| 8.3°C Dublin

Russian messiah's simple take on life

Throughout A Long Weekend with the Son of God, George Carey's hugely absorbing feature-length documentary about self-styled Russian Messiah Jesus Vissarion, you waited for the big revelation: the lurid tales of sex and drug orgies, secret Swiss bank accounts, indoctrination and brainwashing, and all the other things that go hand in hand with being a cult leader.

You waited and waited and waited, but it never came. Vissarion -- real identity Sergei Torop, a 49-year-old former traffic cop and heavy drinker -- is definitely not the Messiah, nor is he necessarily a very naughty boy.

It's entirely possible he's simply deranged, but in a touchy, feely, beardy, huggy kind of way. Then again, he could be a conman. It's hard to know, to be honest, and Carey wasn't all that interested in finding out. He was cynical, of course, but in a refreshingly low-key way.

Less tolerant cynics say Vissarion takes his spiritual cues from Robert Powell's impressive performance in Jesus of Nazareth -- which, though never released in the old Soviet Union, was hugely popular on pirate video.

He certainly has the look: the flowing locks, the beard, the crisp robes, the sandals, the white socks . . . okay, so Powell's Jesus didn't have white socks. Nor, for that matter, did he have a quad bike for getting about, but let's not get bogged down in minor details.

Vissarion's detractors also say he takes his followers' money and possessions, though his closest disciple, an ex-rock singer called Vadim, who shadows Vissarion as closely as Robert Duvall's consigliore shadowed Marlon Brando's Don Corleone in The Godfather, laughed off such claims.

Vissarion and his 4,000 disciples are Vegans, which probably rules out a repeat of the loaves and the fishes miracle (although one woman said he'd been known to walk barefoot and bareheaded in -42-degree temperatures, which is pretty impressive). They live in Sun City, a self-built community in a forest in Serbia.

Well, the disciples do, anyway. The Master, as they call him, lives in a "celestial abode" they built for him at the top of a mountain . . . or at least he used to, before he decided to live among his flock in a more conventional house (the biggest one in Sun City and the only one made of bricks). It saves on quad bike fuel, I suppose.

Intriguingly, a lot of his followers happen to be well-off, middle-class professionals (funny coincidence, that) who disavowed their old lives to follow Vissarion's teachings, even though it's hard to pin down exactly what those teachings are.

He preaches a kind of weird mix 'n' match religion, comprising dollops of Christianity, slivers of Hinduism and large helpings of pagan nature-worshipping, and tends to speak in broad, airy-fairy cliches about being good and righteous. Non-specific, one-size-fits-all guff, in other words.

Though Vissarion's religion is very new -- the disciples use his earthly age as their calendar, meaning this is Year 49 -- some of the attitudes are ancient. Especially the one regarding the subservience of women.

"Men follow God and women follow men," said one former ambitious career woman who now waxes lyrical about "the beauty of submission". Needless to say, the birth-rate in Sun City is nine times higher than the Russian average. A heavenly documentary.


A Long Weekend with the Son of God ****