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an assault on classics
The gentleman from Canada in his review pointed that this film may be of interest to the Slavs. I happen to be of Slavic culture and obviously read Gogol in original, but to me this film is simply an atrocious adaptation attempt. You'll be better served by a 1961 version of Gogol's novel. This one is simply a sub-product of overbearing c-grade pop culture, loaded with bad acting, inferior directing skills and underlined by incoherent script. While there have been a few examples of talented adaptations on Putin-controlled television, this is not one of those. You'll have much better December 31 if you skip this vulgar nonsense in all entirety. However, if you have had a kilo of vodka by mid-afternoon, hit that play button, it might merge well with deep intoxication. After all this was the intended audience for this opus. Philip Kirkorov in Gogol's novel? Hey, this definitely caused the classic to turn in his grave.
Stalin and literature textbooks
The movie is a proof that anything can be turned into propaganda. It is a Stalin era textbook illustration of one and only viewpoint on Russian literature of the 1840-1850s. This movie helps to indoctrinate it with a finesse of a hammer. The characters look absurdly caricature, the dialogs of "progressive" heroes are full of Soviet-style preaching, there are even passages hinting at the cold war rhetoric (i.e. condemnation of western parliamentarian system, even a brief reference to slavery and extermination of Native Americans in the USA). Villains are typical. Everybody speaks as if they are already planning and foreseeing Bolshevik (no other) revolution and the arrival of the Dear Leader who will make their lives and work worth something. How many people will bother reading the critic, and not just excerpts in the secondary school program and how many people watched and continue to watch this movie? They air this Stalinist opus in modern Russia too, a new generation should know no repentance or any regrets about the past, and sneaking ideas or visuals from the period helps.
The movie should be popular now as ever, as many motifs relate to current ideology very well: Russia has its own incredible path and future, the west is horrible, etc. Even the citation from Lenin at the end falls into proper place. Thus the current rating is no surprise. The movie is not meant to be watched by westerners - it's one of those for internal consumption/ It's obscure enough, and is mostly watched by the chunk of population nostalgic about the times of the Genius of the Nations. So the high score is no surprise and as with almost any IMDb rating for the movie from the USSR is absolutely meaningless. "A sudji kto?" - 'Who are the judges' to cite the classic.
As far as movie-making itself, the directors had talent, so if it would have been possible to disregard the context, the film is quite accomplished.
A tiny bit of trivia - one of the directors, Trauberg literally soiled himself in Stalin's office when Stalin yelled at him criticizing his work. He thought he'd be sent to Lubyanka torturers. Make your own conclusions.
The movie-making could be such a prostituted occupation. At the very least the creator had to conform and collaborate with the regime and then get his pieces of silver. Some call this pair, Trauberg and Kozintsev "classics" of the Soviet cinema. To me "good servants" is a better definition. And they were very nice and interesting people I knew in person, but sadly this still doesn't change the greater picture. We are what we create in this life.
Soviet "classic" garbage
I always regarded this opus as a rare piece of trash. There is close to nothing from real Tchaikovsky in this movie, just a glossed Stalinist version of the composer, the kind they indoctrinated in every music classroom to every youngster - that he was a progressive genius whose works fit socialist realism and Lenin's ideas about socialist culture very well. By the way, a vast majority of ignorant Russians are still offended by the notion of him being a homosexual. The composer's letters and reputable biographies are published in minuscule circulation, this film is seen by millions. Here's the power of indoctrination even in post-communist era. On top of that, the society is generally extremely homophobic. They used to send people to prison for homosexuality up to 1994, and every year there is a discussion in their parliament on resurrecting this law as part of criminal code. So here is your cultural backdrop...
Now, the movie has its own little merits, but the underlying total lie and poor director's thinking and probably general grasp of the subject make the better parts totally worthless.
Soviet cinema had its glorious moments, especially in the great escape of great patriotic war movies, where things were black and white, at least where the real evil was. The biographies - there were few interesting ones (Tsiolkovsky's, Pavlov come to mind), but always castrated by the intricacies of either Stalinist or post-Stalinist era.
I'd love to ramble on, but I think I got the main message clear - the film is a great lie, and on film merits alone is not a good work either. So to those first few folks who put there rave 10 star reviews - what planet are you from? Start from reading books, including composer's own letters. Then compare what you learned with what you see. Otherwise, Lenin still wins his micro battle in your consciousness, and the bastard doesn't deserve this, and you neither.
It would be great to make a true biographical movie or better yet mini-series about composer's life. His life was full of tremendous drama, add real music scores that make sense - and it could be something worth watching. Hollywood can't do it, its mostly prostituting pure trash, the French or Germans might. Russians could have, when the country and its cinematography was free for a fairly brief time, not these days of self-censorship, return of government control and new rules. And to say the composer was gay is a faux pas. How would one film a biography without this basic fact.
