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It is indeed difficult to watch this film without hearing the Moussorgsky score in the back of one's head, even when familiar with the language and the original play. Pushkin's Shakespearian interpretation of Russian history was prohibited from the stage for nearly fifty years after the poet's death, and the Moscow stage director, Yuri Liubimov, had similar difficulties getting permission for his production around the same time as the making of this film. Bondarchuk's version has both the strengths of massive USSR state subsidy to ensure the historical accuracy of settings and costume, with the attendant weaknesses of a work that avoids any attempt at parallels with contemporary life. Bondarchuk's earlier film adaptation of Tolstoy's "War and Peace" successfully transferred a realist historical epic in novel form to its cinematic equivalent; adapting a verse drama with insertion of visual flashbacks and dream sequences attenuates the dramatic form without the dramatism of the human voice provided by the operatic version. I am not surprised that a subtitled version is hard to find: the effect of converting Pushkin's poetry to prose would further diminish the actors' mastery.
Despite these caveats, the film is visually intriguing and well-acted -- an interesting footnote in the history of Soviet-Russian film.
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