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Getting lost, wandering home whilst on leave from his seminary, novice monk Khoma stays in the barn of an old woman. A scuffle breaks out. Later, he is summoned to stand and pray over a young dead woman, in the local church, for three nights. It is here that, while in the long, dark nights of the locked doors, the dead regain life, the souls of Hell taunt the young monk to near terrifying insanity, and the test of Faith will be as powerful as the witches, monsters and the mighty demon Viy who haunt his every step and bay for his very soul. Written by
Simple, yes. It's not modern, that's all. And that's the point. It's an older movie and even when it was made, the material it was made of was old. That works. And, it might seem like a dull idea - three truant seminarians, a philosopher, a theologian, and an orator, as they call themselves, on leave in the Russian countryside.
But, first, the filming is beautiful, outdoor country life for the most part - and I mean a-way out in the country of feudal Russia. Elegant, deliberate shots, artfully done - faces loaded with character (and, yes, check out the witch!); the country; the church, the age, the situation you are transported to a place where a witch may just be.
Be sure to catch the music. The incidental music could be Prokofiev, by the sound. The hymn that comes about half an hour in could be a bit Rachmaninov's Vespers, while the camera pans the procession to and icons within, matching the piety on the faces of the servants as they lay the master's daughter to rest. Really beautiful in a way we can reproduce neither here nor now. (BTW, the English dubs are also well done.) For suspense, the transformation of the student meeting the real world - real? really - a very naive youth encountering the witch. And doesn't it happen every day? And so, a moral cool!
The film has all the well done elements of a neatly cinema-fied classic. Not at all trivial.
What could a remake offer, and what would it take away?
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