March 01, 2021

The Valley of the Dead

The Valley of the Dead

In a vast, half-abandoned valley, amid the imposing Caucasus mountains, there is a monument marking the presumed location where Russia’s biggest movie star of the 1990s perished. A simple marble plate on a rock and the figure of a grieving mother commemorate Sergei Bodrov, Jr. and his film crew, all of whom died here on September 20, 2002.

At around 8:08 pm that day, a 150-meter-thick chunk of the Kolka Glacier, situated on the northern slope of the 5050-meter-high Mount Kazbek, barrelled 32 kilometers down the Karmadon Gorge. Travelling at over 100 kilometers per hour, the avalanche buried several villages and 125 people under a 100-meter-deep outflow of ice, mud and debris. Among them were a 42-member film crew with Sergei Bodrov, Jr., who had come here to direct a new movie. The 30-year-old was at the peak of his popularity, having become a symbol of the new post-Soviet Russia as the main character of the Brother (Брат) films.

For Russians, Bodrov’s dramatic death made the Karmadon Gorge synonymous with tragedy (his son Alexander had been born just a month before in Moscow, delaying the 10-day shoot by a month). Previously, the remote valley in the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania was little-known to the outside world, and then only for its wild beauty and the mysterious ancient necropolis located nearby. For Bodrov, this had seemed the  perfect place for his next film, The Messenger, a philosophical-mystical parable about romantics, travellers and bandits.

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