I’ve been watching Master i Margarita on Youtube. It’s a long series, and it will take me a while to get through it. It’s set in 1930s Moscow and 30AD Jerusalem. While watching Professor Woland, the Satan character, it took me a while to realize I had seen this actor before. He is Oleg Basilashvili, who played one of the lead roles in one of my favorite Russian movies, Vokzal dlya Dvoikh (Railway Station for Two).
He’s twenty years or so older in Master i Margarita, so that’s one reason I didn’t recognize him. But another is that he has a much greater range of acting ability than I had realized from watching that first movie.
I’m still reading Gulag, too. Anne Applebaum gives a lot of examples of how prison camp could completely transform a person, often in ways that weren’t very nice. Vokzal dlya Dvoikh had a way of showing it, too. At the beginning of the movie, Basilashvili’s character is a fussy eater, not willing to eat the mediocre food put out for customers at the railway station restaurant. That’s what gets him into trouble and then romance. Well, more trouble. He was already in trouble because of a car accident, and was going to have to spend three years in prison for it. He was a concert pianist, and now is going to be a prison flunky. After a couple years in prison, he has a completely different approach to food. His instinctive reaction on seeing any that’s unattended is to make sure nobody is watching and then furtively slip some into his pockets. He doesn’t have the emaciated look that a real prisoner in that state would have — I suppose it would be asking a lot of an actor to do that — but one can’t miss the point.