The Documentary Aleksei Navalny Knew We’d Watch After His Death

About two-thirds of the way through, Navalny is relaxing between interviews with Roher when a woman asks if he’s getting annoyed by the questions about his past. No, Navalny tells her, in Russian: Roher can ask whatever he wants. She says that’s fine, but that he seems agitated.

Navalny stops and explains: “It’s just that I realize that he’s filming it all for the movie he’s going to release if I get whacked.”

He wasn’t exactly correct. A few months after its premiere, “Navalny” made its U.S. streaming debut, where it continued to garner attention. Meanwhile, alive but in prison, Navalny stayed connected to the world. He’d built a strong social media presence, and he and his team (who remain in exile) kept posting during his imprisonment. And then, in March 2023, “Navalny” won best documentary feature at the Oscars, further evidence that the world was watching.

But if “Navalny” wasn’t intended as a postmortem, it’s chilling to watch it after reports of his death. He knows what might happen but doesn’t seem scared, just determined. The day of his return to Moscow, he appears nervy and intent, but with fellow plane passengers, he makes jokes about the weather, accepts their well wishes and watches “Rick and Morty” as they descend. This is, you realize, a resolutely unflappable man.

At the end of the film, Roher once again asks Navalny what message he would leave for the Russian people if he was imprisoned or even killed. Answering in English, Navalny responds, “My message for the situation when I am killed is very simple: Not give up.” Recognizing there’s more to the sentiment, Roher asks him to repeat his answer in Russian.

“Listen, I’ve got something very obvious to tell you,” Navalny says rapidly and fluidly in Russian, according to the subtitles. He’s looking straight into the camera and picking up steam as he goes. “You’re not allowed to give up. If they decide to kill me, it means that we are incredibly strong. We need to utilize this power to not give up, to remember we are a huge power that is being oppressed by these bad dudes. We don’t realize how strong we actually are.”