1902, Sahhafbashi brought together a collection of such devices, together with X-ray equipment, electric fans and probably phonographs, etc., which he sold to the rich or used to hold shows. Therefore, Nazem-ol-Eslam Kermani‘s allusion to him—whom he says he knew well and with whom he was involved in underground political activity points directly to Sahhafbashi and his first public lanterne magique, jahan-nama and later Cinematograph shows. It was not rare at the time to refer to the Cinematograph as lanterne magique, and Khanbaba Motazedi, at the age of fifteen (1907), heard his father say that Russi-Khan had―brought a lanterne magique… which showed moving pictures‖ to Arbab Jamshid‘s residence.

The first reference to a theater (public cinema) is found in the absorbing memoirs of Nasser- ed-Din Shah‘s protégé. He wrote about the evening of Sunday 22 November 1903

I went to Sahhafbashi‘s shop. On Sundays he holds simifonograf shows for Europeans, and in the evening for the public. When I arrived there was no one; just me, a secretary of the Dutch embassy and a few of Taku‘s personnel. Taku was a European goods shop on Lalehzar Avenue. Apparently, on this occasion Malijak went to see a session for Europeans, because he adds: It was two and a half hours past sunset when I called for a landau. Accompanied by the supervisor [his teacher], I went to Sahhafbashi‘s shop to watch the Cinematograph.‖ Malijak. Taking the season into consideration, the cinema session began around eight o’clock PM. Malijak was interested by the cinema, because he again went to a session on the next evening. He wrote in his memoirs: “I called for a landau and we went to watch the simifonograf.”

Having watched for a while, we returned home.

This was probably no more than one or two days after Sahhafbashi had begun holding public film shows, because, had other films been shown earlier, Malijak would have certainly paid a visit or made an allusion to it in his memoirs. The study of Malijak‘s memoirs clearly shows that, fortunately for the history of Iranian cinema and photography, he truly was a full-fledged professional sloth. From morning to night, he paid visits to the court and the houses of different people, poked his nose into shops or wandered in the streets. Malijak‘s life and the style of his memoirs, particularly concerning everyday events, hunting, music, gambling… and social visits, are such that it is hardly conceivable for a public film show to have taken place without him noticing it.

Moreover, in those early years of the twentieth century, Malijak was also keenly interested in photography and music. He took piano lessons and was well aware of the existence of the Cinematograph. He had seen films at Mozaffar-ed-Din Shah‘s court at least as early as 1902, a year before the first public cinema was created. Although opposed with his political views, he was acquainted with Sahhafbashi and had paid him visits even before seeing films, mentioning the novelties he had seen in his memoirs. At first Malijak misjudged Sahhafbashi as an ignorant liar, but after seeing his X-ray equipment at work on the next day—Thursday 22 May 1902—he wrote extensively about it.

Unfortunately, as Malijak‘s memoirs begin on 20 March 1903 / 29, they hold no indication concerning the first four years of filmmaking in Iran. The first Iranian cinema, or tamasha-khaneh, was located in the yard behind his shop on Lalehzar Avenue.

Jamalzadeh writes about Sahhafbashi‘s estate: He had a building at the crossroads and avenue known as Comte, on the northern stretch of Lalehzar, on the left hand side, and he and his wife had transformed their home into a hospital… [and] they had [also] built a functional water cistern on the street side of their garden … The type of goods that Sahhafbashi had in his shop indicates that his customers came from among the aristocracy. Among the films shown there, Qahremanshahi mentions one in which a man ―forced more than one hundred [?] men into a small carriage and had a hen lay twenty eggs. Such comical or extravagant films were very popular at the time and lasted about ten minutes, as did most other films made in that period.

The history of the activity of Sahhafbashi‘s cinema must be limited from 21 November to 20 December 1903, because Malijak makes no other mention of its activity, Sahhafbashi having apparently traveled to America in the meanwhile. The month of Ramazan, which occurred in autumn in that year, was undoubtedly chosen on purpose, because spectators could easily use the long evenings to go to the theater after breaking their fast.

Financially, Sahhafbashi‘s venture seems to have been rather unsuccessful. For example, as we saw, only a few spectators were present at the first session attended by Malijak. And this was probably why Sahhafbashi moved his cinema to a new address on Cheragh-e Gaz (later Cheraq-e-Barq, and now Amir Kabir) Avenue after returning from America around 1905 and not later than 1908 in any case. If this change of address actually took place, it was not any more successful, and this time Sahhafbashi‘s theater closed its doors for good.

The only document on Sahhafbashi‘s travel to America is a bust photograph that shows him in European attire and which was reproduced by Jamal Omid together with the caption: “The picture] shows Mirza-Ebrahim-Khan Sahhafbashi (Mohajer) Tehrani [in] San Francisco.” Of course, the picture does not bear a date ―one must conclude that Sahhafbashi was away from Iran at least during 1904, and that the reopening of his cinema can therefore not have taken place before 1905.

The reopening of Sahhafbashi‘s theater is obscure and no contemporaneous written source concerning this event and the subsequent activity of this theater has yet come to light. As the present article does not intend to enter a long discussion on this reopening, we limit ourselves to a description of it as it was narrated by the late Abdollah Entezam, who attended Sahhafbashi‘s theater in his childhood, and another by Jamalzadeh, which may be related to
the same cinema. Neither Entezam nor Jamalzadeh gives any date, but Farrokh Ghaffari‘s inference from Entezam‘s description was that it was situated around 1905.

Entezam recounted his memories of Sahhafbashi‘s cinema to Farrokh Ghaffari in Bern, Switzerland, in October and November 1940. To his relation of this event to the author, Ghaffari added that Entezam had repeated these words in Tehran in 1949-1950), in the presence of the late Mohammad-Ali Jamalzadeh and himself, and that Jamalzadeh had confirmed to them. Jamalzadeh himself has been more cautious in his interview with Shahrokh Golestan, believing it ―very, very likely‖ that the cinema to which he had gone in his childhood was Sahhafbashi‘s, and adding that he could no more be sure about it See the full text of Jamalzadeh‘s account, reproduced a few lines below. He also spoke of Sahhafbashi‘s house on Lalehzar Avenue in a brief article he wrote on him in 1978 on the occasion of the reiterated notice of the sale of his chrome plating factory and theater equipment Jamalzadeh, but made no mention of the theater‘s reopening on Cheragh-e-Gaz Avenue or its connection with Sahhafbashi. Neither did Sahhafbashi‘s son, Jahangir Qahremanshahi, or Malijak, that professional sloth, ever mention any such reopening.

Despite these obscure points, doubting the reopening of Sahhafbashi‘s theater on Cheragh-e Gaz Avenue is not justifiable either, and for the present, in view of Entezam‘s solid testimony, the reopening in question should be considered as having taken place, and Jamalzadeh‘s memories of going to that cinema should be taken into consideration. Of course, it is much more probable that Jamalzadeh visited another, lesser, cinema on the same avenue. During the chaotic days of Mohammad-Ali Shah’s reign, others had begun setting up cinemas. They included Aqayoff, whose film shows were also held on Cheragh-e-Gaz Avenue but in the coffee-house of Zargarabad, and Russi-Khan, who had contrived a small cinema next to his photo shop.

Shahryar Adle (1944-2015) was a noted French-Iranian historian and art historian, who is recognized as one of the foremost scholars of Iranian studies. This article is an extract from a much larger study.

Being a Superhero: A Conversation with Ian Jacklin

Ian Jacklin is documentary filmmaker, concert promoter, actor, and kickboxing champion. He has produced three films and holds one world kickboxing title. He is in conversation with Grégoire Canlorbe.

Grégoire Canlorbe (GC): You are ranked number two in the world by the World Kickboxing Association. Please tell us about this incredible accomplishment.

Ian Jacklin (IJ): Like many young men, I saw a Bruce Lee movie and was hooked. Especially when on the first day of grade 9 high school I had to watch a buddy of mine get beat up while being held back. I went home that afternoon and told my mom to put me in Karate at 14 years of age; and the rest is pretty much history.

Ralph Chinnick was my master at Professional Self Defense Studios in London, Ontario, Canada. His early instruction was to learn the technique. To just keep coming to every class and learn the technique. Which I did and did well.

