As an American with no knowledge of Russian, I had to rely on the translation, which varied from very good (at least grammatically correct) to nearly incomprehensible. It was as if the translator went occasionally crazy and then recovered. However, it was good enough in all parts to follow although I found myself hitting the pause button to read some of the longer captions. The DVD, as far as I know, is available in the US only at www.rbcmp3.com.
I found myself comparing this version to Kurosawa's. I think the two Russian male leads (Prince M. and Rogozhin) were as good as their Japanese counterparts, which is saying a lot, since Masayuki Mori and Toshiro Mifune were great in those parts. Mironov and Mashkov both capture the essence of their characters, the Prince's innocence and Rogozhin's violent love--hate relationship with Nastassya. I don't think the two female leads were as good as their Japanese counterparts, but it's difficult to beat the great Setsuko Hara. Kurosawa's film, cut down to 166 minutes, could only present a fraction of the novel's events and characters, but did a great job in choosing the ones to include. Only the character of Lebedev was really missed in the Japanese version. Lebedev, by the way, is terrific in this version. The Russian version really lets you get acquainted with the more minor characters like Hippolite and Keller.
Inna Churikova is a standout as Lizaveta Epanchina, a key character in both the films and novel.
Definitely recommended for fans of the novel and anyone who likes to settle into a good ten hour drama.
This is a Christian pep rally, nothing more. And it certainly does not adhere to the Bible in its details. Where have you gone Max von Sydow?
I was very impressed by how the film made the characters convincing in both the first act where they are college students, and then again nearly 10 years later. The characters have changed not only in appearance but in personality and mannerisms. It made the passing years very convincing.
The film is interesting from both an historical viewpoint and as a pure drama. This was made just a year or so after the Japanese surrender in World War II, and we get a good feel for how the militaristic government in Japan was able to gain the unquestioning support of most of the population. Some things never change, do they?
Highly recommended, although if you are starting out on Kurosawa, you may want to try something from the 1955 to 66 period.
As a point of reference, I found myself comparing this film to Pinter's The Homecoming. They both deal with estranged sons coming home to dysfunctional families (though they differ greatly in how the son confronts the father figure). They could not be more different though in execution. In Festen we have the constantly moving camera while in the Homecoming the camera is often static, since it is basically a recording of a stage play. I thought Homecoming was superior in terms of acting (THAT was great acting!) and cinematography. Again, I think the dogme rules actually detracted from the performances in Festen. I would give it a 7 out of 10, mostly for the way the family, immediate and extended, reacts to the confrontation between father and son.
The relationships between the characters are a primary mover of the film and I don't think they can be fully appreciated with one viewing (at least I couldn't). I defy anyone to figure out who all these people are the first time through. We have Ivan, his wife, his wife's family, Ivan's aunt and her relations, the boyars (barons), the archbishop (2 of them), the ambassadors, Prince Kurbsky (who resembles John Barrymore), the king of Poland, Ivan's advisors and bodyguards, etc, etc. Each one plays a specific role in these two epics. The arc of the relationships between Ivan and Prince Kurbsky and between Ivan and Fyodor Kolychev (later Archbiship Philip)are great fun to watch. The commoners who become Ivan's loyal retainers cannot understand why he simply does not kill all the boyars (nobleman) who are plotting against him. Ivan will eventually do that but he also makes clear that his loyalties lie as much with his family as with the "dogs" who have contracted "boyar's disease", that is, sucking up to the czar. Ivan tries to retain the friendship and loyalty of Kolychev, who has retired to a monastery. Ivan raises him to archbishop and hopes to have a friend in the church. Kolychev, however, remains loyal to his family and the other boyars in condemning Ivan for usurping the title of czar. The scene where Ivan crawls on the floor and pulls on Kolychev's 20 foot robe asking for his blessing is unforgettable.
