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This gritty drama follows two high school acquaintances, Hancock, a basketball star, and Danny, a geek turned drifter, after they graduate. The first film commissioned by the Sundance Film ... See full summary »
The Countess Sofya Andreevna Tolstoy (Dame Helen Mirren), wife and muse to Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer), uses every trick of seduction on her husband's loyal disciple, whom she believes was the person responsible for Tolstoy signing a new will that leaves his work and property to the Russian people.Written by
Nearly two years elapsed between this movie's theatrical and DVD releases in France. See more »
When Sofya is talking to Vladimir about the new will, the right side of her face varies from being in and out of a shadow between shots. See more »
"Your youth and your desire for happiness reminds me cruelly of my age and the impossibility of happiness for me." When I was courting Sofya, she was so young and pure, it seemed impossible that I'd ever have her. I didn't want to tell her how I felt and I wanted to tell her nothing else. So I wrote down a string of letters and asked her if she could decipher them. She looked completely confused, thinking it was a game or... I gave her one clue. The firs two Y's, I said, stand for "your youth" ...
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Special thanks to Samantha - Atticus - Phoebe - Olivia Jade - Joseph - Jasper Rosa - Richard - Cathy - Ben - Leo See more »
The American director Michael Hoffman, in adapting Jay Prini's semi-factual novel about the last year in the life of the great 19th century Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, makes as his central character not the famous author but his wet behind the ears 23 year old secretary Valentin who is hired by Count Tolstoy's devout admirer Vladimir Chertkoff to both work for Tolstoy and spy on the countess, Sofya. She is not sympathetic to her aging husband's anarcho-Christian leanings, nor to the movement based on his philosophy, and fears the family will be deprived of the benefit of Tolstoy's copyrights.
Valentin, played fetchingly by James McAvoy, is a bewildered witness to the crisis in the stormy relationship between Tolstoy and his wife, which results in Tolstoy fleeing Sofya and his estate, only to die at a lonely railway station many miles away, with the world's media (such as it was in 1910) looking on. Unfortunately Valentin, based on a real person, is not only green but rather ineffectual and he is in the story as a witness rather than as an actor. One of the features of Tolstoyans was that they all seemed to have kept diaries and these provided Parini with most of his material. You can see why Hoffman made Valentin the central character, but his ineptitude is rather tiresome and his seduction by the lovely Tolstoyan Masha (Kerry Condon) (in contradiction to Tolstoyan-mandated chastity) is all a bit beside the point. It is the relationship between Leo (Lev) and Sofya that provides the real drama here, and the final scenes between them are genuinely moving.
Helen Mirren as the histrionic Sofya is alone worth the price of admission and Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy is convincing, though he demonstrates a lot more personal warmth than the real Tolstoy apparently did. Despite most of the filming being done in Germany the Russian atmosphere and countryside were well-evoked though I did wonder whether the serfs were real – none of them seemed to speak. There were also some inconsistencies in the screenplay – in one scene Valentin is at the Tolstoyan commune "two hours" from Tolstoy's estate at Yasnaya Polyana, yet in a later scene he rides between the two places seemingly in a few minutes.
Apart from the love story (and Tolstoy did maintain that love was all that really mattered), the other theme is the contrast between high ideals and the personal power play evident in the "movement". The Chertkoff character (slyly played by Paul Giamatti) is a Machiavellian schemer, unlike his real-life model, and even if Sofya had been more level-headed she had something to fear. But in the end the politics peter out and what remains is the rather sad end of a great literary figure feeding a media frenzy. Tolstoy was not actually Mother Teresa or Mahatma Gandhi (with whom he corresponded) but he deserved a more dignified death – he valued peace, not war.
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