Ian Jacklin.

By the time I was a yellow belt I was kicking like black belts. By the time I was a green belt I was beating black belts in sparring. And the great thing about Kenpo karate under the Ed Parker system was we actually kickboxed. No point sparring. Real fighting. And I heard then that Bruce Lee said that you learn to fight by fighting.

So it was a natural progression to go to other dojos and spar their best guys, which I did in Kitchener Ontario at Sifu Ron Day’s Kung Fu Academy, where was the future PKA lightweight champion of the world, Leo Loucks. He became my idol; and I learned from him. on his rise to the top, when he beat Cliff Thompson.

Our trainer Jimmy Fields was the best in proactive, positive mental instruction, while in the deepest and darkest moments of battles in that square circle.

I had other trainers that would try to scare you into being better. But that never worked for me. Militant instruction may work for some, but it didn’t work for me. I needed love and light, and Jimmy gave me that. I truly believe that if he and Ron Day were to be my handlers for my career I would have not only fought for the world title but would have won it and kept if for a long time. But alas… it wasn’t meant to go that way. Apparently, the universe had bigger plans for me.

I won the Canadian ISKA title by beating Conrad Pla in Montreal, when I was 18. I fought Mark Mongo Longo for the North American title in Gleasons Gym Brooklyn, which went to a draw. Many including myself thought I won that fight but it was in the US and I was Canadian, so… it was what it was.

Not long after that Lennox Lewis won the Gold in the 1988 Olympics, and he was from Kitchener Ontario Canada; so, it was only fitting for his pro debut to be in Toronto. They trained in our Kitchener Kicks/Ron Days Kung Fu Academy for that fight, so they got to see me in action. They saw a white boy that could fight and took me back to England with them.

I actually started in boxing, before karate, as a kid hanging, out at the Boys and Girls Club, London, Ontario, Canada. And although my kicks were my best weapon, my hands weren’t too shabby either.

But being in the Lennox Lewis pro boxing stable really improved my hands, and I had a lot of fun living in London, England for a while. John Davenport and Harold “The Shadow” Knight were my trainers.

After about 4 months, I decided I didn’t like where I was. I mean Lennox and the guys were cool, but London just rained every day and it was really depressing. My high school sweetheart was back in Canada and I really missed her and my family, so I eventually quit and headed home.

The main thing was, I couldn’t believe how many shots to the head I was taking in boxing compared to kickboxing. I mean my legs were wicked, so most guys never got the chance to punch me in the head; but in boxing that’s all you do. I knew if I stayed in that sport I’d be punch drunk and ugly within a few years. Besides, I had been watching Bay Watch on one of the 4 channels England had on their TV and had been California-dreaming.

Back in Canada, I worked the summer, continuing my electrical apprenticeship with Gordon Electric in my hometown of London Ontario, Canada. I had no plans. I just knew that I wasn’t done fighting and still had my dream of fighting for the world title as Leo did.

And then it happened. With 3 days’ notice, I broke up with my girlfriend, quit my job and packed up my motorcycle with a tent and sleeping bag, and headed to Hollywood, California.

Although heartbroken due to making that decision to follow my dreams, which didn’t accommodate a girlfriend whom I dearly did love… I also felt more alive than I ever had been, knowing I was going to take a shot at not only pursuing my dream to fight for the title, but maybe even get into Hollywood as an actor. After all Jean Claude Van Damme was there making all his martial art movies. So, I figured it was worth a shot.

It was such a dilemma leaving your girlfriend, family, friends, and career on a whim for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I sped through the mountains in various areas on the way to Cali with abandon. So much so that I even crashed once and almost fell off a cliff, if it weren’t for that 3-foot-high cement barrier. It was like I wanted to die for what I left, but wanted to live for what lay ahead… hard for me to put into words. But apparently, somebody up there likes me. And after picking the rocks out of my flesh and a quick stop at a local motorcycle shop, I was back on the road. It was the summer of 1990. It wasn’t my time to die yet. Hollywood here I come.

I stayed in Whittier, California with Les Sickles, the brother of one of my home boxing trainers. Jack Sickles was my mentor in Canada and his brother became that in California. He was 85 when I first met him. We became fast friends and I truly had some of the best years of my life with him as a newbie in Southern Cal. He was now a widower and had been a pro boxer when he was young, so just loved tagging along with me to the gyms.

I fought and won the North American WKA championship and eventually went to fight Javier Mendez for the world ISKA Cruiser Weight title fight in 1993. I fought him a few years earlier and beat him. Then he beat me this night and took the title. But the point is, my dream was to fight for the world title and I did that! Also, I wanted to star in a Hollywood movie, which I quickly achieved, thanks to befriending legend, Don “The Dragon” Wilson. He became my sparring partner which elevated my fighting skills and put me in a bunch of his movies like Ring of Fire II where I played the lead bad guy.

My film career included Kickboxer 3. The bad guys of the Kickboxer movies. I remember the night my agent told me I got the role. It was about a year to the date of me arriving in Tinsel Town. I was working as the VIP bouncer at the Roxbury which many know was the Studio 54 of the day. I babysat more drunk actors and rock stars than I could count in those days.

And sure enough, Jean Claude Van Damme was in the Roxbury that night. I asked Elie Samaha, one of the owners, to introduce me to him, which he did. I thanked him for doing Kickboxer the movie, so I was able to get the lead bad guy role in Kickboxer 3. He looked at me and squeezed my cheeks and said with a face like that you should be the star! I laughed and said maybe someday, man! Maybe someday! And sure enough, that did happen. I ended up being the good guy in Expert Weapon and Death Match down the line.

Many of you have heard that to make it in Hollywood you have to sell your soul. I’m not 100 percent on that, but I was offered a multi-picture movie deal if I would have slept with a gay producer. I said no thank you and left Hollywood. I had put 10 years into that place and was tired of the rat-race—and if that was the only way I was going to make it, I knew it was time to leave.

Long story longer… I went to NYC and became a filmmaker.

GC: Which leads me in to my next question. How did you move from being a kickboxing-champion to championing holistic medicine and alkaline?

IJ: So, Hollywood wasn’t a total waste of time. While doing a play I met an actress, J. Cynthia Brooks, who like myself had been on Days Of Our Lives among many other shows and movies over the years. We actually had met at the Roxbury years earlier, and now working together on a play, called Spoiled Women, I found out she had just cured herself of terminal cervical cancer. I overheard this at a rehearsal one day, and it lit a fire under me like few other things have.

I said, “What?! You can’t cure cancer. What do you mean, you cured yourself of cancer?”

And as I’ve said before the rest is history. Turns out instead of doing the usual chemo, radiation and surgery she followed a friends advice and did holistic medicine and dropped meat, dairy, sugar. Used a “Rife” machine and meditated a lot. Cured her terminal cervical cancer (of which she was given one year to live, if she did the western medical treatments) in 8 months.

I had thought cancer ran in my adopted mom’s family, so worried for her. I dove deeper. It was when the internet first started, so I researched others that claimed they too cured their cancers with holistic methods; and then I would call them too, so I could validate via their voice if they were real or not. And they were.

So, I decided to make a documentary about it, and called it by the name of the website I also started,

Thanks to doing that I learned a lot about health and wellness, and have been a cancer coach ever since. The key is to drop the acidic lifestyle from what you eat, drink, think, breath, and these days the wifi radiation you sit in. You can book a health coaching session with me at, if interested.

GC: I must say that your fight with Sasha Mitchell at the end of Kickboxer 3: The Art of War easily ranks among the dramatic highpoints in the Kickboxer saga.

IJ: Wow! Thank you for that compliment. My favorite bad guy of the series (me included) was Tong Po! He was the best actor. The original kickboxer film with Van Damme was shot so well, too. Edited well. But for a sequel I thought KB3 was done quite well too. And we had Shuki Ron as the choreographer, who let me be the pro kickboxer I was, to make it, what I thought, one of the most realistic fight-scenes in the series, for sure.

I mean, I was actually still fighting pro kickboxing in the ring in between movies, and I don’t know how to movie fight. Just fight. And luckily by the time Sasha Mitchell and I worked together, he had been training as a kickboxer for a few years, so he was much more believable for Kickboxer III: The Art Of War.

