One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1970) Poster

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Cinematic experience
wredeatpitlessie13 May 2003
The comments of Mr. Dabell reveal what we value as 'cinematic experience' in the early 21st century - affect, false emotion, and illusion. 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich' is a great film and an extra-ordinary cinematic experience not only because it is "well acted & directed", but also because it is true to Solzhenitsyn's book and the real & horrific experience of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Russians & other nationals in the USSR during Stalin's tyranny. If this is boring to Mr. Dabell perhaps he would have found the reality of building the prison camp & shooting the film in -30 degrees more interesting or perhaps he needs to read & understand the history of the 20th century more carefully. When the reality of the suffering of millions of fellow human beings becomes 'boring' we have by definition jetisoned part of out humanity, and failed to understand the difference between art and mere entertainment. As Solzhenitsyn wrote to my father (the director Casper Wrede) ".. you have made a good film, true to the truth, to the mood, to the feeling. I thank you, and I congratulate you with your success." What other review is necessary?
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As depressing as the book.. a true work of the book first
jake-8723 December 2001
I searched long and hard for a copy of this film and when I found it.. I was not disappointed. Depressing, dark, heavy, without hope.. Just like the book was written to make you feel! I wanted the film to end... release me... but I could not turn the VCR off. I was glued. No matter what your lot.. this film will make you feel glad you are not in that Hell-hole of a camp...You have your human dignity.

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!
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Moving historically accurate account of Soviet Gulag
MikeR-214 October 1999
This film portrays one day in the life of one prisoner of the Soviet Gulag. It wasn't a particularly special day. The sense of hopelessness shown in Shukov's day is very moving. The book won the Nobel Prize for literature and the film is loyal to the book. I have been looking for a copy of this film for my own personal collection for years, and will continue to do so.
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yes, it was depressing and sparse, and beautiful!
steveevans-19 October 2004
I wouldn't have a clue what it is like to be in a Russian prison camp, but Solzhenitsyn, who wrote the book was in one... In any case, I thought the movie was excellent at capturing the dreary hopelessness of it all, and yes, it is depressing as Mr Dabell says, but that's the whole point. If you want a happy feel good movie, don't watch this one, but this story reveals what reality is like for a segment of the world's population, especially those in prison for political purposes. I personally love this movie and wish it would be released on DVD and not be forgotten. I read the book because of the movie, and found them very similar, but am so glad someone made this into a movie.
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This film awakened my interest in Stalin's regime and how people suffered and died under his dictatorship.
ekruper18 March 2006
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who wrote "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" on which this film was based, is one of my heroes. He suffered greatly under Soviet dictatorship and had the courage to risk his life by writing of his experiences. His work brought world attention to the plight of the many thousands of Soviet citizens unjustly imprisoned in Stalin's era and beyond.

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.
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The right to see and appreciate
dlipstein14 February 2008
I saw One Day in the theater on its first release. My wife and I were totally enthralled and disturbed by the plotting, realism and impact of this visual story. To this day I recall many scenes: I still get chills, real and literal, when I recall the crunching of the snow and see Nyquist's filming of the boots marching to work in the Siberian cold as the sun rises. Or the prisoner who wears the extra clothes and is punished by having to endure the Siberian night outside.

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.
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It was just another day
dlp-cbs8 April 2012
This is not a review (as such) about Ivan Denisovich, more a counter to the comments made by a previous reviewer. I find it unbelievable that Mr. Dabell could complain about the film being boring with, as he puts it, "sparse stretches with barely any dialogue and barely any events begin to tire the viewer." What did Mr Dabell expect? A series of comic sketches, interspersed with some witty banter as the inmates hopped and skipped their way through the snow to their place of work? I saw the film back in the 70s and have not seen it since. It made such an impact on me that I have never forgotten it; I have tried to get a copy for many years, alas without success. I do remember the feeling of utter hopelessness, of futility coming through in the film. Feelings that I'm sure were felt by the actual inmates of such prisons back in those days. Escape was impossible. Where to? Certain death obviously, so any talk of digging tunnels, forging papers and planning escape routes (a la The Great Escape) were a complete waste of time. The film was true to the book and (what's more important in my eyes) true to the spirit of the times about which the book was written. If Mr Dabell found the film boring, maybe he should look to himself, maybe it's because Mr Dabell is a boring person. I would recommend anyone, with a spark of humanity, sit down and watch this film. You won't be disappointed, unless of course you happen to be a complete bore.
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It gave me chills
dmitchell124 December 2001
This movie is has a serious visual impact. I still feel chilled to the bone and very hungry every time I think about this film. A very realistic portrayal of life in the Soviet prison camp system. I understand that the film was shot where the temperatures were in the 20 degrees F and that Tom Courtney had gone on a serious diet before filming. It is very sobering to see this almost emaciated actor with his breath freezing in front of his face. The scene in the mess hall of the meager diet of the prisoner will leave you with hunger pangs.

