Saturday, 21 May 2011

Karen Shakhnazarov: A Rider Named Death - Всадник по имени Смерть (2004)

Director:Karen Shakhnazarov
Writers:Aleksandr Borodyanskiy, Boris Savinkov (novel)
Stars:Andrey Panin, Kseniya Rappoport,Artyom Semakin


At the beginning of this century, Moscow experienced first-hand the destructive violence that has for years besieged the Russian Federation’s peripheral republic of Chechnya. Ordinary Muscovites have been profoundly shocked and outraged at the cold-blooded terrorist assaults on their peaceful lives. The attack on the Dubrovka Theater (23 October 2002) became Russia’s “9/11,” in the sense that it brought home the geographically and psychologically remote hostilities, importing the war into the very heart of Russia. The wave of suicide bombings that followed in 2004 has left almost everyone in the country with the sense that no place is safe and that no one is immune from terror. As the Russian government trumpets its successes in “normalizing” the situation in Chechnya and wages war on “international terrorism,” Russians continue to live in a state of constant fear that further generates ethnic intolerance and hatred. The tragic reverberations of this new socio-political phenomenon have recently spawned a number of cinematic responses by Russia’s leading directors, such as Egor Mikhalkov-Konchalovskii’s Anti-Killer 2: Anti-Terror (2003), Karen Shakhnazarov’s A Rider Named Death (2004), and Valerii Todorovskii’s My Stepbrother Frankenstein (Moi svodnyi brat Frankeshtein, 2004).

Among these, Shakhnazarov’s Rider stands out as a historical production, set in Moscow in the mid-1900s, when a series of carefully planned terrorist attacks on high governmental officials seized the minds of the Empire’s ordinary citizens and the ruling elites alike. The filmmaker views these acts of violence that ushered in the “century of destruction,” as a prelude to the “apocalyptic” twenty-first century (see his interview for Itogi). Rider is the veteran director’s second film―after The Killer of the Tsar (Tsareubiitsa, 1991)―that explores contemporary mores through the lens of traumatic events from the Russian past. The film’s narrative is based on V. Ropshin’s short novel Pale Horse written and published in 1909. Ropshin is the penname of Boris Savinkov, a prominent Socialist Revolutionary and a leader in the party’s Combat Organization, who in 1904-5 organized and guided a series of anti-governmental terrorist acts, most notably the killings of the Russian Minister of Inner Affairs, Viacheslav Plehve, and the Governor-General of Moscow, Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich Romanov.

Reviewed by Elena Monastireva-Ansdell in KinoKultura

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