GC: How did it feel to play a good guy (and leading character) in Death Match?

IJ: I loved being the good guy! I mean I’ve always said in real life I’m not an actor, I’m a super hero. But they don’t pay super heroes, so I have to moonlight as an actor.

GC: Do you believe a great action-movie could be made about what you call the “scamdemic?” Would you be ready to act in such movie?

IJ: Lol. Yes, that would be great! It would be me and a bunch of human beings fighting the reptiles like in They Live! I have the power to decipher who is one and who isn’t and boom we take out the ones that are. Finally, planet earth will be run by human beings, not Draconians!

GC: Thank you for your time. Anything else that you would like to add?

IJ: I’d just like to say for everyone that wants to be a hero in real life, start local. Go to your board meetings and vote out the leftist demoncrats. Watch the movie, 2000 Mules to see the truth. Trump won. End of story! Not saying he’s perfect—but come on… Biden? What a joke the bankers played on us!

Get to know your cops and sheriffs, and band together. We cannot let the Illuminati scum run us anymore. The whole scamdemic thing must never happen again. They just rebranded the flu and turned on 5G. That’s it!

I wrote my 3rd book, ConVid 1984: Antidote, which explains the hows and whys humanity got raped and pillaged by the bankers. I explain how to detox, for anyone that got suckered in to the shots. Or just wants to be healthy. You must get Alkaline, as explained in both my earlier books I Cure Cancer and Alkaline: Dr. Robert O. Young’s pH Diet & Mindset. Take good supplements: Whole food supplements. Grow your own organic food year-round.

Featured image: “Asian martial arts beauty,” by Phung Wang of Vietnam; painted in 2018.

Nosferatu: A Hundred Years Later

Directed by Murnau in 1922, Nosferatu is one of the great masterpieces of German expressionist cinema. Contrary to what some may have believed, it has no connection with the rise of Nazism, but undoubtedly reveals the trauma of the Great War and the Spanish flu.

In 1838, in the northern port of Wisborg. Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim), a young real estate agent, is happily married to the beautiful Ellen (Greta Schröder). Without worrying about her dark premonitions, he leaves for Transylvania to sell a residence to Count Orlok (Max Schreck). In a tavern, locals tell him that the Count’s castle is possessed by dark forces. Nevertheless, he goes there. But as soon as he crosses the bridge, ghosts come to meet him.

When he arrives at the castle, he is welcomed by the sinister Count. During the negotiation, Orlok sees an engraving of Ellen and decides to buy the building near the couple’s house. At midnight, Hutter cuts his finger:

“Blood! Your precious blood!” exclaims Orlok before sucking his finger.

At night, the Count prepares coffins of Transylvanian soil, to take to Wisborg. Hutter then understands the true nature of his host: a vampire who, at night, feeds on the blood of his victims.

Nosferatu, after a long sea voyage, during which he exterminates all the crew, spreads in the city of Wisborg an epidemic of plague. He takes possession of his new house, located opposite the Hutters’. At night, he watches and covets his next victim: Ellen.

Ellen learns that the only way to defeat a vampire is to expose him to sunlight. To save the plague-stricken town and ward off the curse, Ellen lures the vampire into her room and sacrifices herself. The sunrise catches her there. The vampire Nosferatu crumbles to dust.

Nosferatu (Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens [A Symphony of Horror]) is a German silent fantasy film, directed by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, was released on March 4, 1922.

The limited budget of this film did not allow for the acquisition of the rights to the novel Dracula by the Irish writer Bram Stoker, which was published in 1897. However, Henrik Galeen’s screenplay was strongly inspired by it, while taking several liberties: the action takes place in the imaginary city of Wisborg (instead of London), the names of the characters are changed from the novel, Dracula becoming notably Count Orlok (Nosferatu). Galeen also adds to the original work an idea that will mark the myth of Dracula: daylight can kill the vampire.

Nosferatu was the subject of a lawsuit brought by the writer’s widow. In 1925, a judgment was passed, requiring the destruction of all illegal copies. However, several copies remained in the United States and in France.

Nosferatu was filmed in real settings, which was rare at the time. The filming took place in Slovakia, in the Carpathians, for the scenes that were supposed to take place in Transylvania. The castle of Orava is used as a set for the castle of Count Orlok. The interpretation is uneven. It is regrettable that Gustav von Wangenheim plays Hutter with an enthusiasm that borders on the ridiculous. Greta Schröder is more convincing when she plays Ellen resigned to sacrifice herself.

A century after the film’s release, the actor Max Schreck continues to leave his mark. Long and rigid, with long, hooked fingers, a pale and frightening face, a bald head, thick eyebrows, and an obsessive gaze, he plays a particularly horrific vampire. Murnau’s vampire is different from the character of Dracula portrayed in later adaptations, notably the 1931 adaptation in which Bela Lugosi plays a mysterious and refined vampire.

Expressionism is evident in Nosferatu’s oppressive close-ups and the play of light and shadow, as well as in the hues Murnau used to color the film, giving the illusion of alternating day and night. The soundtrack, composed by Hans Erdmann, further accentuates the dramatic tension.

The acting of Max Schreck and the expressionism make this film one of the great masterpieces of silent cinema. Thus, according to Jacques Lourcelles, it is “one of the five or six essential films in the history of cinema, and without doubt the most important silent film… Nosferatu is above all a metaphysical poem in which the forces of death have a vocation—an inexorable vocation—to attract to themselves, to suck in, to absorb the forces of life” (Jacques Lourcelles, Dictionnaire du cinéma). Murnau thus shows evil in its purest form, Nosferatu living in darkness and sowing plague behind him. Of course, this film was not conservative at the time, since it was devoid of any religious connotations. But Ellen’s sacrifice to eradicate evil is in line with such meaning.

Many film historians have believed that they can make a connection between this terrifying Weimar-era film and the rise of Nazism. In his book, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film (1947), Siegfried Kracauer attempts to show that Nosferatu, by showing Ellen’s attraction to the vampire, helped bring Hitler to power in Germany! Anton Kaes even sees “anti-Semitic motives” in the images of rats spreading the plague, or the fact that Nosferatu comes from Eastern Europe, like the “Eastern Jews” who migrated at the end of the 19th century! Bardèche and Brasillach saw in Siegfried Kracauer’s essay “a strange desire to politically distort the facts” (Bardèche and Brasillach, Histoire du cinéma).

Indeed, since this film dates from 1922, it is simply an allegory about the collective fears caused by past traumas—the First World War and the epidemics in Europe at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, such as the Spanish flu (from which there were 426,000 deaths in Germany).

Kristol Séhec writes about culture, film and comic books. This article appears courtesy of Breizh-info.

Featured image: “Nosferatu,” one sheet poster by Albin Grau (1922).

The Flow Of Music: An Interview With Paul Hertzog

Having composed music for films, such as Bloodsport and Kickboxer, composer and teacher Paul Hertzog reflects on his work and on writing music for film. He is in conversation with Grégoire Canlorbe.

Grégoire Canlorbe (GC): Please tell us about the creative process that led you to compose those masterpieces that are “The Eagle Lands” and “Finals-Powder-Triumph.”

Paul Hertzog (PH): My greatest inspiration has always been the film itself, so I feel (strangely enough) that the action on screen told me what to do. Both of the cues you mention are final fights, the climax of each film. Since I like to compose in film order, these cues were also the last I wrote in each film. As a result, I already had melodies and rhythmic feels developed. All I had to do was find a way to fit them to picture. Since the emotions of each film had been building up to these climactic moments, I simply tried to tap into those emotions to find correspondence in music. This may not sound logical, but that’s the point. Logic has nothing to do with it.

When I compose, I have to shut off the logical part of my brain and let my emotions find the music that underpins the scene. I think, also, I was helped by the fact that the villains (Chong Li and Tong Po) in both films were so well portrayed. They gave me the opportunity to develop the conflict between good and evil that creates that emotional tension in my music.

GC: Your soundtracks for those scenes in Kickboxer in which Kurt Sloane (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is training in ruins haunted by the ghosts of ancient warriors, while an eagle is watching him, are full of spirituality. How did you find this mystical inspiration?

