“Does the world need another painting of a leopard?” These are the words of one of the Chapman Brothers, the enfants terribles of Britart, when confronted with an amateur naturalist painting. The same question can be asked about Yaroslav. A Thousand Years Ago. “Does the world need another epic film?” Understandably, according to the Russian Ministry of Culture, the world does need another epic story, but the ministry chose Dmitrii Korobkin and the advertising agency Anni Domini—previously only known for its product placement—to film the story Prince Yaroslav the Wise. Since the film celebrates the 1,000-year anniversary of the city of Yaroslavl, it could also be argued that residents of Yaroslavl need this film about the birth of their city. And as such, the film fulfils its function. However, the problem that I have with this film is whose film is it—Korobkin’s or Yaroslavl’s? Is it Anno Domini’s film or the Russian Federation’s? Viewed as Korobkin’s film, it is a mediocre work, because it does not seek to add anything to the epic genre. But if it is Yaroslavl’s film, then the founders should be congratulated on their ability to generate publicity and visibility that could extend beyond the region and ensure a certain form of modern-day kino-tourism.
I will not go into details of historical inaccuracy, whether, for example, the word ‘Papa’ did exist at the time or not (as questioned by blogger ‘Dania’). Those who are interested in these inaccuracies can consult Komsomolskaya Pravda, who invited a history professor to see the film - with unsurprising results (Zaitseva). Neither shall I point to its modern narrative form and its borrowing from other more popular genres, such as the gangster movie. In particular, one sauna scene in Yaroslav is more redolent of post-Soviet Mafia bosses discussing their business affairs, than any situation “a thousand years ago.” Instead, I will concentrate on other matters, including the modern flat hairdos, musketeer moustaches, and a mise-en-scène of ancient villages.
The film begins with a slow descent from the skies to an animated map of Europe. The kingdom of Kievan Rus flashes before us and its lines are drawn. In a voiceover we hear that Vladimir the Great has brought Christianity to the Russians: he rules a kingdom that is divided into different regions, all controlled by his sons. More lines on the map... Together with Viking warriors of the north, the sons collect taxes and defend the local tribes. The region of Rostov is inhabited by Slavic and Finish tribes and is controlled by the young Prince Yaroslav, who is fast expanding his reign into the barbaric and “wild” East. But he is experiencing problems with both thieves and plunders who raid his territory, leaving only fear and distrust among the population. The deep forest and the virgin lands are without law: and only a powerful individual can rectify matters. How “ancient” is that?
Reviewed by Lars Kristensen © 2011 in KinoKultura