PS Regarding subtitles - never expect a decent work from Russian video publishers, it's in best case scenario a sloppy translation (heck, the translation of Tarkovsky's Andrey Rublev is simply horrible at times, and that's criterion edition). Few exceptions are fairy tales.
a story from Osetia not just for Osetians
It's a wonderful story based on a novel of an Osetian writer, Kosta Khetagurov. Very few people would have any access to this movie, so I'll just leave it at that well-deserved praise and would like to wish you all happy hunting, it's worth it, especially if you would like to be immersed in the Caucasus of the old legendary days. Tip to find - the movie exists in Russian, and has been released in Russia on DVD.
To digress a bit - not only this movie hard to find on the shelves, the IMDb put all Soviet-made Georgian movie titles in original Georgian, although it has almost never been the case, unless it was such a small release that was intended for internal viewing in Georgia only. So now, The director Semyon Dolidze gets a proper Georgian name. This movie title always was Fatima, not Patima. It's all fine, but confusing. These were Soviet movies, mostly done in Russian, with the Russian titles and so on. After 1991 it's obviously a different story, however, anything before, why? This was one country, nothing will change that and these movies will exist in Russian. Continuing this logic, why not translate all Soviet-made Uzbekfilm titles into Uzbek, or, for example, work of Dovzhenko studios into Ukrainian. Yet it has not been done, thank god someone here had a few brain cells left.
Another movie that goes well together with this one is by Nikolai Sanishvili (Nikoloz Sanishvili at IMDb) Chermen (Chermeni (1970)). It's another historical drama of the 17th century Osetia.
Stories live long time in that part of the world, memories too. The modern Russian government should keep that in mind when they roll their tanks through these mountains.
Adam i Kheva (1970)
A very un-Soviet film
It's a very unusual movie in many respects. The production year is 1969, the height of the Soviet regime, hard-line ideology had triumphed in Prague and some modest gains during Khruschev's "ottepel"/thaw were quickly being dismantled.
And all of a sudden we see on the screen a mountain village in the heart of Dagestan, a small autonomous republic on the Caspian sea (yes, that same area where the Russians are fighting local Islamic guerrillas now - well, most of you will have to check your knowledge of geography, since it is generally non-existent). Guess what, it's the 60s and there is virtually no Soviet power to speak of. It was a true statement then, but something that the Soviet regime would never want to acknowledge, particularly on screen. How the heck this movie sneaked past the censorship - still beats me, there must be an interesting story to tell.
Moreover, the villagers live according to Sharia law, the movie, although in a very comical way, portrays the condition of the woman in the Islamic soviet republic. The whole storyline is based on the obscure Sharia custom of marriage. I was puzzled and surprised watching this.
It's a very warm movie in its portrayal of people and village life. It feels untypically authentic and void of any hint of propaganda. Even the soviet-type ending fits well and is quite believable. In any case, nothing changes much about these people, just a few minor things. We are in 2009, and this is as true as it was back then.
The language is Russian, none of the main actors is from Dagestan, judging by the cast. Lots of Armenians in the cast, which is kind of funny, since there aren't too many in the area. Wish they release it with decent subtitles. I think the movie is available on DVD in Russia, obviously without any subtitles (just another sign of cultural isolationism, total disregard to anybody else and simple professional incompetence of the publishers - nothing new there). It is very worth watching for anyone interested in the anthropology and culture of the region, great illustration material for women studies as well. Anyone else, without any professional interest will simply enjoy a good humanistic story.
Don't confuse with 1993 film
Judging by the commentary, everyone is confusing this movie with Stalingrad (1993) by Joseph Vilsmaier. This is NOT the story from German perspective. This is a soviet-style epic, typical of Ozerov's work. This means we are shown a Soviet textbook illustration, nothing too emotional here, even the scene of NKVD officer shooting the soldiers who lost their guns in Kharkov retreat.
The year of production is 1989, the times of "perestroika", so Ozerov goes a little bold here, depicting briefly something that Brezhnev times did not like to mention, i.e. the tremendous defeat under Kharkov, due to total incompetence of Stalin & co. Nevertheless, the rest of the approach is still the same old beaten one - see 'Osvobozhdenie', etc.
Germans are a bit caricature, Hitler, in particular. Stalin is your textbook Stalin. Churchill doesn't look like Churchill. Ozerov's style makes all the persons on the screen as illustrations, unemotional, not too human in a way, just automatons that speak and move about. There are few exceptions, but overall this is how it goes. This is very typical of the war epic Soviet style. Big brush strokes, lots of voice-overs that sound like Sovinformbureau reports, etc. Recreation of history is a noble goal, but what Ozerov manages to create is yet another myth. The real war was a much dirtier, bloodier and crazier affair than what we see on the screen here. Stalingrad was hell on earth where two sides fought for days for every remnants of a brick wall. It is hard to imagine, and even harder to portray. And the broader historical perspective was much more complex and very different. For example, the command staff in the movie is all about Zhukov again, when the real hero among the commanders was Chuikov. etc, etc.