PH: Again, I must reiterate that the source of my inspiration was the film itself. I watched those scenes over and over until I felt (and I do mean “felt” rather than “understood”) the emotions that needed to be conveyed by the music. I’m not sure I can truly explain the source of musical inspiration, but, as I have already said, for me it is not a logical process. I have to shut off my conscious thinking and let the music flow as if it were pure emotion. That’s when I write my best music. Does this process involve spirituality or mysticism? I don’t know. We humans often try to explain the inexplicable with these terms, but I don’t worry about explanations. I simply go with the creative flow.

Paul Hertzog.

GC: As a musician, do you share the Pythagorean belief that the proportions ruling the distances between the celestial bodies are a sort of music?

PH: In a word, no. This seems like a rather spurious analogy to me, an attempt to ascribe logic to a process that is, as I have already said, not logical at all.

GC: Let us speak about Waking the Dragon. What does the creature that is the dragon mean to you? What is the plot, universe, you wanted to convey though this musical work?

PH: The dragon is a part of me, the part of me that is a composer. After I left film and music behind in 1991 to pursue a career as a teacher (due to a number of setbacks in my career, in my financial state, in my mental state), the composer part of me essentially went to sleep.

I attempted to wake up that aspect of my character nearly 20 years into my teaching career by writing the music of this project. I worked on it during vacation times since I didn’t have time while teaching. I also had obligations to my family, so I couldn’t immerse myself in it completely. It took probably 4-5 years to complete, and even now I’m not sure that it is fully satisfying to me, but it’s something I needed to do to get my juices flowing again. And now, in 2022, nearly 3 years since I retired as a teacher, I am writing music constantly, and some of it is the best I’ve ever done.

And, yes, I also had a story in mind when I wrote this project. I envisioned a typical martial arts sort of plot. A corrupt and evil faction has taken over a city, a province, a region, a country, whatever you’d like, and the forces of good that might countermand that corrupt faction are essentially asleep. Meanwhile, out in the countryside, an ancient master of the martial arts is retired and quiet. However, a young admirer of the ancient master finds him and attempts to enlist his help in regrouping the forces of good. In other words, he wakes the dragon. The rest of the story should be fairly obvious.

GC: I was wondering. What do you think of David Bowie’s music, especially his albums in Berlin? As you know, his Berlin album Low inspired a symphony by Philipp Glass.

PH: I listened to Bowie some in the 1980s but not since, as I am more likely to listen to classical music these days. I am not familiar with the Berlin albums, though I may have heard some back in the day. I remember liking what I heard.

GC: Thank you for your time. Please tell us about your ongoing projects.

PH: I am currently in discussion with people about scoring two new martial arts films. Both projects want the sort of music I composed for Bloodsport and Kickboxer. However, in this time of international pandemic, getting the films made has been challenging. All I would say is to keep an eye on my website or on Facebook for any news.

Additionally, I am planning to release some new music soon, starting with a long composition entitled, “Legends.” When you hear it, you will know who the legends are. Also, Perseverance Records has just released my score for Breathing Fire, the final film I scored before leaving the business. It is available as a CD or download on Amazon.

Of Heart And Action: A Conversation With Sheldon Lettich

We are greatly honored to present this interview with Sheldon Lettich, American screenwriter, film director, and producer. He is notably known for his work in the action film genre—and his collaborations with Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone, Mark Dacascos, Dolph Lundgren, and Daniel Bernhardt. Besides co-writing Bloodsport and Rambo III, Sheldon Lettich directed and co-wrote Lionheart, Double Impact, and Only the Strong. He is in conversation with Grégoire Canlorbe.

Grégoire Canlorbe (GC): What is the situation with regard to your long-anticipated movie-project about Vietnam?

Sheldon Lettich (SL): Well, I’ve written a lot of scripts about Vietnam, but none of them has been made. I wrote a script called Firebase. And it was kind of like that movie called Zulu. It was kind of like that. Basically, a small group of Americans on a hilltop firebase, and they get attacked by a huge number of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. That was the screenplay I wrote a number of years ago. And Sylvester Stallone read the screenplay, and he liked it. And that’s how I ended up working with him on Rambo III, because he had read that screenplay. I’ve written a few other Vietnam screenplays, but none of them has gotten made, yet.

GC: You collaborated with Sylvester Stallone on Rambo III. How did your team come up with the idea of the tank-versus-helicopter scene? Or the idea of colonel Trautman’s “In your ass!” line?

SL: The tank-versus-helicopter scene wasn’t my idea, that was Stallone’s idea. And I thought it was not a plausible idea, but it seemed to work. You liked it, right? A helicopter versus a tank just makes no kind of sense at all because a tank is not designed to shoot at something moving fast like an airplane. A tank versus an airplane or a helicopter makes no kind of sense at all. You’d have to be very lucky. It takes some time to aim that cannon on a tank. So for a tank versus a helicopter, I didn’t believe it, but it seemed to work. There we are; it was Sly’s idea. As for colonel Trautman’s line in the interrogation scene, that was Stallone’s idea as well. That wasn’t mine.

Sheldon Lettich.

GC: What kind of movie could be done about the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan? Perhaps a new Rambo installment, in which Stallone rescues a group of hostages once again abandoned in Afghanistan and, in the process, decapitate his former Taliban allies turned into despots of the region?

SL: I don’t see a good action movie coming out of that because everything about that was very disappointing. That really shouldn’t have happened the way that it happened. I don’t think anybody would want to see a movie about that. And Stallone is in his 70s, now. He’s a little old to go back into Afghanistan. And I think he’s had his—I think Rambo has had—his Afghanistan adventure and doesn’t really need another one. So, I don’t see that happening at all. I’m 70 years old. Stallone’s even older than me. I don’t know, he’s like 72. I don’t think he’ll want to do some crazy action movie where he’s running around firing a gun and killing all kinds of Afghans. It’s just not going to happen again.

GC: Jean-Claude Van Damme served as an editor on Bloodsport, which you co-wrote. How much did he change the story with respect to the original screenplay?

SL: The first cut was very bad, so Jean-Claude got involved. And he basically recut the fight scenes because he was involved with those fight scenes. He knew how the fight scenes should work. And there was another editor that Cannon brought in to recut the movie and to restructure it. And so they fixed it up. But Jean-Claude basically worked on the fight scenes, and he made those work really good. In the meanwhile, they got some other writers involved who made some changes. Most of the changes, I thought, were very good, actually. What I mostly did with Bloodsport is I came up with the idea. I structured it. I came up with the three-act structure where the beginning is that everybody’s getting ready to go to the fight. The middle is the tournament, and the movie ends after Gong Li is defeated and Jean-Claude goes home. So, that’s the structure that I came up with.

GC: Before Bloodsport, were you involved with Karate Tiger?

SL: No, I had nothing to do with that. That’s the first movie that I saw Jean-Claude in, here in the US. It was called No Retreat, No Surrender. And that was the movie—when we were looking for an actor for Bloodsport, that movie came out in theaters. It was playing in theaters here, in Los Angeles. So, the producer, Mark DiSalle, told us, “We found this new actor, Jean-Claude Van Damme. Go see his movies in the theaters, right now.” And that was No Retreat, No Surrender. And we were very impressed with him. And that’s pretty much that helped him solidify the role in Bloodsport.

GC: After Bloodsport, did you get involved in Kickboxer?

SL: Well, I was involved just in that Kickboxer was the project that Mark DiSalle approached me with. When I first met Mark, he was looking for a writer, and he had an idea for a martial arts movie called Kickboxer. And so, he pitched me the idea, and I thought I had a better idea, which was Bloodsport. Bloodsport had not been written, but I’d been talking with Frank Dux about his experiences. Turned out that they weren’t real experiences. He had made all that stuff up.

GC: Please tell us about your partnership with Jean-Claude Van Damme in writing Full Contact, which is known as Lionheart in the US, if I’m not mistaken.

