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I have never seen a film that so closely follows the book from which it was adapted. Not adapted.. transcribed, almost word for word. The performances seen surreal, flat, hollow, lifeless. Not even an extra touch of art to shore up your sinking feelings as you plunge head first into utter hopelessness.
View this movie if you can find it... You will be happy you did.. and happier still when it is over. Your problems won't seem so bad!
In 1974, the Soviet government deported Solzhenitsyn after publication in the West of "The Gulag Archipelago", his major work exposing the Soviet prison system. He made his way to the U.S. where he lived for eighteen years. His citizenship was restored shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and he returned to Russia in 1994.
I found "One Day in the Life. . ." most depressing as I absorbed it, but I didn't seek it out to be entertained. The subject matter was of course not pleasant, but the fact that this is a realistic depiction of what Soviet prisoners experienced makes it an important historical work.
Though I saw this film over thirty years ago, I still remember the surprising reaction that engulfed me when leaving the theater. My husband and I walked to the car in silence. When we were seated inside the car I turned to him and said words to this effect: "I have a strange sense of well-being and. . .comfort, or. . .triumph or something." He said, "So do I." We sat there for a few moments, rather surprised at this because the film was so depressing.
We came to the conclusion that the main character and many of the other prisoners, maintained and conveyed an awareness of their own human dignity despite the severe hardship and hopelessness of their days. They did this by respecting each other, sharing some of the very meager food or other items they had and carrying on their agonizing work with quiet acceptance. There were exceptions, no doubt, which I don't recall specifically. But, overall, the triumph of the human spirit came through clearly.
This film enriched our lives by making us grateful for our freedoms and the abundance of resources we enjoy here in the United States. In the current state of the world, we can take none of these things for granted.
There may be those who do not not care for this film: Maltin's movie guide describes it as "Another instance where a novel was just too difficult to film," and I could not more strongly disagree. However, sometimes reviews affect decisions on seeing the movie, and, in my opinion, that would be a loss for anyone who appreciates a conscientiously, well made film. So, I recommend that everyone who has not see this film, appreciate its beauty and craftsmanship if you can, but you have the right to judge for yourself, so exercise that right.
I'm surprised this film has not received more attention. It has been a long time since I have seen this movie, so I cannot remember how well developed the plot was. However, this is one of only a handful of films that made me feel like I was there.
I won't say it's in my top 10 list (*because* of it's impact), but if you consider yourself a true film buff - and have the chance to see this - you will be amazed.
The film is inevitably painful to watch, but I think that is a deliberate effect. After all, to convey the boring existence of the prisoners, it seems reasonable to make the film seem long and drawn out and full of tedium. However, after a while the sparse stretches with barely any dialogue and barely any events begin to tire the viewer. It's all very well using silence and boredom to make a point, but when that point ruins the film then you have to ask if it was worth making in the first place.
The film is well acted and well directed. It succeeds in creating the desired mood. It is intermittently intersting as a snapshot of prison life in the most gruelling and unforgiving of conditions. But it's still a bad film, simply because it's boring. In spite of all the effort that went into getting the details just right, it simply doesn't have a story to tell. This should have remained in the pages of a book, because it quite simply does not make for a worthwhile cinematic experience.
The problem with adapting a book to cinema is that it needs to be plot driven and that is lacking in DENISOVICH . The story entirely centres around a typical day in a Soviet gulag , what the protagonist does during his working day and what Ivan and his fellow inmates have to endure . All this makes for compelling reading on the printed page as exposition is given through Ivan's thought processes . It's difficult to do this in cinema where things have to be spelt out in voice over for the audience to understand what is happening . A good example is the audience being told that Ivan isn't having custard for his breakfast but a porridge composed of boiled grass
Director Casper Wrede probably does his best considering the problems inherent in making an unfilmable novel for cinema . The cinematography is apporiatly bleak and Arne Nordheim,s score is subliminally discordant and atmospheric and there's a certain irony of casting Tom Courteney in the title since he's best known role was Pasha Antipov from DR ZHIVAGO , an idealist who starts of as a principled romantic then becomes an unfeeling monster for the Bolsheviks
Unfortunately for everyone involved in the film making process this is a movie that could never be adapted successfully , and is one on that would never appeal for a mainstream audience , especially today when people are used to seeing a nice happy ending to prison movies