Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Essential Cinema - 43




"And Quiet Flows The Don"


ACTORS:
Pyotr Glebov ... Grigori Melekhov
Elina Bystritskaya ... Aksiniya
Zinaida Kiriyenko ... Natalya
Daniil Ilchenko ... Panteleimon Prokofyevich Melekhov (as Danilo Ilchenko)
Lyudmila Khityayeva ... Dariya Melekhova
Nikolai Smirnov ... Pyotr Melekhov
Aleksandr Zhukov ... Miron Koshevoy

DIRECTOR
Sergei Gerasimov

SCREENPLAY
Sergei Gerasimov writer
Mikhail Sholokhov novel "Tikhij Don"

CINEMATOGRAPHER
Vladimir Rapoport




SYNOPSIS
The lives and loves of Cossacks living on the eastern steps of Russia during the Russian Revolution.





CONCEPT IN RELATION TO THE VIEWER
How events beyond our control and the judgement of others shape our lives in the long term. No matter how hard we try, sometimes fate controls our destiny.





PROS AND CONS
This is a great film, not because of it's acting or screenplay, but because it shows the western world that there were important events in the past that we have little knowledge of. It opens a doorway to us that we never knew existed and lets us glimpse some of the reasons that others think differently than we do.





During the late 1950 the Soviet Union was keen to copy everything that the west did regarding popular culture to show that they could do it just as well as the Americans and the Europeans. They sort of had a chip on their shoulder and wanted to prove that they were good enough to run with the big boys. In response to films such as "Ben Hur" and "Gone With The Wind", they geared up their own state sponsored film industry to produce 'epics'. This is one of them. Five and a half hours of the Russian experience in grand scope and scale.





Some have said that this is the Russian version of "Gone With The Wind", but it is more closely tied to "Dr. Zhivago" in theme and tone. The film deals with a portion of history rarely seen in the west. The internal struggles of a nation in the midst of Civil War in what could best be described as the Wild West of Russia.

This film is long with slow pacing. Russian cinema does not move a story along at a fast pace. Characters are built slowly and relationships between them are complex and wide ranging. The scenery is beautiful but sparse, as befits the Russian hinterlands. This is mostly a rural 'people' film, without much else to distract the audience, such as machinery or large scenes in cities. It is intimacy played out on a very broad canvas.





One of the more peculiar things about this version of the film is the narration. The film is shown in it's original language with no subtitles. The characters are narrated, not voiced over. So when someone speaks, it is in their native tongue, and then an English voice speaks what they are saying, sort of like you are reading their mind in delayed time. It preserves more of the feel of the film, but takes a little getting used to.





The other thing that was noticeable about the film was the Foley work. Sounds such as breaking glass or gun shots were VERY loud and distracted from the film at times. In a fist fight early in the film, the sounds of fists hitting the actors faces sounded like a sack of rice dropped from two stories up and hitting a wooden floor.





Unless you watch this film very closely, without distraction, it is easy to get lost in the complexity of the story. I was often left wondering who were the Reds (Communists) and who were the Whites (Loyalists) and who was fighting whom. This film assumes that the audience has a good understanding of this time in Russian history, much like most American audiences have a good understanding of who Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere were.





What this film left me with was a better understanding of the mind set of the Russian people and how they perceive their world and their place in it. They are pragmatic for a reason and see the journey of life as a hard and difficult thing. There is no "pursuit of happiness" in their character. There is only finding happiness where it lays and enjoying it while you can.






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