SL: Yes, Lionheart. Actually, I got together with Jean-Claude and he came up with the basic idea. That was his idea. It was called the Wrong Bet, at first. We sat down in a coffee shop, one night on Sunset Boulevard to talk about it. We were in that coffee shop for about three hours, and the manager wanted us to leave because we were taking up room—it was kind of empty, but he still wanted us out of there. He thought we were there for too long. And we told him to leave us alone. “We’re working on something, right now.” And then, he called the cops. So actually, we had some sheriff’s deputies come in there and tell us to leave. But in those three hours, we came up with the basic story line for Lionheart. But it was Jean-Claude’s original idea, that whole thing about… I think I came up with the Foreign Legion idea, but he came up with that idea about his sister-in-law; and she’s got a little daughter, and he has to fight in order to make money to take care of them. That was Jean-Claude’s.

GC: The fight between JCVD and Bolo Yeung at the end of Double Impact is quite an epic moment. How was it shot?

SL: Actually, it was shot in two different locations because we shot part of it in Hong Kong. I’m just trying to think about it. We were on a ship in Hong Kong. No, the exterior of the ship was in Hong Kong, the interior of the ship was in Los Angeles. That was in San Pedro. And so, we actually shot on this ship, and then we looked at the footage later. We were kind of rushed that day. We didn’t have enough time to really do it right. And so we had a set built in Santa Clarita, also in Los Angeles, to shoot some additional shots. So it was basically like, it looks like it’s all done at the same time, but it was actually done in two different locations at two different times. We cut it all together, and it looked really great.

GC: Why did JCVD never act with Bolo Yeung again after Bloodsport and Double Impact? After all, three is a magic number, as they say.

SL: Well, he made two movies with Bolo. Bloodsport has Bolo, and Double Impact has Bolo. It’s hard to just keep using the same villain over and over again.

GC: Are you concerned for the future of the cinema of Hong Kong as the Chinese Communist Party will be extending its grip on the city?

SL: I’m not an expert on that, but obviously, we’re not going to see Hong Kong movies like the old ones. It’s all going to change now because the Chinese have taken over. So there are certain things you can say, certain things you can’t say. The Chinese government controls whatever is going on in Hong Kong. So you’ll never see those Hong Kong movies like we saw before, the Jackie Chans. Oh, Jackie Chan, of course, is doing movies in China, also. But they’re not going to be quite the same as those John Woo movies. I don’t think he’ll be able to make movies anymore in Hong Kong with corrupt police officers.

Basically, the way that the Chinese government sees it, there are no corrupt police officers in China. There are no gangsters in China. So, basically, everything has to change. They’re up to do a lot of historical stuff. So, you’re probably not going to see any contemporary stories like in those Hong Kong movies where you’ve got good cops, bad cops, gangsters, all kinds of stuff like that. I think that’s going away. And all they’re going to see out of Hong Kong and China is stuff that takes place hundreds of years ago in earlier eras in China, but not contemporary. Because contemporary means that you’ve got to have good guys and bad guys. And in China, they want everybody to believe that China is a perfect country. There are no gangsters, there are no corrupt cops. So everything is wonderful in China, which means you can’t have much drama for a contemporary movie. So, that era—the era of the John Woo movies and Ringo Lam and all of that—that’s pretty much over, for now.

GC: Please tell us about The Hard Corps, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Vivica A. Fox. How did such great movie with such great cast end up as a DTV?

SL: Well, we were hoping it was going to go to theaters. And the problem was that the producers just didn’t want to spend the money to get other actors that we needed to make it a theatrical movie. Because originally, it was supposed to be Jean-Claude and Wesley Snipes. So the boxer was supposed to be played either by Wesley Snipes or Cuba Gooding, which would have made it a much bigger movie.

Basically, they said, “We’ve got Jean-Claude Van Damme. We’re paying him a lot. If we get Wesley Snipes, we’ll have to pay Wesley Snipes the same amount of money we’re paying Jean-Claude, and that’s going to make the budget too big.” Now, in my opinion, it would have helped the movie. We would have had a bigger name in there. We would have had three big names. We would have had Jean-Claude, Wesley Snipes and Vivica A. Fox. And I think for sure, it would have been a theatrical movie. And that’s why it didn’t go theatrical because we just didn’t have the money we needed to get the right cast.

GC: I’d like to hear you about The Order, which easily ranks among your best collaborations with JCVD. The scene in which Van Damme is dressed as a Hassidic Jew is just exceptional.

SL: I made another movie in Israel—I did a movie there with Dolph Lundgren, The Last Patrol. So I got to know Israel pretty well. The cops trying to catch Van Damme, it was basically my idea. But I didn’t write the original script for The Order. It was written by this guy, Les Weldon. I wanted to make it more like an old Hitchcock movie. Hitchcock made a movie called North By Northwest and another one called The Man Who Knew Too Much. And that’s what I wanted to do with The Order. You’ve got the bad guys and the cops all after Jean-Claude. So, basically, he’s in trouble with everybody. And that’s how all those Hitchcock movies worked.

I rewatched North By Northwest just recently. It was on TV. And I realized there were a lot of ideas that I took from North By Northwest. And I even forgot that I took the ideas, like this one scene in North By Northwest with Cary Grant. He’s trying to disguise himself, so he puts on some dark sunglasses. I did the exact same thing in The Order. We got the cops looking for Jean-Claude, and he’s putting dark sunglasses on to disguise himself. So that’s the kind of movie it was supposed to be. And Hitchcock put a lot of humor into those movies, too, and I put a lot of humor into The Order.

There was a Jean-Paul Belmondo movie called The Man from Rio. It was in the 1960s. I saw it in the theater. And so I wanted to make it a little bit like that. The same thing where everybody is chasing our hero. The cops and the bad guys were all after him. And then, there was another movie I saw. It was a French movie. So those two French movies, right there. It was called The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob, where some guy was anti-Semitic. He’s got the mafia after him, and he disguises himself as a Hasidic Jew. And then, the bad guys and the cops are all chasing him. So that’s another part of that idea that I had. And then, just being in Jerusalem and just seeing these guys walking around, I just thought that would be a good disguise for Jean-Claude to have if he was trying to get away from the cops. So that was what pretty much led to that. And I really wasn’t sure if Jean-Claude would go for it, if he would actually do that. And he did. He totally went for it. He put the beard on and everything, and that’s my favorite sequence in the entire movie. I really love the way that whole sequence turned out. So that’s my favorite part of The Order.

Our producer was Avi Lerner. And one thing Avi told me before we did the movie, he said, “l want an action scene every 10 minutes. Lots of action.” And he paid for it, too. They had the budget. We did a lot of crazy stuff in The Order. We were at the airport. Can you imagine shooting—nobody else has done that in Israel, but Avi had some connections. He had a cousin who was a pilot for El Al. That was how he got that jet where Jean-Claude was trying to get around the jet and just coming through. That was Avi’s cousin in the cockpit. And then, Avi was a good friend of the Prime Minister of Israel at the time, Ehud Olmert. And that’s how we got permission to shoot in Jerusalem. I mean, can you imagine? We’re doing this crazy chase scene, and we’re really on the streets of Jerusalem for most of it.

It was very hard to shoot there. It’s very crowded. And the people who live there, it’s divided between Jews and Muslims. And they disagree on just about everything, but they all love Jean-Claude Van Damme. All of them are Van Damme fans. So we had a hard time getting away from them because they’d be surrounding us and chasing after us. They were like, “Van Damme! Van Damme!” They wanted him to sign autographs. It became very difficult to shoot in Jerusalem, so we ended up building sets in Bulgaria to look like Jerusalem. Half of that chase scene was shot in Jerusalem and on the real streets, and then the other half we shot on a recreated version of Jerusalem in Bulgaria. And what I find interesting about this is that even people who are from Israel or who’ve been in Jerusalem many times don’t realize that we shot in two different places. They think that we shot the entire thing on the streets of Jerusalem. So we did a pretty good job recreating that Jerusalem look.

GC: Before Mark Dacascos acted for Christophe Gans in Crying Freeman and Brotherhood of the Wolf, he was in Only the Strong. Please tell us about your collaboration with Dacascos.

SL: Well, he had a manager named Katherine James, and she was the one that was pushing Mark. She got in touch with me, said, “You need to work with my client, Mark Dacascos. He’s going to be the next big action star.” And so I met Mark and I liked him very much. And one thing I found out about him was that he was very good with gymnastics. He was a good acrobat, and I think he’d already been studying some capoeira at the time. And that was an important part of the movie. It was all about capoeira.

