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"A Rider Named Death", is one of those foreign Art-House films that very few people will ever see. It's too bad!. It's actually a well made simple straightforward tale of the roots of a terror cell in the period before WW1 in Russia. No fancy Hollywood production here, (thank you), but a visually satisfying experience none-the-less. High production values, and great cinematography and composition. An intellectual look at the heart and mind of a obsessed political killer. What makes it so good, is that the camera goes beyond the deeds acted out, and captures the soulless, godless, inner conflicts of the main character. It ends as one would expect, but the ride to get there is worthy of an 8 out of 10.
"A Horseman by the name of Death" is the story of a terrorist set at the beginning of the 20th century when anarchists and communists were rehearsing for the Great Revolution. It mixes a bourgeois love triangle with a background of political turmoil and decadent society. It is by no means a great film: the plot is linear and sometimes outright simplistic, the characters somewhat schematic, and some of the great images are disturbingly blurred. Admittedly, this may be intentional, as if we would be looking at old pictures. The film's main merit is to explore the motivations of a cold blooded murderer and his accomplices. It shows the fascination for death and for those who bring it about, something that rings a bell in our times, punctuated by extreme acts of violence. The Russian movie industry is by no means dead, but it needs more films like this one, and a better organisation of distribution, which for the time being is rather confidential, even in Moscow.
Indeed, the Russian film industry is not dead! Karen Shakhnazarov's
take on the novel by Boris Savinkov, who could be equated with the
main-character "Georges", is nearly-flawless! Evoking Moscow during the
1905 Revolution, we are given access to the very secret world of a
terrorist-cell. It is unlikely, and Shakhnazarov's film illustrates
this, that terrorism has changed much at-all. From the lushness of
Tsarist-circles, to the beggars in the alleys of Moscow, it's a vivid
recreation of a time that is gone--and yet still alive with
Chechen-bombings in Russia. The director notes astutely how minor acts
of violence accumulate into a bloodbath. The Revolution of 1917
(February by the Social Democrats, then October by the Bolsheviks)
began what would be a civil war that didn't really end until Stalin's
consolidation of power in the late-1930s. Tens-of-millions died, and it
all began with the Socialist Revolutionary Party. In some respects, the
SR's were a party whose members were more reactionary and radical than
the Bolsheviks under Lenin, then Stalin. Shakhnazarov's eye for
composition is wonderful, and there are sweeping crane-shots, dollies,
and a great mixture of static ones too. Most-importantly, however, are
the close-shots that capture the intimacy of the cell and its
inhabitants. The history of Russian film is on display here, and it is
Sakinov fancied himself a Nietzschean superman, and he played all-sides during the Russian Civil War. As part of the Socialist Revolutionary Party's underground, Georges and his cell anticipate Bolshevik terror, and a complete surrender to nihilism that was common to that period. This philosophy is most-evident in cell leader Georges. While his compatriots have their own reasons, Georges appears to have no other reason for directing his terror-attacks than a desire to kill, to stir Russian-society towards...what? Even Georges seems to be unsure why he does what he does. That is not an uncommon-feeling for terrorists and insurgents, as the Weather Underground amply displayed. In short, a cell leader is responsible for harnessing all these different reasons for why these individuals have "come to the cause." There are so many powerful moments in this film, that you really must watch it to appreciate the scope of what it is saying. It's THAT good. From the rapid-editing in the assassination-attempt scenes, to the incredible atmosphere in the making of the bombs, we're treated to the best of Russian cinema. It appears that no expense was spared in the recreation of early-1900s Tsarist Russia, down to the beggars and the filthy-streets. The acting is of the highest-order here, as well.
It's criminal that this film was not nominated for an Academy Award (TM) for Best Foreign Film, it's absurd. Without the DVD release by Kino in North America, would we even know it exists? Likely, this was the best film of all during 2004! Take-note: in late-2005, American film-chains were threatening to stop-showing ALL Hollywood PRODUCT soon if the industry decides on shortened film-to-DVD windows for release as "sell-through." If that occurs, we may see a wonderful rebirth of indie and World cinema! Especially for film lovers in the USA, this could mean a rebirth of the old "grindhouse" cinemas with their panopoly of genre and World cinema releases. Cross your fingers, we should be watching films like this all the time. With luck, the film industries of Europe and Asia will recover. Even better: new ones will be emboldened. I'd LOVE to see Chavez pull that one off, it would be a treat!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Rider Named Death is director Karen Shakhnazarov's adaptation of
Boris Savinkov's 1909 novel The Pale Horse, Memoirs of a Terrorist. An
intense thriller, it follows the true story of radical Russian
socialists during the turn of the 18th century. At this point in
history, Russia is suffering from a dissidence movement in which
radical idealists, specifically the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, have
been attempting to assassinate prominent Russian officials. These
anarchists are determined to overthrow the Russian Tsarist regime
altogether. The chaos that ensued during these years became a prelude
to the revolutions of 1905.