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.
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An epic masterpiece - of depression!
dmunro-43 August 2008
This is definitely one of the all-time most depressing movies ever filmed (that I've seen), but capturing that level of hopelessness so well - is truly masterful. No coincidence to have been filmed in winter (-30 degrees) - in places where the ice-snow never thaws. A perfect landscape for the story. Cold, dark, barren - devoid of life - the perfect backdrop for man's inhumanity to man! This absolutely should be on every film students list of "must-see" movies - but unfortunately - not easy to do. I doubt they'll release it to DVD soon - if ever.

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.
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A hard-hitting portrayal of the life of a Gulag prisoner.
gaijin8814 October 1999
I finally obtained a video copy of this movie, and it lived up to all of my expectations. Tom Courtenay is easily believable as Ivan, and the early scene where he devours a cold and non-nourishing breakfast is a hard-hitting portrayal of what the life of a Gulag prisoner was reduced to. A horrific scene at the end of the movie (though not in the book) showing the Captain beginning his first night of ten in the punishment cells is representative of Solzhenitsyn's observation in "The Gulag Archipelago": The Soviet Union had its death camps too; it (as opposed to the Nazis) just didn't use gas.
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Required viewing
a_naismith7 August 2018
This movie should be re released. Courteney is marvellous. The desperation is palpable. Those who deny what Communism leads to should watch and learn.
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Very True to the Book
rudge4926 July 2012
Having read the book, and being an amateur Sovietologist who studied Russian, I will state that this movie (which I haven't seen in 40 years, I will admit) does a tremendous job of bringing the book to life. The only scenes in the movie that I recall were not in the Book were the one where it shows the Captain starting his spell in the punishment cell, and a scene where a prisoner is receiving a package from home (which I won't spoil for you.). Once I got over the actors speaking in English and Norwegian accents-which I realized are better than "movie Russian" accents I found myself a "fly on the wall" and seeing things through Solzhenitsyn's eyes. The opening and closing credits where the camp first appears as a white light against a black landscape are an excellent use of artistic license to convey the isolation of the GULAG camps-and of the prisoners. And their guards.
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A treadmill test for the human spirit...
JasparLamarCrabb22 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Unrelentingly grim, which is to be expected as this takes place in a Russian Gulag. Caspar Wrede's adaptation of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's classic novel stars Tom Courtenay in the title role, an ex-soldier sentenced to ten years in prison on trumped up charges of having consorted with the Germans during WWII. He spends his day doing doing back-breaking work (primarily building a brick building in the bitterly cold Siberian snow) and trying to stay warm while trying to not starve. It's an extremely well made movie and Courtenay is excellent, but your appetite for this sort of treadmill test for the human spirit will dictate how much you'll actually enjoy watching it. The stunning cinematography is by Sven Nykvist and the dour music score is by Arne Nordheim. Ronald Harwood (who would later write THE DRESSER, a major stage & film triumph for Courtenay) wrote the unflinching screenplay.
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A sparse and depressing film
barnabyrudge18 November 2002
This film is well meaning enough. It tries to convey the depressing conditions facing a prisoner in a Siberian labour camp. It's not an easy film to get to grips with, but the general idea is to show a typical day through the eyes of one of the prisoners. Despite the terribly boring nature of the day, he sees it as a good day in his existence because he manages to stay alive and even gets a crumb of extra food.

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.
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Good Books Make For Unsatisfying Films
Theo Robertson16 November 2010
It's an obvious cliché to state that goods books don't make for good movies . Sometimes the opposite is true where literary trash like JAWS or THE GODFATHER make outstanding movies but it's probably the best known fact about film making is that the book is nearly always better . ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH is a good example of this . Solzhenitsyn,s novel caused shock waves in the Soviet Union in 1962 so it's difficult to imagine that the film version would have a similar effect in the world of cinema

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
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Not so close to the book
reylandcossie23 January 2007
The film is good but fails to capture the true essence of the Russian prison.The sense of hopelesness is not genuine,as a Russian would feel it,it's only a western interpretation.The only way this film would be close to reality would be to have Russian actors which have experienced "the gulag".I have here with me another book of Aleksander Soljenitin and,at page 20-21(romanian version) the author describes the film as follows---this was after he has seen it in a theatre---:"They managed to present the cold,cold weather and in a conventional manner:a shattered life.....they failed to see the essential,they placed themselves far from reality,changing it."Of course(this are his words) he was a diplomat and praised the film,he could't hurt the effort of all the people involved.I could not find the name of the book's English version,maybe it was published as a Biography,but,if i were to translate from romanian to English,it would sound something like:The wheat between the stones..It is hard to translate,it is an old romanian saying,the meaning is "to be in an odd,difficult position".
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