So Mark was willing to go to classes with this real capoeira master from Brazil. So he learned all that stuff and was very willing to do anything I asked him to do. And it ended up working out great for the movie because he was able to do so much stuff that Van Damme can’t do, for example. Like Mark was good with the gymnastics. He could do flips. He could jump in the air. Jean-Claude can’t really do that kind of stuff. He’s good with the kicks and the punching, but if he has to do something gymnastic, we generally have to get a stunt double to do it for him. And also, Jean-Claude was not good with weapons, like martial arts weapons. He can use a gun. Of course, anybody can fire a gun, but he couldn’t do like the sticks and poles and all that kind of stuff, and Mark could do all of that stuff. We realized that in the movie, we’ve got him having fights with people using sticks and everything. And with Jean-Claude we couldn’t do that.

GC: Scott Adkins is sometimes thought to be Jean-Claude Van Damme’s spiritual heir. How do you assess his performances?

SL: I think he’s great. I met him a few years ago, and I knew he was going to do great as an action actor. And he’s been doing terrific. He’s been doing a lot of great action movies. Unfortunately, we’re in a different era, now. Had I met Scott in the 1980s, he probably would have become a much bigger star because those kinds of movies were popular back then, in the 80s and 90s. By the time Scott came on the scene, those kinds of movies were not happening, anymore. And now, it’s become superhero movies. So superhero movies have kind of taken over as far as action movies. And Scott has certainly done a number of action films, and he’s been great in them; but that’s just not the kind of movie that’s getting the big theatrical releases, nowadays, which is unfortunate.

GC: Do you share Martin Scorsese’s, Ridley Scott’s, and Denis Villeneuve’s recently expressed reservations about Marvel movies?

SL: Well, personally, I’m a Marvel Comics fan. From a long time ago, I was reading all those comic books in the 60s when they came out. I would go down to the store. The day that they put the comic books on the stands, I would go down to the store and get them. So I had all the originals. I had the first Fantastic Four and the first X-Men, the first Spider-Man. I had all those. I was a big fan of Marvel comic books back then.

And then, when they started making the Marvel movies, I thought the first few were really great. I loved the first Iron Man movie, for example. And the first Captain America movie, I thought that was terrific. But then, they just started getting just too big for my taste. They’re too big, too many characters. And I started losing interest in those Marvel movies. They’re well-made, but there’s a sameness to them. They have the same kind of structure. They all end up with these huge action scenes with lots of special effects, lots of CGI. And personally, CGI is great, but I prefer action films that have some real stuff going on screen where people are actually fighting. They’re not relying on CGI.

I was a big fan of the earlier James Bond movies, the pre-CGI James Bond movie. I was a big James Bond fan for many years. But with some of these more recent ones, once they started getting into too much CGI, and I wasn’t seeing real stunts anymore, I started losing interest in those. Although the Daniel Craig ones, I think are really good. They basically made some real changes with those Daniel Craig versions. But even so, I’m just not the Bond’s fan that I used to be many years ago. And the Marvel movies, Scorsese says they’re not real movies. Well, they really are more like just an assembly-line product. There’s a sameness to all of them, now. It just feels like you’re watching the same movie: lots of CGI, lots of explosions and crazy weapons, crazy flying machines. But they just don’t have the same kind of heart that they had in the earlier ones, the first few that they made.

GC: Do you share the commonly heard criticism that Christopher Nolan’s action scenes are as bad and poorly shot as his screenplays and concepts are astute?

SL: Christopher, I think he’s great. See, his action scenes feel fresh and original to me because he’s basically running the show. He’s coming up with these movies. He’s not recycling some comic book characters. He’s doing original movies, coming up with original action scenes. Whereas with the Marvel movies, the producers are pretty much hiring directors who are basically traffic cops and telling them, “This is what the movie is going to be. This is what the action scenes are going to be. And you get out there, and you just tell the actors what to do.” They just move the characters around.

And with Christopher Nolan, it’s not like that. He’s basically making Christopher Nolan movies. He’s doing action scenes that are fresh and original and doing them the way he wants to do them. And I really admire him for that. And James Cameron, too. James Cameron is another example. I love the Avatar movie. I’ve watched it a number of times. The action scenes are great. Everything about Avatar is fantastic. But James Cameron, basically, he’s calling his own shots. He’s basically saying, “I want to do this movie called Avatar. These are the actors I want.” And he goes and makes the movie. And he’s got no studio executives telling him how to structure his movie, what characters are going to be in it. It’s basically his show. And that makes a big difference.

GC: How do you explain that Hollywood, which used to be somewhat conservative and patriotic in the Reaganian era, has become so woke in the last few years?

SL: No, it wasn’t really conservative in the eighties. It was not Hollywood. That was Stallone. That was Stallone’s own point of view. Stallone was somewhat patriotic. He was a big supporter of Reagan, America. Reagan was, I don’t know—I wouldn’t call him a close personal friend, but he knew Reagan. He voted for him. I’m not sure if he campaigned for him, but they were very closely aligned in their politics. The rest of Hollywood was not. Stallone was kind of an outlier when it came to Hollywood. Oliver Stone, for example, has a completely different point of view. So that was Stallone and Schwarzenegger. Both of them were Republicans. Schwarzenegger even ended up being the Republican governor of California. So that was really their point of view, but that was not Hollywood. Hollywood was actually much more liberal during that period.

And that’s why the Rambo movies got such bad reviews, too. Like Rambo III, I mean, we got a Golden Razzie Award for Worst Screenplay, Worst Movie because most of the press was very liberal. And so they were not really voting their conscience about the movie. It was all about politics. “Because Stallone is a conservative Republican, we’re going to say that his movie is shit.” But actually, Rambo III, I think, is a pretty damn good movie. I like Rambo II even better. But basically, that was not the Hollywood attitude at the time. That was Stallone, Schwarzenegger—Bruce Willis also ended up being a Republican.

So a lot of these action stars had a different point of view from most people in Hollywood. Like even Van Damme, he’s very conservative. He’s not an American. I think he is an American citizen now, actually. And he was a Trump supporter. Even Stallone and Schwarzenegger were not Trump supporters but Van Damme was. We’re not talking about Hollywood in general, we’re talking about action stars who, for the most part, tended to be more conservative and lean towards the Republicans more than the Democrats.

GC: Please tell us about this recent movie of yours whose main character is a soldier dog, Max.

SL: Well, that brought me back to Afghanistan because the beginning of the movie takes place in Afghanistan? So rather than Rambo in Afghanistan, Max was really Rambo with four legs instead of two. He was basically a Rambo character. Max, he’s a soldier in Afghanistan. He gets sent back to the States. And then, when some bad guys are threatening his family, well, then he uses all his skills to defeat the bad guys. So it was really Rambo with four legs and a tail. That was basically Max.

And I got the idea for that because I got some puppies a number of years ago at the pound, and supposedly, they were German Shepherds. They were little, so it was hard to tell. So I got these two puppies, and months later, I discovered that they were not German shepherds, they were Belgian malinois. And so I did some research on Belgian malinois, and I found out that the army and the police are using these dogs because they’re the best dogs for that kind of work.

So I was doing my research, and I saw that there were a couple of dog-handlers that died in Afghanistan or Iraq. And then, their families asked, “Well, my son is dead, but can I have his dog? Can his dog be part of our family because that’s all we have left of him from his time in the military?” And so these families ended up adopting the dogs, and that was the basis for Max. Basically, this dog-handler gets killed, his dog survives. And then, the family back in Texas wants to adopt the dog. And the dog ends up being their protector, coming to the rescue.

GC: Thank you for the opportunity to do this interview.

SL: You’re welcome. That’s funny, I was just exchanging text messages with Brian Thompson. And Brian is in The Order. And Brian is a real expert with swords. He was in the Conan Show at Universal Studios. So he used to work with swords all the time. He’s really good with them. And then, our stunt-double for Jean-Claude in The Order was David Leitch. Well, David is also really good with weapons, so Brian and he worked out a great sword fight sequence. And David, by the way, has now gone on to be a director. He directed Deadpool 2. He did that one, I forgot the title of it, the one with Dwayne Johnson. He did this really huge movie with Dwayne Johnson [Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw]. And he was our double for Jean-Claude.

