The Russian Mafia: what can't they do? After this insider's look into the world of, ahem, "hypothetical" crimes, it's pretty clear that the answer is nyet. Following the stories of three mafiosi-cum-businessmen, Thieves By Law paints a fascinating tableau of men that would make Tony Soprano cringe. Most intriguing, though, are their personal histories interwoven with the evolution of the Russian Mafia itself. Beginning in Stalin's gulags and slowly transforming into an international organization, the mafia and Code of Thieves have always directly correlated to the political struggles of the Soviet Union—reflecting society back to the government like a funhouse mirror.
These men have been through bad times as well as good, persevering with the ammunition of street smarts, savvy, and loyalty to their code, and eventually transforming themselves from cunning crooks to shrewd businessmen. Through unprecedented access and a knack for asking all the right questions, director Alexander Gentelev shows us exactly what happens when a dark underbelly is flipped on its back: It slaps on some sunscreen, orders a Molotov cocktail, and soaks up those French Riviera rays….
Director's Statement Collapse
The West doesn't understand Russia. The Russian underworld is a uniquely Russian phenomenon, no matter how similar it may seem at first to organized crime in other countries. The truth is that there is nothing quite like it anywhere else in the world. It's certainly not a 'Mafia' in the traditional sense of the word. It's a state within a state that has, over the years, successfully managed to spill over into officialdom, bringing with it its own methods, laws, and logic. It is impossible to understand modern Russia today without understanding the Russian underworld.
I emigrated from Russia in 1992 and made a new home for myself in Israel. Three years later, in 1995, I returned to Russia to begin collecting material for a film about the Russian 'oligarchs.' What I found confused me. Former criminals were suddenly the presidents of banks and the owners of major corporations. Things had certainly changed, and so had the criminals themselves. They replaced their Adidas track suits for hand-tailored Versace eveningwear.
And they seemed to be everywhere. In 1994, the vor v zakonie, the thieves by law, held a conference here in Israel. Later, I traveled to France to meet Macintosh, and to Germany to meet with Taiwanchik. It soon became apparent that everywhere I looked, I could find the thieves by law.
This left me wondering: who is a criminal, and who is now an oligarch? I've spent the past 10 years trying to answer that question. I've lived in the West for the past two decades, but I am still a native of Russia and feel a strong affinity to the land where I was born. That is why I have taken upon myself to explain Russia to the outside world. This is especially important today, because the thieves by law have long since stepped out from behind the curtain, iron or otherwise, that determines Russia's boundaries, and are having an enormous impact on the entire world.