Saturday, 5 March 2011

Nikita Mikhalkov: Twelve - 12(2007)

Directed by Nikita Mikhalkov.
Starring Sergey Makovetskiy, Nikita Mikhalkov, Sergey Garmash
A remake of 12 Angry Men (1957), set in a Russian school in the war-torn republic of Chechnya.

On 8 September 2007, the film received a special Golden Lion for the "consistent brilliance" of its work and was praised by many critics at the Venice Film Festival.
It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Prize "Golden Eagle Award for Best Film of the Year" of the National Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of Russia (2008)
Audience Award International Film Festival in Karlovy Vary (2008)

A dozen men—who represent an artistically gerrymandered cross-section of society—are sequestered in a jury room to decide the fate of a teenage boy on trial for murder. The informal conversation as the men prepare to deliberate indicates that they expect to be on their way home within minutes, since the prosecution's case is so compelling. Sure enough, the first vote is 11:1 in favor of conviction. Two-plus hours (and more than a dozen monologues) later, the 1 has persuaded the 11 to join him on the other side of the colon, so to speak, and vote for acquittal. This is the familiar plot of Sidney Lumet's 1957 film Twelve Angry Men, based on Reginald Rose's 1954 teleplay (Rose also wrote the screenplay for Lumet's film). Fifty years later, Nikita Mikhalkov has adapted the story for a 21 st century Russian audience, and the resulting film, despite its small cast, narrow narrative focus, and unitary setting, is ultimately concerned with the same ambitious question Mikhalkov poses in his other, more epic productions: What Is Russia? The director's answer this time around is once again articulated via a patented mixture of metaphor, masculinity, and monologism.

This is not to say that 12 is not an engaging, expertly shot, and well-acted film by a seasoned professional and a high-caliber cast and crew. It provides 150 entertaining minutes, especially for Russophiles, which is one likely reason the film was submitted as Russia's official 2008 Oscar nominee as Best Foreign Film. That is a position in which Mikhalkov, of course, has found himself before (winning the Oscar for his 1994 film Burnt By the Sun [Utomlennye solntsem]), but in this case it is more impressive, considering that the director shot the film during hiatuses in the production of his much “larger” film, Burnt By the Sun 2 .

In their visual and demographic diversity, and their shared enthusiasm for performing, the characters in 12 are like a contemporary, hypertrophic Russian version of the Village People: an engineer who went from rags to riches after inventing a cell phone diode (Sergei Makovetskii); a gruff, racist taxi driver (Sergei Garmash); an elderly Jew (Valentin Gaft); an effete New Russian television producer (Iurii Stoianov); a surgeon from the Caucasus (Sergei Gazarov); a comic actor (Mikhail Efremov); a cemetery director; the son of a high-ranking Soviet bureaucrat; a liberal “democrat”; a simple-minded metro employee; and a retired officer (Mikhalkov himself) who spends his leisure time painting watercolors and serving on juries. Each juror's autobiographical monologue functions not only as character development, naturally; each presents the recounted life history or event(s) as part of the juror's rationale for his vote. Many of the stories are about redemption. Fatherhood is also a leitmotif, both in the monologues and in the story of the twice-defathered Chechen boy (in Rose's original play it was a Puerto Rican boy) on trial. The emphasis on paternal and filial relations, as well as the intricacy and quality of the script, is likely due in large part to Mikhalkov's co-screenwriters, Vladimir Moiseenko and Aleksandr Novotskii, who also wrote the acclaimed 2004 film The Return (Vozvrashchenie; dir. Andrei Zviagintsev). ...

Nikita Mikhalkov: 12 (2007)reviewed by Seth Graham© 2008 in KinoKultura

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