Monday, 11 April 2011

Pavel Lungin: Tsar - Царь (2009) (Full movie with English subtitles)

King (2009)

Director:Pavel Lungin
Writer:Aleksei Ivanov (screenplay)
Stars:Pyotr Mamonov, Oleg Yankovskiy,Ramilya Iskander

In 16th-century Russia in the grip of chaos, Ivan the Terrible strongly believes he is vested with a holy mission. Believing he can understand and interpret the signs, he sees the Last Judgment approaching. He establishes absolute power, cruelly destroying anyone who gets in his way. During this reign of terror, Philip, the superior of the monastery on the Solovetsky Islands, a great scholar and Ivan's close friend, dares to oppose the sovereign's mystical tyranny. What follows is a clash between two completely opposite visions of the world, smashing morality and justice, God and men. A grand-scale film with excellent leading roles by Mamonov and Yankovsky. An allegory of Stalinist Russia. ...

Full movie with English Subtitles

It takes a brave filmmaker to follow in the footsteps of Sergei Eisenstein. Pavel Lungin has the daring and the resources (a reported $15million budget) but Tsar is likely to remain merely an intriguing but far from satisfying footnote to the Eisenstein classic Ivan The Terrible. Lungin focuses on Ivan The Terrible’s relationship with Philip the Metropolitan of Moscow and what became a defining moment in the struggle for the soul of Russia.

The mix of personal psychology and the wider machinations of the conflict between church and state lends the film a strange ‘ Sokurov meets The Tudors’ vibe that will please neither lovers of conventional costume drama nor those in search of more trenchant fare. Lungin’s reputation may attract interest in some territories (France, Russia) but Tsar is likely to face an uphill struggle in most markets.

Nastya Dontsova, Ramil Iskander, Yuri Kuznetsov, Petr Mamonov

Described by Lungin as a metaphor for Russia past and present, Tsar begins in 1565 as Tsar Ivan IV (Pyotr Mamonov) grows increasingly paranoid at the threat to his territory from both advancing Polish armies and internal enemies. A personal militia is created to keep the peace but the bloodshed and injustices it perpetrates prompt the head of the Russian Church to resign. The Tsar appoints his childhood friend Philip (Oleg Yankovski) as replacement. Philip’s honesty and devotion place him at odds with a ruler who has come to consider himself God’s representative on earth. Ivan even declares that there is “no greater sin than disobeying the will of the Tsar.”

Distinguished by the painterly compositions of cinematographer Tom Stern, Tsar is a handsome-looking enterprise but suffers from something of an identity crisis. On one level it offers the traditional delights of an old- fashioned costume drama including lusty hand-to-hand-combat, thundering hooves across snow-dusted plains, condemned men fighting for their lives against the might of a ferocious bear and suitably demented lackeys who will follow their leader to hell and back. An appearance from Jack Palance or Anthony Quinn would not seem out of place.

On a different level, the film strives to get inside the mind of the Tsar, shifting into Shakespearean territory as he confronts the dark demons of his imagination in the draughty corridors of a dark palace. The two contrasting approaches never gel in a tale that seems to lurch from extremes, especially as the tone of The Tsar grows increasingly overwrought. One moment armies are engaged in mortal combat, the next the Tsar is being carried aloft through white clouds of Spring blossom. That may very well reflect the reality of 16th century Russia but it makes for an indigestible narrative. ... Pavel Lungin’s 2009 film Tsar attracted a good deal of criticism for its historical inaccuracies, as is often the case with historical films and literary works. Now, without denying the inherent interest of such concerns for audiences and critics, it should be said that these questions are even more misguided than usual when directed at the film under consideration. At a dramatic climax of Tsar, Metropolitan of Moscow Filipp (Oleg Iankovskii) is forced to serve as judge in a public trial of his own nephew and of several other notables, who have been trained by means of horrible tortures in the dungeons of Ivan the Terrible (Petr Mamonov) to confess to crimes they did not commit. As this heavy-handed and anachronistic evocation of the show trials of a later era makes clear, Tsar is as much a film about the twentieth century as about the late sixteenth. This should come as no surprise, considering that it would be impossible anyway to make a film about Ivan IV without evoking Sergei Eisenstein’s legendary uncompleted film trilogy of the 1940s about Russia’s first crowned tsar—a project universally interpreted as an allegorical representation of Stalin in the guise of Ivan. In this sense, reference to Stalin and his era is pre-loaded into any contemporary representation of Ivan.

Pyotr Mamonov, Oleg Yankovsky

Furthermore, Tsar should undoubtedly also be taken as a commentary on the present, given recent developments in Russian cultural life. On one hand, there is the ongoing rehabilitation of Stalin in the public mind, evidenced in polls, in new policies for history textbooks, in the “Name—Russia” internet and TV-media events of 2009, etc. On the other hand, there is Vladimir Sorokin’s novella Day in the Life of an Oprichnik (Den’ oprichnika, 2006), a science-fiction parable of neo-medieval state terror in 2027, intended to warn Russians about the danger of a resurgence of the heritage of Ivan and Stalin. In the present Russian historical imagination, the names of Stalin and Ivan are linked together as iconic illustrations of state-initiated violence in the service of ostensibly grand political or social goals. Works like Lungin’s employ these figures to debate the relationship between subjects and state and the legacy of despotic authoritarian politics in Russia today. In other words, Tsaris not a history textbook or a window onto the deep past, but rather a manifesto on contemporary society and politics.

Lungin himself made this clear enough in his public appearances during the film’s production, although precisely how the director intended for his work to comment on the present remains obscure. In one interview Lungin suggests that the amorality and anarchy of the contemporary scene signal a resurgence of the apocalyptic sensibility of Ivan’s era: “This sense of the end of the world, of the end of time, this feeling that in anticipation of the Last Judgment all is permitted—this is in some strange way very close to us.” On the other hand, although Lungin’s portrait of Ivan is anything but complementary, he accords the tsar great historical significance, noting: “The theme of the Terrible tsar is foundational for our country, for it was precisely he who transformed Russian history.” He rounds out the interview by crossing the allegorical wires and deemphasizing Ivan’s relevance in Russia’s present: “His specter hovers over us to the present day, sometimes growing closer, sometimes further away. Now, thank god, it is growing more distant. But it has at times come very close to us. Ivan the Terrible is the eternal temptation of Russia” (Shigareva). Readers are left wondering: are we to fear the imminent rise of a new terrible tsar, given the anarchic and amoral present? Are we to recognize the historical necessity of state terror and authoritarianism? Or is the whole question moot because, “thank god,” those days are past?

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