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Kozintsev was one of the great Russian directors, whose career started in the silent era. His star, Nikolai Cherkasov, played a hero who used brains as well as brawn in Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky, and a politician who becomes almost demoniacally subtle and unscrupulous in Ivan the Terrible. As Don Quixote, he plays the would-be knight-errant with such quiet dignity that his delusions begin to seem preferable to the reality around him. Sancho Panza, as solid and earthy as his master is gaunt and unworldly, shows up the nobles who amuse themselves by playing along with Don Quixote's delusions as even more deluded and out of touch with reality. One can't help seeing a reference to Soviet society, perhaps too subtle for the censors to catch. This film, as well as Kozintsev's Hamlet and King Lear, are overdue for release on DVD in the United States.
This Russian film of the late 50's is the definitive cinematic version of Cervantes' masterpiece, featuring the great star Nikolai Cherkasov in the lead. It is available on VHS and should be sought out by all true film buffs.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Cervantes' "Don Quixote" is a notoriously difficult novel to adapt for
the screen. It's long and digressive, and both humorous and sad. And it
expresses its story through a very episodic series of events. The
method here is to choose a few of those to abridge for the screen and
just drop many others -- and while in the shorter confines of a movie
it doesn't always seem cohesive, it does on the whole work.
Essentially, the funny-and-sad tone is preserved. Nikolai Cherkasov is an extremely good Don Quixote, sincere, noble, and dignified in his madness. But unlike other screen versions, this film does not glorify Quixote in his delusions. Through all his funny misconceptions he remains unequivocally a sad, deluded, old man in the eyes of the film. There is nothing heroic here about his getting caught in the windmill he decides to battle. But for that his attitude is so noble and admirable that we nonetheless root for him automatically against the trickery of Carrasco.
The film looks excellent as well, with good cinematography and costumes, and an excellently realized costumes. One shouldn't normally have t comment much on sound engineering, but there seem to be some problems with it here; some of Quixote's lines sound like they were dubbed in later, and recorded in a very echo-inducing studio.
Though it necessarily resorts to an episodic nature and some quick exposition due to its source material and its makeup, this ends up a very effective film. And it understands the necessity of making us admire The Knight of the Mournful Countenance not because we are asked to, but in spite of how pathetic and deluded he is -- as despite his madness he is only ever deceived because he is more principled, honest, and loyal than the sane people he meets.
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