A tale of pre-Revolutionary Russia: kind of terrible - on many levels
A depiction of a terribly sad period in human history - a time of woe, oppression, and revenge. To its credit, the movie's settings, costumes, and social culture seem to be very accurately recreated. Social history buffs who want to gain a flavor for this period would probably be quite impressed. Still, for the entertainment seekers among us, historical accuracy doesn't mean attractive or beautiful.
The movie, which is set in pre-revolutionary Russia, portrays the conflicts within a wealthy family, as well as the broader conflicts between Russian serfs and the oppressive ruling class. But, it's difficult to feel that either side in the class conflict is right, as the serfs and renegade Cossacks are as cruel and greedy as their overlords.
It's also difficult for the viewer to care about of the characters -- they are either unhappy and cruel (Palizyn, his wife, and Vadim) or shallow (Uri, and Irene, Palizyn's son and foster daughter). The head of the family, Palizyn, is a landowner and despot. Oliver Reed portrays the many opposing facets of the Palizyn character's personality well -- his cruelty, his affection and love of fun, and his apparent dismay at finding himself in love with his foster daughter. It is, in fact, difficult to hate him as he should be hated for his evil deeds.
Vadim is the secret troublemaker who gains Palizyn's confidence as a trusted servant. I believe he is supposed to be the hero and I think we are supposed to believe his claims. But, the character is so devious and manipulative, that I kept wondering if his story was just a ruse. In any event, he's not very likable as a hero. Not to spoil it, but Vadim's reaction to the debacle in the final scene makes little sense.
I suspect part of the problem with this movie is the uneven direction, which often has the characters behaving inconsistently for the circumstances. Because of the emotional confusion this creates, there is no cathartic release at the end of the movie. You just go away shaking your head and feeling kind of sick.
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