I really despise everything that Ozerov created on screen. These are the worst examples of soviet cinema. There are so many great soviet movies about the war, but everything that this guy created without shame is just rotten to the core.
Tragediya XX veka (1993)
A strong whiff of nonsense
These series is the "official" version of the events as they were finally formed into the proper mythology by the end of Brezhnev era. Here we are, the production date is 1993, the Soviet Union is no more, but director Ozerov is clinging to the older ways very firmly.
What's even worse, as compared to his own earlier works, this one is really awful. There is basically no plot, no character studies, nothing, really nothing. It's like an endless illustrated incantation from the middle school textbook from good old days of the "developed socialism".
Battles look ridiculous. Dialogues make no sense. Few of them were taken from memoirs, but even those were botched. Everything looks like a caricature of the earlier better propaganda efforts.
If you still want to see the Brezhnev era look at the war, watch Osvobozhdenie or 'Neizvestnaya voyna' (Unknown War).
In any case watching this would be a great waste of time with zero value. An awful effort from good party man of the times of stagnation.
Awful subtitles again
Perhaps there is a new mafia in the translation business. It's incredible that in this day and age release after release of a Russian subtitled DVD is done by illiterate fools. This one is no exception and is a total disgrace. It actually is about as bad as it gets. Actually I have not seen a good translation of anything from Russian, may be a few older classic Soviet movies, that's about it. Even the best productions like Bortko's 'Idiot' have the subtitles that leave very much to be desired, at best they make the dialogue several times more primitive and incomplete. At worst - well, it gets completely incomprehensible for the English speaker.
Why this is going on? The answer is perhaps very simple. The country is extraordinarily corrupt. Protectionism, professional incompetence flourish. May be it's somebody's important son/daughter company that is getting the translation contracts and they cannot distinguish their heads from their behinds. That's my most likely explanation. I'll make some inquiries around the industry in Moscow, the situation is curious indeed.
The series are interesting, that is if you speak Russian. Subtitles are no help. For that my vote is one, simply based on a quality of viewing for international audience. Shame.
Awful Awful Awful Subtitles
I'll join the chorus in singing praises to this version of Dostoyevsky's 'Idiot'. No sense in repeating what others might have said.
One great drawback which can completely ruin the experience is the subtitles. The quality of translation is simply disastrous. I am a native Russian speaker, and I am completely appalled at the total lack of professionalism. It's as if it's done by a semi-literate person with a huge attention deficit disorder. Chunks of the dialog are simply ignored or at best get so simplified, one can only envision how Fyodor Mikhailovich is turning in his grave. Bottom line, the subtitles are a total disgrace. This is nothing new - I have no idea whom they employ these days, I wish I could look them in the eye and tell them everything I think about the job they are doing. It's a shame that a rare cultural gem becomes so dull thanks to the horrible translation. Once again these Russians DVD producers demonstrate that they absolutely don't care about the rest of the world. What can be greater than self-imposed cultural isolation? Even when they care to put subtitles in the DVD release, 90% of the time they are barely comprehensible and the remaining 10% demonstrate a very sloppy translation job.
None of the problems exist if you speak Russian. An excellent production on many levels indeed. I understand that even a non-Russian speaker can appreciate this somewhat, and judging by the comments here, many did, but believe me, you were robbed.
Strely Robin Guda (1976)
Vysotsky's songs make it worth watching
There are several good Robin Hood movies, almost everybody who knows cinema would agree that 1938 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' with Errol Flynn is one of the best thus far, or perhaps even 1983 'Robin Hood and the Sorcerer' and 1922 silent film are also worth mentioning. Here we are with mid 1970s Russian version, and in my opinion it is worth watching. Lots of things go against this film - well, how easy was to create an authentic atmosphere of the medieval England in the 1970s Soviet Union. Not very easy at all. Historical authenticity aside, the treatment of a character is quite unusual. This Robin is almost Byronesque or rather a Lermontov type. The plot is a version of a familiar story, so not too many surprises there. All in all, the film to me always looked a bit weak with few brighter spots (e.g. evil knight casting and performance), but the songs of Vysotsky, are good songs. At times they fit well, and at times they are dissonant with what's on the screen, but no matter, they definitely add a dimension to the movie itself. There is something in the scenes very akin to Taganka theatrical mood of the time.
The first cinema release did not contain the songs, there were simply cut off, subsequently everything was restored, so if you come across the butchered version, it's not worth looking at.
Where is the release with the subtitles, you might want to ask? Once again - who knows. Yet another case of country's voluntary cultural isolation. And from what I've observed, even in the most famous Russian or Soviet movies the quality of translation is unequivocally horrible, primitive, too approximate, certainly made by people not very well versed in both languages.