Monday, 7 March 2011

Nikolai Lebedev: Wolfhound Волкодав из рода Серых Псов (2006)

Directed by Nikolai Lebedev
Produced by Ruben Dishdishyan and Yuri Moroz
Screenplay by Nikolai Lebedev
Music by Alexei Rybnikov
Cast: Aleksandr Bukharov,Oksana Akinshina, Aleksandr Domogarov, Igor Petrenko

Based on the novel by Maria Semyonova.



Billed as “the first Slavic fantasy film,” Nikolai Lebedev's Wolfhound appeared in time for the 2006-2007 winter holidays. Based on Mariia Semenova's bestselling novels, Wolfhound premiered on over 600 screens and drew criticism from film critics as a “fairy-tale [skazka] for the 21st century” while winning praise from audiences as “our answer to Lord of the Rings.” Unlike previous examples of blockbuster history—such as 2005's Turkish Gambit (Turetskii gambit; dir. Dzhanik Faiziev) or Company 9 (Deviataia rota; dir. Fedor Bondarchuk)—that fictionalized actual events from Russia's pasts to appeal to audiences, Wolfhound creates a fictional past and packages it as “Slavic history.”
The plot of the film loosely adheres to Semenova's novel and the convoluted nature of the fantasy genre. At its most basic level, the story follows a hero who emerges in a society that needs one, and whose masculine virtues defeat the forces of evil that threaten stability. Set in the pre-Kievan world of the pagan East Slavs (or, as the film presents it, “in the times when gods lived among mortal men and men tried to be equal to gods in strength and power”), Wolfhound establishes the story of the last survivor of the tribe of Gray Dogs after they are butchered by men led by Zhadoba and Maneater, followers of the goddess Moranna. As he watches his parents die, the young boy learns he will be sent as a slave to work in the mines, where “he'll rot alive.” Instead, the boy survives, learns to fight, and eventually wins his freedom after killing his master. The hero (played by Aleksandr Bukharov) takes the name of his oppressor, Wolfhound, and attempts to enact revenge on his tribe's murderers. Wolfhound is joined in this quest by a bat named Torn Wing, a blind soothsayer named Tilorn (Andrei Rudenskii), and a young girl named Niilit (Evgeniia Sviridova). After a series of scrapes, they save Princess Elen' of Galirad (Oksana Akin'shina), a city suffering under a curse placed by followers of Moranna. Wolfhound also acquires a manuscript that Tilorn identifies as the mythic key to the Gates of Heaven, a potentially powerful weapon against Moranna's minions.
Wolfhound and his entourage head to Galirad, a Slavic fantasy village that literally lives under a black cloud. Although Wolfhound has rescued Galirad's Princess, the town is unwelcoming and split by internal fighting. Its residents accuse Wolfhound of being Zhadoba, the beast-like high priest of Moranna, have him arrested, and sentenced to death. Elen' intervenes and frees him, recruiting him instead as a bodyguard. The primary action of the film follows Elen', Wolfhound, and the Princess's retinue as they journey to meet Maneater's son, Lord Vinitar, to whom Elen''s father has agreed to marry her in order to lift the curse on his town. Wolfhound accompanies Elen' to continue on his path toward revenge, for he has killed Maneater and wishes to find Zhadoba. In the course of their journey, which is filled with strange encounters and action sequences one would expect from a fantasy blockbuster, Elen' falls in love with Wolfhound. After one particularly harrowing experience, Elen' explains that she holds the secret to Moranna's current imprisonment and then attempts to seduce her hero, telling him: “I want a son, not from the groom I've never seen, but from you, Wolfhound.” Although his desire to repopulate his tribe is great, Wolfhound's personal honor is stronger and he resists Elen''s pleas. ...

reviewed by Stephen M. Norris© 2007

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