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.

Apr 032009


Due to a Netflix accident, we’re watching Depuis qu’Otar est parti again. We’ve not dropped Netflix entirely, even though it’s gotten a lot more difficult to get Russian films from them. So many are now marked “short wait,” “very long wait,” and “unavailable.” We hung on to the subscription so Myra can get some English-language movies while I get Russian ones from Memocast. But the movies Myra had at the top of our queue were also unavailable, and somehow Otar was next in line. This is not at all a disappointment.

Myra enjoys watching a lot of the Russian or other non-English movies me, but usually only watches them one time. I watch them multiple times if they’re good for language-learning, but Myra usually finds something else to do the 2nd or 3rd time through. Occasionally she’ll watch one twice. This one she’s watching a 3rd time — perhaps a first for her. It’s that good.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I like it so much. In my mind I put it in the same category as Vozvrashcheniye. Anna Lawton in one of her books referred to “slice of life” films. Maybe this one and Vozvrashcheniye could be categorized that way.

Wikipedia says this about slice-of-life stories:

A slice of life story is a category for a story that portrays a “cut-out” sequence of events in a character’s life. It may or may not contain any plot progress and little character development, and often has no exposition, conflict, or denouement, with an open ending. It usually tries to depict the every-day life of ordinary people, sometimes with fantasy or science fiction elements involved. The term slice of life is actually a dead metaphor: it often seems as if the author had taken a knife and “cut out” a slice of the lives of some characters, without concern for narrative form.

But these films do have some plot progress, character development, conflict, etc. Maybe the thing is that they don’t try to do too much of any of these elements. They tell us about people and relationships, but don’t try to tell more than movies are capable of telling. Some of Tarkovsky’s work, great as it is, suffers from trying to do more than is possible to do with film, IMO. His work becomes overly symbolic, because how else can you use a camera to deal with such grand topics?

It’s not that the makers of Otar and Vozvrashcheniye were slackers. It’s obvious that an enormous amount of attention to detail and nuance went into them. The acting is excellent throughout. And because their reach does not exceed their grasp, they end up being great works of art.

[Sunday afternoon spelling correction]

Jul 152008

I’ve already mentioned how some of the camera work in Ostrov reminded me of Vozvrashcheniye. But it’s not just the camera angles and panning of the scenes on the northern seas. There is a similar washed-out quality to the colors. And some of the music is similar. The use of simple piano and woodwind notes helps build a tension, but gently.

This YouTube clip demonstrates some of the color effects (in the scenes that aren’t dominated by the actors’ presence). But I haven’t been able to find a clip that captures the music.

Well, maybe I remembered wrong. Here is a clip from Vozvraschcheniye. Some of the music starts at 6:30, and in many ways it’s not at all like that on Ostrov. But the pacing and effects are somewhat similar. At least they had a similar effect on me.

I think the two clips do show the similarities in the washed out colors. Northern latitudes tend not have the deep blue skies that one gets near the equator, but the effect was exaggerated in both movies.

Jul 112008


Tonight we finished watching Ostrov. Some random comments:

  • Some of the camera work (and scenery) reminded me of Vozvrashcheniye (The Return), which is the first Russian movie I watched, and which I still think is the best one I’ve seen. I’ll give Ostrov a “5” at Netflix, too, though.
  • This is the first film in which I’ve heard a Russian chorus, sacred or otherwise, singing off-key. I thought it perhaps wasn’t possible.
  • I was surprised that the big surprise near the end wasn’t a lot more surprising for the participants. I presume it was done this way on purpose. I have no reason to think it was due to a lack of acting ability.
  • I see that Pyotr Mamanov really is against abortion.
  • My wife was wondering why Father Job is called Job. Do Russian monks really take that name? And what is the symbolism. Why wasn’t he called Father Cain? He had a good way of demonstrating Cain’s sacrifice.

I’ll be watching it at least once more before sending it back, for language-learning purposes.

Sep 062007

We finished watching it tonight. It’s an excellent film — one of the best. I’ll be watching this one again, and not just for the language lessons.

(So far I still rate Vozvrashcheniye as the best Russian language film I’ve seen. Not even Tarkovsky’s films top it, though I haven’t yet watched all of those.)

And there is a 3rd language in Since Otar left, and it is Georgian. The three main actresses all do wonderful work, but I would have thought that requiring fluency in French, Russian, AND Georgian would have constricted the pool of actresses considerably.

I found some good reviews at that explain it. Esther Gorintin, who played the grandma, is Polish and already spoke French and Russian, but refused to learn any Georgian for the film. She was not one of those who spoke Georgian. The granddaughter apparently learned some Georgian, and the mother (Nino Khomasuridze) is a native Georgian.

The Georgian is all gibberish to me, and I have no way of knowing whether the French is good Parisian French or whether the Russian was French-accented. It was fun trying to follow what I could of it (and without subtitles, it would have been a lot less). Following them as they switched from French to Russian and back was interesting enough, but then to have Georgian thrown in as a wild card!

Just as interesting were the ordinary street scenes in both Tblisi and Paris, the home scenes — furnishings, life with intermittent electricity and water — in the apartment in Tbilisi, and the rundown dacha. I would watch it again just for that, but there is a lot more than that to watch.