So, we were supposed to have a sword fight at the end of The Order. But Jean-Claude, like I said, he’s not good with weapons. We tried doing a few things with him. He wasn’t comfortable with it. He’s comfortable with what he’s good at, with the kicks and the punches and all of that. So he said, “Guys, let’s not do this. I can’t do this scene.” And basically, Brian and David were going to do most of the scene with the swords. And we were just going to need some close ups of Jean-Claude just swinging a sword or something. And he just didn’t feel it was going to work. So we went away from that whole sequence. And it’s a bit disappointing because I thought we needed a really good sword fight at the end of The Order, but we ended up not getting it. It’s kind of a disappointing scene.

Spirituality And Action: A Conservation With Abdelkrim Qissi

This month, we are so very delighted to present a discussion with actor and film-maker, Abdelkrim Qissi, who speaks of his life-long involvement with film and his long association with Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Mr. Qissi sits down with Grégoire Canlorbe, writer and philosopher, to reminisce, explain and encourage. His words of wisdom derive from the many rich experiences that he has lived through, and the cast of interesting people that he has met.

Mr. Qissi is a Belgian-Moroccan actor and boxer. A close collaborator of Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mr. Qissi notably played the antagonists, Attila and Khan, in two cult Van Damme films: Lionheart and The Quest. He is the brother of Mohamed Qissi, the actor who portrayed Tong Po in Kickboxer and Moustafa in Lionheart.

Grégoire Canlorbe (GC): Could you start by telling us about your up-coming co-directed movie Lopak l’Envoûteur [Lopak the Enchanter], which will be released in April 2022?

Abdelkrim Qissi (AQ): Originally, I was called upon to act in a scene from a movie whose story revolved around a cannibalistic killer. The script was largely non-existent and the shooting improvised. Abel Ernest Tembo, who was in charge of directing, asked me to appear in a few more sequences, which I accepted to do, on the condition that we rework the story thoroughly and give the film a script worthy of the name. Ernest immediately accepted. I went into production and we agreed to make the film together. The camera-work, the imaging, lighting and grading would be his responsibility, while developing the story, playing the lead role, directing the cast and writing the script mostly mine.

During the Covid period, an entirely new story was created, and a new film was born. Only the title stayed the same. Then, a year ago, we started shooting what was now a feature-length film. The shooting has nearly wrapped up. I want to salute the work of Abel Ernest Tembo, a man excellent with imaging.

Abdelkrim Qissi.

GC: In the Lopak trailer, the character you play, Molosse, there are a lot of bees, busy yet mysterious. Could you satisfy our curiosity and tell us what is going on with these bees?

AQ: I cannot say too much about the plot of the film at the moment, but Molosse in the script is invested with a mission – that of “healing” humanity, which he considers corrupted by greed and which he hopes to turn into bees devoted to the common good. To that end, he uses hypnosis and a serum that, annihilating consciousness, leaves only the subconscious and the unconscious. In this way, he hopes to put an end to borders and to all that divides humanity; and change the Earth into a perfectly balanced hive where everyone in their cell perfectly knows their place, their mission, and selflessly work for the hive’s well-being, where no one encroaches on anyone and where everyone supports everyone. In his quest, Molosse will be led to do things that will trigger a whole storm around him—both for his family and his old friends.

But I don’t want to reveal too much about the film. But to the young and not so young who have the desire to shoot their own feature films and who, nevertheless, are reluctant to run to fill out files, submit requests to commissions, receive financial aid – to all these people, this film sends the following message: “Do not wait to be supported, taken seriously, introduced to big names. Take your camera and shoot. Let the big names come to you as you build your own success.”

To those young and not so young who have the desire to shoot their own film, who have the talent and the passion but are not particularly well-known to the general public, nor are really involved in the right networks, I am hoping that Lopak the Enchanter will prove that no matter what resource they might have at their disposal when they first begin, the people they surround themselves with from the very beginning, will make it possible for them to achieve their goal and make the film of their dreams.

GC: Alongside Mohamed Qissi and Kamel Krifa, you also played in Lionheart (also known as Full Contact). How did the three of you end up on the set?

AQ: Jean-Claude I have known since his childhood. I met him in a sports center where both my brother Mohamed and I came to train, and where Jean-Claude practiced karate (with Claude Goetz). I was training for boxing. I also met there, among others, Jean-Pierre Valère, who was kind enough to agree to appear briefly in Lopak. When they met, Jean-Claude and Mohamed became more than friends. They were inseparable, joined at the hip. They were truly brothers. It was not uncommon for Jean-Claude stay our home.

One fine day, sharing the same dream of breaking into the cinema, they both left for America. After long years of hardship and adventures, they made this dream come true by playing in Bloodsport, then Kickboxer. I can’t really relate the circumstances that led to my participation, at the age of 29, in the filming of Full Contact. But briefly, it all boils down to the fact that I was Mohamed’s brother (who had just played Tong Po in Kickboxer), and that he and Jean-Claude Van Damme asked me, and the producers as well, that I take on the role of Attila. I was very happy with that offer and jumped at the chance. As for Kamel, he’s a friend that we met in Brussels. That is how he too found himself by our side, on the set of Full Contact.

GC: Lionheart’s final fight pits Lyon Gaultier, a character played by Jean-Claude Van Damme, against a brutal fighter, who is nonetheless affectionate towards his cat. Even though Lyon is suffering from a broken rib, and lets himself be dominated at first. But nearly at the point of death takes over Attila, the character you play. How did the idea for such choreography come to the film crew? What the filming of that idea like?

AQ: Contrary to the idea of the white cat, which was an improvisation during the shooting, the idea that Lyon takes the upper hand over Attila when everyone (including his trainer) thinks him to be losing is an idea in the script. It was not improvised when the choreography was being designed. Jean-Claude nevertheless participated in the writing of the screenplay; just as the choreographies of Lionheart are all his doing. Both ideas sound good to me—and crucial to what creates the film’s aura, now more than thirty years after its release.

The touching affection that Attila has for his pet, which he shows by taking advantage of Lyon being momentarily on the ground to stroke his cat, contrasts with what is, besides, the brutality of the character. A contrast that the film emphasizes in its visual symbolism by making Attila all dressed in black, while his cat s entirely white. The cat in question, which, again, was not intended in the script (if I remember correctly), belonged to a member of the film crew.

The inner strength that manifests itself in the character of Jean-Claude just after his trainer, Joshua, confesses to him that he does not trust him and that he himself has bet on Attila. There is rage inside Lyon, then, to overcome himself in order to triumph over his opponent and prove to Joshua that he made the “wrong bet” (which is also at the very origin of one of the film’s titles). And that desire, coming from the depths of his heart, allows Lyon to overcome the pain and to defeat Attila even though the latter, in plain view, was largely dominating him until then, gives the film one of its most beautiful scenes.

GC: You play Khan, a Mongolian champion with whom the character of JCVD fights at the end of The Quest. JCVD directed that film; but years before he had already served, unofficially, as an editor to Bloodsport. What makes the two films so different despite their partly similar plot? How did you work with JCVD to come up with a final fight that is even more impressive than the one between JCVD and Bolo Yeung [at the end of Bloodsport]?

AQ: A major difference between Bloodsport and The Quest is, it seems to me, that Jean-Claude had the opportunity to work with professional fighters in The Quest; while the tournament participants in Bloodsport were played by people who were a bit less pros in the field of martial arts. Another major difference is that in The Quest, Jean-Claude had matured since Bloodsport and was then at the peak of his physical and mental form. The exotic landscapes in The Quest, the richness of the animal cast (including the elephant and the horses), the beauty of the imaging (including the care given to the colors), all that contributes to what makes Jean-Claude’s film so different from Bloodsport, released almost ten years earlier. However, I would regret that the human relations in The Quest were somewhat put in the background during the filming; I believe, because of a timing problem or a problem arisen in production.

Jean-Claude is an excellent choreographer; and in Full Contact, like in The Quest, trusted himself for the design of the fights. Also, in Full Contact, like in The Quest, he adapted the choreography for the final fight to my martial style, to what I’m best able to do in an arena. Whether it is the confrontation between Attila and Lyon Gaultier in Full Contact or the one between Khan and Christopher Dubois in The Quest, for which the fight at the end of Lionheart was ultimately the prelude – no stand-in, or any special effect; nor any stunt carried out by someone else was required.

