In 16th-century Russia in the grip of chaos, Ivan the Terrible strongly believes he is vested with a holy mission. Believing he can understand and interpret the signs, he sees the Last ... See full summary »

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Credited cast:
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Ramilya Iskander ...
Mariya Temryukovna
Anastasiya Dontsova ...
Masha
...
Aleksei Basmanov
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Fedka Basmanov
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Heinrich Staden (as Ville Khaapasalo)
Aleksey Frandetti ...
Kai-Bulat
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Vassian
...
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General Kolychev
Andrey Bronnikov ...
Ilidor
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Aleksandr Lobanov ...
Mitka Pleshcheev
Aleksandr Makarov ...
Voevoda Buturlin
Artyom Mazunov
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Storyline

In 16th-century Russia in the grip of chaos, Ivan the Terrible strongly believes he is vested with a holy mission. Believing he can understand and interpret the signs, he sees the Last Judgment approaching. He establishes absolute power, cruelly destroying anyone who gets in his way. During this reign of terror, Philip, the superior of the monastery on the Solovetsky Islands, a great scholar and Ivan's close friend, dares to oppose the sovereign's mystical tyranny. What follows is a clash between two completely opposite visions of the world, smashing morality and justice, God and men. A grand-scale film with excellent leading roles by Mamonov and Yankovsky. An allegory of Stalinist Russia. Written by Warsaw Film Festival

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4 November 2009 (Russia)  »

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Ruler and His Voice of Conscience
23 March 2014 | by (Cieszyn, Poland) – See all my reviews

"Nothing destroys authority more than the unequal and untimely interchange of power stretched too far and relaxed too much" (Francis Bacon Sr).

Pavel Lungin's film, promoted at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, absorbingly develops some aspects of the reign of tsar Ivan called the terrible which spanned a considerable period of time in the 16th century Russia. Unlike the famous Siergiei Eisenstein 'trilogy' that drew parallels to its difficult period of time it was made in, and, consequently, did not see its full realization, Lungin's production, as an attempt to bring this hard time to screen, does not much echo its masterful predecessor. It rather occurs to create an image of a ruler who himself stretches his power too far and destroys his authority. Yet, a viewer might be led to wrong assumptions through the title: it is not solely a film that should be called 'a tsar' but rather 'a ruler and his voice of conscience.'

The director manages to develop the figure of the ruler (powerfully played by Pyotr Mamonov) and his 'prophet' the voice that helps him turn to God, that is Philip Kolychev (played by Oleg Yankovskiy). Philip, for some time a metropolitan, reveals to us the true face of the ruler who is power obsessed and a man rather weak innerly but very much disguised as a powerful tyrant. Metropolitan Philip is a man of God who confronts the never ending conflict: church and state. By wooing the ruler, he deceives his conscience, by telling the truth, he places himself in fatal dangers. Yankovskiy does an excellent job in the role making the character deeply religious, powerfully touching and uniquely convincing. He is a sort of combination of Thomas Becket/Thomas Moore/biblical prophet Samuel who reprimands the ruler and pays a high price. This relation between the tsar and his metropolitan seems to evoke above anything else, seems to be a key drama of the entire story.

Divided into four parts, THE PRAYER OF THE TSAR, THE TSAR AT WAR, THE TSAR'S WRATH, THE TSAR'S FUN, the movie sometimes seems to skip continuity. The dramatic resonance of the story is intensified by the period the action is set (the 1560s), the Oprichnina and Livonian War, a particularly cruel time that marks the Russian history with notorious cruelty. In the part TSAR'S FUN, we see the tools of torture, we get the pseudo-pagan games with a bear that kills a man in an 'arena' and, being the most disturbing, an innocent girl with the icon of Madonna. While Eisenstein's movie sometimes seemed to glorify the courage and power of Ivan (especially in the first part accepted so powerfully by Stalin), this movie marks the clear contrast between the cruel ruler and men of God.

But the movie's flaw lies in the fact that it does not really build upon some psychological image of a man, some sophisticated depiction but rather divides the characters into the good and the bad ones. Except for the Oprichnina who are, naturally, all bad, the pinnacle of that approach is Maria Temryukovna, Ivan's second wife (not depicted by Eisenstein), the tsar's evil genius and seen as a 'whore of Babylon' having fun at the cruelty.

TSAR is a film worth seeing as a slightly different approach, perhaps most, however, because of excellent performances. Clearly, the cast did all their best within the frame of their possibilities. And the emotional crescendo of the finale touched by lonesome tragedy offers every viewer a moment of profound thought deprived of any commercialism.

Highly worth seeing!


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