Once I became familiar with all the characters and their relationships, I found no slow or boring parts in the whole of the two films. There are some great set pieces such as the flashback to Ivan as a child where he watches as his bribed ministers fight with each other over which foreign power should get Russia's land, or the celebration where Ivan decides to do away with his aunt's dimwitted son, who the boyars are supporting as a rival to Ivan. I could go on and on, but my point is that these two films can greatly reward anyone who makes the effort to get to know them. These are immensely entertaining and stand on there own. They don't need an art appreciation course to convince you that you are supposed to like them. See them on the Criterion DVDs. 10 of 10 for each Part.
After watching the DVD of Vol 2, I really have to downgrade my rating to a 6 or less. Bill really gets BORING! Now I know why Kiddo left him--she couldn't stand any more of those long-winded stories of his. There's nothing wrong with long stretches of dialogue if the characters have something to say. Bill's philosophical ramblings collapse under their own weight. They certainly cannot be supported by the plot and characterizations of either Kill Bill volume, unless they were cut down to about 1/3 their length, and then we would have been left with very little movie.
I'll be re-watching the Volume 1 DVD from time to time, while Volume 2 collects dust. Let's call it 5 out of 10. That doesn't make the 6 out of 10 needed for repeat viewing.
Some good points: It was fun seeing Fritz Lang playing himself as a rather benign elder statesman-type director. Jack Palance is also good as the over-the-top ugly American producer. The scenic photography of Capri is beautiful. Georgia Moll as Palance's assistant was excellent as was much of Bardot's performance, when she was saying the same thing over and over.
This is the type of "art film" that gives foreign movies a bad name. It oozes pretension, as does the commentary track that goes with the Criterion release. The "meanings" given for many of the scenes appear arbitrary and I don't see how anyone without a deep background in the films and film makers of the period would come up with these ideas. I guess that's the attraction of films like this, but I'm not going to pretend I liked it. I watch at least as many foreign films as US films and I am a great fan of the French films of the 30's, 40's and early 50's from Renoir, Clouzot, Bresson, Carne and Cocteau, so this is not xenophobia. I liked Alphaville but most of the French and Italian films of the late 50's and 60's leave me cold. Obviously this is a matter of taste, but I think a film should stand on its own merits and not require an art appreciation course to validate them.
Maria Casares is superb as the Princess but François Périer is my favorite character, Heurtebise, the Princesses assistant who also "breaks the rules" by falling in love with Orpheus' wife. Jean Marais is also excellent as the poet Orpheus. Cocteau comments on the role of the poet in society through the role of Orpheus. The young avant garde crowd has turned against Orpheus and now worships the vacant Cegeste. Orpheus asks his publisher what he must do to regain their admiration and is told to "astonish us". When the police inspector is about to arrest Orpheus and then, upon recognizing him, lets him off and asks for his autograph, you know we're not in Kansas (or anywhere in the US).
Several of the characters (The Princess, Heurtebise and Cegeste), played by the same actors, repeat their roles 10 years later in The Testament of Orpheus, passing judgement on Cocteau himself. Their scenes are the best part of that film.
This is a very beautiful film that I've grown to like more and more upon repeat viewings. 9 out of 10.
In addition to the wealth of interesting characters, we have a terrific action plot--the defending of the village from 40 marauding bandits by the small troop of samurai--, and a more subtle secondary plot involving the distrust of the samurai by the villagers due to the historical interaction of these two classes in feudal Japan. All of these plot and character elements are woven together into an unforgettable epic, but, at least in my opinion, its not one that can be absorbed in a single sitting. While it's similar in this sense to another of my favorite epics, Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, it is more complex given the number of characters.
I can only say that your patience with this film will probably be well rewarded if you take the time to give it multiple viewings. You will also have the pleasure of seeing many of the samurai and villagers pop up in other Kurosawa films and films of other Japanese directors. If you like Mifune and Shimura in this one, catch them in Stray Dog and Drunken Angel in very different settings and parts.
This one is 10 out of 10 without a doubt.