Nov 302014
Assassin of the Czar
I’ve gotten only part way through Assassin of the Tsar (1989) (Цареубийца, Tsareubiytsa).  The first thing that struck me was how similar the mood and setting were to that of Ward No. 6 (2009) (Палата № 6, Palata No. 6).  I first wondered if that’s because it’s the just the way things were at psychiatric hospitals in remote Russian cities. There were the patients at work tables, the peeling paint and run-down buildings, and the same background noises. The head ward attendant with rolled up sleeves on his white lab coat reminded me of Nikita in Ward No. 6, even though Nikita didn’t wear his lab coat that way. Sleeves rolled up or not, both had the aura of menace to come. But both films were directed by Karen Shakhnazarov,  so that is probably where the similarities came from. 
I went on a search for English subtitles, which seemed a possibility given that the film was released in the U.K. in 1991 after having been released in the Soviet Union in 1989. But the U.K. release was done by dubbing the voices into English.  That was disappointing, because I’d prefer subtitles or even voiceover.  And the voice coming out of Oleg Yankovsky’s mouth was not like his voice — not even close. But I watched some of it just the same, and noticed that the sound was remarkably in sync with his lips, and the same was true for the other actors. I was about to embark a frame-by-frame comparison of the two versions, because it was almost as if in the English version, Yankovsky had spoken his lines in English as best he could, and then a native English speaker’s voice had been dubbed in.
It turns out that’s exactly what was done, as can be learned by clicking the “More” button on the YouTube version.  I presume it was done the reverse direction for the role played by Malcolm McDowell, an English actor.  Two different versions of the scenes were shot, one in Russian and one in English.
Some links for things referred to above:
Mar 242012

Палата №6 / Ward No.6 Even though he no longer speaks, we watch inmate Dr. Ragin (played by Vladimir Ilin) very carefully to get an idea of his current mental condition, wondering just how aware he is of what’s going on.  He’s an inmate in the hospital that he used to run.  Nice touch, given the clues we get from the way he eats.   And the ominous, omnipresent Nikita watches, too.  And watches us, as well.

I wondered if this scene was in the Chekhov short story that the film is based on, so went to read it here (in English translation).  I learned that this scene was not in the original, but even so, the film is remarkably faithful to the original story.

Movies based on books (or a short story, in this case) usually depart so far from it as to be unrecognizable (and so shallow as to be unworthy of the original) or follow it so closely as to be incoherent to one who has not read the original.   American films usually fall into the first category, and Russian films sometimes fall into the second.   But there are some Russian films that are worthy film adaptions of the original.   After reading the story I will state that this film is not only good on its own, but honors the original remarkably well.

There is not much on IMDB about Палата №6 (Ward No.6).  It’s a 2009 film.  It was directed by Alexandr Gornovsky and Karen Shakhnazarov.   I’ve recently watched Shakhnazarov’s Rider named Death, which was good, too, but am otherwise not familiar with his work.

Screenwriter Aleksandr Borodyanskiy did Rider named Death (based on a novel) as well as this one.  And Afonya.  Maybe I should learn more about his work.   I see that he was born in Vorkuta in 1944.  That’s enough to make him interesting already.