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

ReelPolitik By Anthony Kaufman | ReelPolitik June 11, 2014 at 10:18AM

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

burning bush

From my review in the Utne Reader this month: 

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

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