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I have seen Mol'ba (this movie's russian title) only on a tape that was of incredibly poor quality and I think was missing the ending (although I guess I can't really be too sure) but I've seen enough to know this is one of the greatest films to have ever been made.
The movie is based on what I think are fragments from epic poems of a medieval Georgian (that's Georgia the country, do I really need to say that?) poet. In fact, all the lines of dialogue in this film are word-for word from the poems themselves. You may already be developing an idea that this movie is like a filmed play, which normally doesn't make movies which are any good. But no, this movie is nothing like a play, and in fact, could not have been made into one.
Why? Because throughout the movie, none of the actors on screen open their mouths. This is not to say that they don't talk to each other or there are no lines of dialogue. No, simply the dialogue is voiced by the actors themselves, but while the sound of their voice is played, the camera zooms in to the face of whomever is supposed to be speaking. I find it hard to explain, but it creates a sense of people communicating in thoughts as they talk in different with their mouths closed while still giving the full range of facial expressions.
I admit, at first that sounds like a gimmick. And maybe, if 100 movies were made in this way 99 of them would turn out to be just that - gimmick movies. But for some reason, Mol'ba transcends that. It must be a testament to the actors that real emotion can be sensed and felt along without the use of speech and that the voices appear so inseparably attached to the faces.
The main story itself is also a powerful one, and for that noone is to thank but the medieval poet. It centres around two settlements who are steeped in an agelong enmity against each other. The 'main character' is a fearsome fighter for one side, who, after a long fight against his adversary from the other, refuses to cut off the dying man's hands as a sign of respect for the opponent. The main character then is no longer welcome in either settlement
his own people despise him for what they see as weakness and lack of
understanding of the suffering the other side has caused them. The others hate him for the numerous fighters of theirs that he has killed and families he left orphaned. Yet, because the story is centuries old, it can be both very powerful and not at all hard to understand, in the way Shakespeare sometimes is, if you don't mind all the metaphors and such.
Another thing that works in Mol'ba's favour is that it's black&white. I can't imagine such a movie being in colour. Although I'd really like to see a better recording, and I don't think there's any available to buy in North America.
Oh well, the movie is still a masterpiece.
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