May 112010


Well, that was a waste. Last October I quit watching Voditel dlya Vera at this point, where the tension was too much to take any more. I was waiting to get up enough nerve to watch the rest of it.

Myra and I just now watched the whole thing, all the way to the end.

What a letdown. It’s a great movie up until this point. But it’s as if the filmmaker (Pavel Chukhraj) lost his nerve at this point, too, and tacked on an ending that’s out of character with what had happened to this point. I wish I could ask him what happened. His other movie that I’ve seen (Vor) didn’t suffer from a weak ending, so I know it’s not due to a lack of ability. After seeing Voditel dlya Vera and Vor I would gladly watch (and probably rewatch) anything else he’s made. But he lost his way here, or something.

BTW, one of the best movie endings ever is the one in Vozvrashcheniye. IMO.

Oct 132009


I still haven’t worked up enough nerve to finish watching Voditel dlya Very. Instead I took in something easy and watched parts of Ironya Sudba.

I’ve watched it a few times already, but this time something caught my eye just a few seconds from the end of Part One.

In most of the Eldar Ryazanov films I’ve seen, he works something about western communication technology into the film. In Vokzal dlya Voikh (1982) it was a VCR player. In Sluzhebnyy roman it was a built-in 8-track player in a car. In these two films, the items were shown as if some new technology was being introduced to the viewers. In Beregis Avtomobilya the bad guy helped obtain a western tape player (if I remember correctly) on the black market, because the customer said a Soviet one wouldn’t do.

Ryazanov has made a lot more films than that, most of which I have not seen. So I don’t know if this is a theme that recurs throughout. Until I saw the above screenshot in Ironya Sudba, I thought it might be an exception. But the close-up of the phonograph turntable shows the English words “Party-Time.”

Why an American (or English) phonograph in a film in which Barbara Brylska had her voice dubbed because it wasn’t Russian enough? I presume that in 1971 there were Russian phonographs, too. Is Ryazanov playing a little game with us?

Google hasn’t helped me learn much about Party-Time phonographs, btw. I’ve found a few that are sold as collectors items, but they look cheaper than the one shown in the film. It’s not a brand name that I recall ever paying attention to.

Oct 082009


Last night I watched several more sections of Voditel dlya Very, but had to stop at this point in part 9 where Viktor sees the General’s key to his personal safe. It’s too painful to go on, because it looks like Viktor is about to do something that is not going to be able to be undone, and which is going to hurt many people at many levels. I am going to watch the rest of it, but first I have to work up enough nerve for it, which means it could be another day or even another week.


It was a lot easier to watch this 1971 version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Easy, but not particularly interesting, except for a few shipboard scenes. It’s a textbook example of the problem of filmmakers trying to be faithful to the book from which a film is made. (The Lord of the Rings is another example that comes to mind.)

I don’t see how this film could make much sense to a person hadn’t read the book. It’s too disjointed, the acting is poor, and the characters aren’t developed. It’s merely a video illustration of some of the scenes in the book. And it’s probably not as good a set of illustrations as those made by the artist N.C. Wyeth. They have the disadvantage that unlike Wyeth’s illustrations, they’re not printed in the book. If you remember how the story goes (I have a vague memory of it from years ago) you might find it interesting to see how well these illustrations fit. But you’ll probably get better video pictures in your imagination if you spend your time re-reading the book instead.

Oct 062009


So far I’ve watched up through part 5, and so far it’s great–one of the best I’ve seen. I wouldn’t have known how good it is based on the Wikipedia article about it, though:

The film received mixed reviews from critics. The entertainment magazine Variety referred to the film as “more off-putting than enthralling” and noted that while the film has been compared to the Academy Award–winning Burnt by the Sun, it lacked a main character that a viewer could identify with. Variety commented that Viktor’s personal struggles “[seemed] irrelevant” and criticized Petrenko’s “limited emotional repertoire”, as well as the poor acting of the remaining cast of characters.

I went to the Variety review that’s referred to and didn’t get any further enlightenment. I think the reviewer is nuts. The “off-putting” comment comes in this sentence:

For Western auds, however, pic’s oddly disjointed wedding of operatic emotionalism and cool aesthetic distance may prove more off-putting than enthralling.

The reviewer is perceptive in noting the contrast between “cool aesthetic distance” and emotionalism; however, so far I don’t see anything operatic about it. Maybe it gets operatic later. In any case, I happen to be one who finds the contrast enthralling. I’ve already gone back and watched some of the scenes over and over, even though I haven’t finished watching the whole thing yet.

I don’t know why it matters that there is not a main character to identify it, because there are several characters we quickly learn to care about: The General, Viktor, Vera — even Lida and the KGB guys. And there are other minor characters who are interesting, too. That’s what matters.

To mention Burnt by the Sun by way of comparison is goofy. Burnt doesn’t measure up to this one at all. It does have a central character — or should I say a central actor — Nikita Mikhalkov. But in his role as a retired military officer, I got no sense at all of why he would be admired and respected by the men who had fought under him. As usual, Mikhalkov played Mikhalkov. He just couldn’t pull off the character he’s supposed to play.

But here I am, contaminating a note about a good film with talk about an inferior one.

And poor acting? So far I haven’t seen any poor acting in this film. The screenshot above shows some great acting. The bad guy is a clean-cut young KGB officer who smiles easily, but who is doing some dastardly business in his interrogation of the General. Very realistic, IMO. Very seldom, i.e. almost never, do you see a movie that has guts enough to do that. Usually movies have to give the bad guys bad haircuts, bad complexions, and sinister mannerisms so you know they’re bad. But that’s not how the world works. The other KGB officer — the one who plays the General’s adjutant — has a little of the usual, but still it’s very subtly done.

The reviewer almost may have had a point about Igor Petrenko’s “limited emotional repertoire.” However, keep in mind that he’s a very young man. He’s playing the part of a young man very well, and there is more subtle variety to his behavior than you’re likely to get from a young Brad Pitt.

I wish I had the recording of Nature Boy that’s used in part 4 of the film. I wasn’t familiar with the song so had to google for information about it. I like the one on the film better than any version I’ve found on YouTube — even better than the Nat King Cole version I found there, though that one is pretty good. Who is singing in the film? The orchestration sounds like it comes from the late 40s or early 50s.

I see that Pavel Chukhraj, who directed the film, is also the person who made Vor. I’ll have to start paying attention to that name.