12 is a remake of the classical 12 Angry Men – Sidney Lumet’s ultimate jury drama. What makes Nikita Mikhalkov, a director who never lacked original ideas or Russian scripts take the court drama located in the US of the 5os just out of the McCarthy period era and transplant it with all its 12 characters, with very similar premises and very predictable (at least up to some point) end into the reality of today’s Russia?

source www.imdb.com

I believe that the intent is explicit and declarative. Russia undergoes now a similar process of transition as the USA in the 50s, and the end is still uncertain. The laws may be already written in the books of laws, the jury system is called in theory to allow for fair trials in which the accused is presumed innocent until l proven guilty, but laws are implemented by humans and humans have limitations and prejudices and they are in a hurry to give a verdict and get back to their lives. As in Lumet’s film, it is more the human beings than the system that ensure that justice is eventually done. The responsibility of every man to stand up and express his doubts despite the overwhelming opinion of the other, the right of the minority in a democratic system to have its say despite the apparent rightfulness of the majority are key elements in the Russian film as well as in the original American one,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBq_Y0kgkMY

(video source ErlandJosephson)

And yet at the same time Mikhalkov’s film is very Russian. The mix of characters represents various sectors of today’s Russian society and the acting is without exception splendid. National tensions and antisemitism are still part of the landscape, and so are the cultural and even the language sequels of the Communist period. The jurors, all men (why?) address each other inertially with the denomination ‘comrades’. Each has the opportunity to tell his story, and the stories describe the background of their personalities, and the motivation of their decision to eventually absolve the innocent. it is however the surprise ending that adds a new dimension to the film. The Chechen youngster wrongly accused of killing his Russian stepfather is acquitted. However, his acquittal may mean just a suspension of a death penalty in the hands of the mafia who are the real responsible of the murder. It takes a rather melodramatic ending to solve this problem, and this interesting addition to the original American story is both unconvincing as story flow  but quite eyes-opening. Although the court drama is for almost the whole duration of the film confined inside the walls of the same room it tells a lot about the Russian realities at large.