With World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution, and the Russian Civil War as backdrop, it's an old-fashioned, blood-and-guts narrative, filled with earthly humor and a wealth of colorful ...
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With World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution, and the Russian Civil War as backdrop, it's an old-fashioned, blood-and-guts narrative, filled with earthly humor and a wealth of colorful characters. The story concerns the fluctuating fortunes of Grigory Melekhov, a young Cossack who is both a hero and a victim of the uprising.Written by
Mark E. Gubarenko
Confused production history leads to muddled drama, albeit with some spectacle
Sergei Bondarchuk. To Western audiences, he may be the most accessible Russian director of his generation, filling his films with a delicate balance of human drama and grand spectacle. His swan song sadly ended up being one of his lesser films, this remake of the classic 1957 film TIKHY DON, which itself was a remake. This film really didn't need to exist, but hell, someone thought it would be a good enough idea to invest millions of dollars/rubles/lira into.
When the Soviet Union dissolved in the early 1990's, the dying Italian genre film industry was able to get in one last gasp by taking advantage of some desperate Russian studios need of work and the Russian government offering various production tax advantages. This, coupled with some shady semi-legal business dealings, resulted in a few abortive films and a few that were mostly finished but not really ever distributed due to some kind of financial court battling. Of the few that I know of, including Enzo G. Castellari's JONATHAN OF THE BEARS and Ken Annakin's GENGHIS KHAN, this would be the only film to ever really get much of a distribution (in Europe), though only after sitting in a bank vault for over a decade.
And the results? Well, considering the film may not even be complete and its director didn't live to see it through, it's actually fairly coherent. The film benefits from excellent photography and location use at the same places in Russia / Ukraine where the events it covers actually happened. Though the events depicted cover World War 1 and the Russian Revolution, the instability of the region continues to this day, making this film feel topical with families pulled apart by ever-shifting loyalties and ideals. Bondarchuk manages to squeeze in a few decent battle scenes with plenty of cavalry charges and his patented aerial shots of military formations, though things feel awfully bright and clean compared with his gritty work from the 60's and 70's.
This film provides some entertainment but really pales in comparison to the 1957 version. Narratively it's quite a mess with a lot feeling like it was left on the cutting room floor or never filmed in the first place. Often, characters will make a big deal out of the death of someone who never was really established. Also, characters will get strangely connected with each other out of nowhere and the film takes several detours to cover characters not really established such as one man who survives a massacre only to face an execution upon returning home.
Bondarchuk's usual artistry largely feels missing during the dramatic scenes, shot blandly with flat and bright TV lighting. Bondarchuk himself has a strange cameo as a White Russian general in a banquet scene with no connection to anything else, dubbed by Ted Rusoff to sound like he's totally sarcastic each time he refers to "MOTHER Russia...". Ben Gazzara is often listed in the cast, yet I didn't see him anywhere. Everett and Forest have "okay" chemistry with one another, though the only person who gives a great performance is F. Murray Abraham as the conflicted patriarch of the family. Most of the Russian supporting actors over-act in a cartoonish manner mouthing phonetic English not done any favors by the terrible dubbing.
So the point is here to stick with the original 1957 version as it comes off as far more authentic to the time period and source material, and just has a lot more visual and emotional punch. This film almost competes from time to time, though often feels more like a Hallmark TV movie with a couple battle scenes than a big budget epic.
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