Shooting the choreography was for Jean-Claude and me an easy, joyful, and quick exercise. If I remember correctly, on the set of The Quest, Jean-Claude and I worked only nine hours—three times three hours, over three days—developing our choreography from Jean-Claude’s general idea. A German Steadicam operator on the set of The Quest said of Jean-Claude and I that we were “like the fingers of the hand,” given how we knew each other, understood each other, and had blind confidence in each other in the choreography’s execution; given how our moves, with meticulous precision, were easy for us and resembled a ballet; given how our blows espoused each other without ever hurting or touching each other.

Grégoire Canlorbe with Abdelkrim Qissi.

GC: You traveled to Israel for the filming of The Order, by Sheldon Lettich (who years before had directed and co-written Lionheart). What do you remember from your stay in the Holy Land?

AQ: I had great times with Sheldon. He’s a very nice guy, just like Peter MacDonald. I believe that Jean-Claude, by offering me a sort of cameo in The Order, wanted to acknowledge my previous performances in the roles of Attila and Khan, two characters united into one in “the Big Arab” whom I briefly interpret in The Order.

Regarding Jerusalem, what struck me about that city is the conjunction of holiness and violence that reigns within it, the spectacle of both beauty and injustice that it offers. All the more as our subconscious associates Jerusalem with the battles and bloodshed of which it has been the theatre throughout history.

The little Palestinian people are a brilliant people who have gone through very hard times over the centuries. Does the Israeli government really have a stake in peace—given that Israel would then no longer be in a position to continue its nibbling on territories? Do Fatah, in power in the West Bank, and Hamas, in power in the Gaza Strip, really have a stake in the war’s ending – given that the financial rent they get from the military conflict would suddenly cease if there is peace? For the Palestinian Authority, wouldn’t stopping the attacks, reprisals, and rocket fires be the best weapon against Israel—given that it would deprive Israel of any justification for its settlement policy and force nations in the whole world to take the side of the Palestinians against the Israelis?

Being not in the know, I do not want to make any assertions, but only to raise a number of questions that, in my opinion, are worth asking. Let me add that a religious government, as is the case of Hamas, is, in my eyes, a foolish and disastrous thing; since such a government could never represent the entire population, some individuals being firmly religious, others not so much, or even not at all. It is much wiser for a government to refrain from imposing any dogma or rite regarding religion; and to recognize in everyone the freedom to practice or not some spirituality, and the freedom to practice it in the way that suits him personally. That would be one of the pillars of my policy if I were to find myself at the head of the Palestinian Authority. But being not a man of power, I no more aspire to occupy such a position than I would be able to hoist myself into it.

GC: With regard to the Quran, do you believe that it should be taken literally—or that it contains an allegorical meaning that should be deciphered with the help of ancillary knowledge?

AQ: First of all, please know that I am in no way claiming that what I am telling you is the truth; it is only my conception of the truth. I am submitting it to you in the framework of an exchange, not of a debate. I don’t just deny myself the status of teacher or preacher; I see it as an incompatibility with well-understood spirituality, which is a personal, intimate affair. What I understand about the Quran is that a huge gulf exists between the word interpreted and taught by men and the WORD drawn directly from the source (the Book itself).

Allah, I understand Him as the source of all that exists; so that God is both present in His creation and located upstream from it. It is impossible to love God without loving His creation. It is impossible to love Allah, He who is in the trees, if the wood is cut without moderation; impossible to love Him, He who is in the human, if one hurts one’s neighbor. The words of the Quran (which it is customary to recite by singing it) are not only made to rock and cuddle the ears of the devotee. That is the lowest, most superficial, level of listening there is, the furthest from what is attentive listening to what the Quran seeks to communicate to us and make us understand.

I didn’t learn Arabic at school. I learned it late, when I applied myself to reading a comparative edition of the Quran, including the original text in Arabic and a French translation. The main words of the Book, what I call the catchwords, resonate differently from anything I have been taught. Often they are not even translated.

Here are some examples of those words: Allah, Islam, Muslim, Quran, Jihad. Those words have very precise and deep meanings, characteristics and specificities. I’m not going to teach you what they mean, because that is research unique to each of us. What I can say and repeat is that there is a huge gulf between what you have been taught and what the Quran can teach you. Many counterfeiters have seized the content to use it for their own ends. Such is what created the innumerable religions, themselves divided into different sects, schools and currents of thought.

To conclude my answer: from my reading, I do not see any contradiction in the Book. I do not see any violence. I perceive only love for God in it; and it goes without saying, for His creation as well.

GC: Tell us about your meetings with Roger Moore (on the set of The Quest) and Charlton Heston (on the set of The Order). And what is your favorite James Bond?

AQ: The shootings of The Quest and The Order were effectively the occasion of magnificent encounters: Pjetër Malota (who played the Spanish fighter in The Quest), Takis Triggelis (who played the French fighter), Cesar Carneiro (who played the Brazilian fighter), Stefanos Miltsanakis (who played the Greek fighter—and who passed away two years ago, God rest his soul!), Janet Gunn (who played the journalist), Roger Moore (God rest his soul!), and many others.

The four and a half months that The Quest team spent in Thailand allowed me to closely interact with Roger Moore, to the point where he became a friend; as well as his wife, with whom I have had long discussions about spirituality, being myself sick of spirituality as you must have noticed. Moore was an extraordinary man; of unparalleled kindness, simplicity, and humanism, he warmly encouraged me, as well as young people in general.

Unlike Roger Moore on the set of The Quest, Charlton Heston remained somewhat aloof, withdrawn, on the set of The Order; and had a very small role, so he didn’t stay long on the spot. Being then of a very advanced age already, I think he was a little tired. He nevertheless gave me the impression of a respectful and respectable gentleman, of great kindness.

As for my opinion on the evolution of the James Bond, it seems to me futile to want to compare them, given how the historical contexts, perceptions of the character, filmic means, are each time different. It would be like pretending to compare Mohamed Ali, Mike Tyson, and Joe Louis! Roger Moore in James Bond evoked Simon Templar, alias “the Saint,” and Lord Brett Sinclair, the sidekick of Tony Curtis’ Daniel Wilde in The Pretenders.

Moore played a gallant, charming, light Bond, devoid of the slightest hint of violence, though no less strong and talented. Sean Connery and Roger Moore are the only James Bond that we can almost classify in the same category – by the finesse, the tact, which they have in common and that is ultimately lacking in the others (all the more, as the more recent episodes highlight action). Some say Daniel Craig is the best James Bond. I don’t agree. Pierce Brosnan, for example, was not bad at all, as well as a Timothy Dalton who had a more violent register as would be, nearly twenty years later, Daniel Craig.

GC: Who from Tong Po or Chong Li [antagonist in Bloodsport] would win if they fought with each other? Same question for Attila and Khan

AQ: Regarding Tong Po versus Chong Li: If we talk about the actors, I think that my brother, a professional boxer, would win against Bolo Yeung, who, to my knowledge, is an accomplished actor without really being an experienced martial artist or boxer.

Now, if we talk about the characters, it seems to me that, by comparing the performances of Tong Po and Chong Li in their respective films, the former is clearly more dangerous, more gifted, more powerful, in Kickboxer than the latter is in Bloodsport; so that, if they were to come face to face, Tong Po would win hands-down over Chong Li.

Regarding Khan versus Attila, it seems to me that the former’s power (including mental) in The Quest is without comparison with that of the latter in Full Contact; and that the Mongol would be the big winner in a hypothetical confrontation with Attila.

GC: Thank you for your time. Would you like to add anything further?

AQ: We talked about thriller and action movies. But I must confess that my personal preference as a spectator goes to contemplative, spiritual films. So, I haven’t seen most of Jean-Claude’s films (including Legionnaire, which everyone spoke highly of, especially the opening boxing sequence). There are certainly thrillers and action films with a contemplative, spiritual dimension, and that I particularly appreciate such films. Among these are Gladiator, by Ridley Scott, or Heat, by Michael Mann.

The featured image shows the poster for the film, Lopak l’Envoûteur.