The Rider Named Death focuses on a small cell of socialists led by the cold and detached Georges (played by Andrey Panin). Their mission is to assassinate a local duke in Moscow. Everyone on this team, except for Georges, is driven to kill by some strong purpose. Their reasons vary from love, revenge, religion, and even quite simply (almost nothing in this film is simple) the socialist cause. As far as we can tell, the only motive Georges has to kill this Duke is that he has already made up his mind to do so. In fact, the only facet of Georges' life that he appears to have invested any real emotion in is his love for Elena, the beautiful wife of a Russian general. But as the film progresses, even that seems to be just another conquest for Georges. Georges is portrayed as a typical Nihilist, an ideology that was very popular at the time among intellectuals in Russia. He lacks any sense of morality and feels disdain towards those who do. He rejects religion altogether, most notably in a conversation with the faithful Vanya, another member of his team. Georges debases Vanya and his strong assurances in the power of God. Georges is disgusted by institutions or individuals that claim adherence to a higher moral cause. This makes his revolutionary status all the more confusing. The only interpretation came away with was that Georges hunts the duke simply because he feels like it. Eventually as his quest for murder continues to fail, Georges becomes consumed in an obsession to succeed. Despite the interesting philosophical and religious debates I eventually became disinterested in the movie, more specifically Georges' plight. His bitterness and numbness become the film's main focus, overshadowing all of the suspense viewers might have felt in the beginning. Shakhnazarov forces the question, why is this man so incredibly empty? However, there is no suitable answer, Georges represents a philosophy with no need to justify itself. Once this is realized I stopped caring about Georges and anything he did. Just because I became impatient with Georges does not mean it is impossible to create a Nihilist protagonist with whom an audience can empathize with or become intrigued by. That certainly is possible. This film just does not do that. Perhaps that is because the plot is so slow moving, or maybe it is the lack of strong performance by Panin. Nonetheless, the movie fails to create a memorable leading role. On the other hand, I did like the great job, Shakhnazarov did at recreating early 20th century Moscow. Furthermore, it was fascinating to see how the terrorist cells interacted and operated, all the while knowing at any moment their plans could be foiled and they would be executed. Overall, I would not describe it as a must see movie but for those looking to see a story that evokes philosophical and moral debate, The Rider Named Death certainly fits that criteria.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Rider Named Death, released in 2004 by Mosfilm, depicts the actions of a paramilitary cell preceding the assassination of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich Romanov, son of Tsar Alexander II and uncle of Tsar Nicholas II. The film is based upon Boris Savinkov's semi-autobiographical novel, Pale Horse, published in 1909, and is directed by Karen Shakhnazarov. The plot centers on George Brien (Andrei Panin), who is obsessed with assassinating the Grand Duke (Vasiliy Zotov). Under George's command are Erna (Kseniya Rappoport) his mistress and bomb maker, Vanya (Artyom Semakin) who masquerades as a cabbie and street vendor, Fyodor (Rostislav Bershauer) who poses as Brien's servant and later a military officer, and Heinrich (Aleksei Kazakov) a university student who also doubles as George's chauffeur. Following the orders of Azef (Dmitri Dyuzhev), George's handler and a member of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party's Central Committee, the group unsuccessfully attempts to assassinate the Duke three times; in the second attempt Fyodor's bomb fails to detonate and he is forced to commit suicide in a gun battle with police, in the third attempt Vanya is killed by the bomb blast but the Duke survives, and the fourth and final effort succeeds when George shoots the Duke at the opera. The film offers an interesting insight into a turbulent time in Russian history during the last days of Tsarist rule. Its depiction of early 20th century Moscow captures the vast differences between rich and poor, with scenes of the elites attending the opera contrasted against the various street scenes of peasants living in poverty. The contrast does a good job of shedding light on why the Bolsheviks came to power a decade later.
"A Rider Named Death" is a political thriller focusing on a small
terror cell in 1905 Russia.
The film is certainly interesting, as it examines the nihilism that lies beneath the bombers' "principled" violence. However, it suffers from an reluctance to probe these motives too deeply. Character development is neglected in favor of building atmosphere. Of the film's characters, only George and Vanya are three-dimensional. Vanya in particular is one of the film's highlights, a contradictory figure whose fervor for revolution is tempered by his Christian values of love and peace.
However, this atmosphere is one of the film's great joys. It depicts late Czarist Russia as a nonstop carnival for the wealthy and nonstop drudgery for the poor. It is a shame that the filmmakers did not spend enough time developing it.
not great, not boring, not impressive. few ingredients of Demons by Dostoievski. crumbs from first part of XX Russian century. lines of different love story, revenge and murders as bricks of new world. faces of profound crisis, pieces of faith, need of life sense and fascination of death. a definition of a soul. soul of some men and sacrifice of a woman. a prey of past and ladder of feelings. innocence and waste of emotions, Stolîpin era and seeds of October Revolution. the assassination of Great Duke Sergey Alexandrovich in different form and shadow of strange Ashaverus.a picture in old nuances about profound fight against world as fight against yourself. the angel is far from battle fight. and the innocence is first brick in a large foundation.
By directing "Vsadnik Po Imeni Smert",Mosfilm studio chief Russian director Karen Shaknazarov has made a very different type of film.This is the second time in his cinematographic career that he has chosen history as a theme for his film."Poisons or the World History of Poisoning" was his first film which dealt with a seemingly difficult theme of history in Russian cinema.His earlier films were musical tales and dramas about irrational universes.History is presented in a faithful manner in this film and it is amazing how old worldly charm of Russian capital Moscow has been truthfully delineated especially in the scenes involving crowds.This film is based on a book by famous Russian revolutionary/terrorist Boris Savinkov who was given the title "General of terror" as he made up his mind to eliminate high officials in Russia who were responsible for poor people's miseries.It is true that "The rider named death" has a simplistic theme yet it remains a gripping film as there is a brilliant game of cat and mouse between life and death.The portrayal of women characters essential to the film's progress is little weak as they have been denied enough screen space. This is something which might bother feminine audience of this film. According to Mr.Shaknazarov in the past terrorists killed high officials not ordinary folks but today's terrorists kill ordinary folks.This film was presented at 13th International Film Festival of Kerala,India 2008 where a retrospective of his films was held.
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