Director: Oleg Fesenko
Writer: Gleb Shprigov
Stars: Sergey Bezrukov, Valeriy Nikolaev, Svetlana Metkina
1812. On the eve of of the most important battle at Borodino Le Comte De Witt, Napoleon's secret agent, delivers the Russian command plan of the battle to the French Emperor. Having been informed about this, Kutuzov, Field Marshall of the Russian Empire, sends his best lancers with a special mission to Poland - a place of romantic affair between Napoleon and Valevskaya, irresistible Polish comptesse ...
A film entitled 1812, released on the bicentenary of Russia’s first Patriotic War (otechestvennaia voina), might reasonably be expected to arouse certain hopes in the knowledgeable viewer. Perhaps a young filmmaker is applying the latest digital wizardry to update earlier celluloid versions of this war, such as the Franco-Russian production, 1812, which aired in 1912, or the 1944 Soviet version of the same name. Perhaps the subtitle, Ballad of the Uhlans, promised to evoke memories in some older citizens of the much-loved musical from the Soviet era about the Napoleonic Wars, Ballad of the Hussars (Gusarskaia ballada, 1962). Perhaps the film would even arouse disquiet in the more world-weary watcher about yet another heavy-handed installment in the resurrection of great Russian nationalism.
Oleg Fesenko (Streetracers, 2008) has directed a film that fulfills no such expectations or fears. It has neither the pretensions nor the ability to do so. The opening sequence is promisingly imaginative, as the action on the ground is revealed through the lens of two observers in a steampunk-style dirigible. The director obviously intends to allude to the old romantic adventures based on Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, with the action moved to picturesque settings in Russia, Belarus, and Poland, and the earlier 17th century costumes replaced with extravagant Russian, French, and Polish costumes of the 19th century. The action opens somewhere near Borodino, soon to be the site of the decisive battle in 1812 between the French forces under the Emperor Napoleon and the Russian forces under Marshal Kutuzov. The D’Artagnan figure here, the young Russian noble Aleksei Tarusov (Anton Sokolov), has discovered that a spy, Count De Witt (Valerii Nikolaev), has revealed to Napoleon the disposition of the Russian forces. Aleksei informs Kutuzov of this, and the marshal sends his three best lancers (uhlans), played by Sergei Bezrukov, Anatolii Belyi, and Stanislav Duzhnikov, to capture the spy. In a side-story, the Emperor Alexander also wants them to retrieve the imperial crown that has been purloined during the French occupation of Moscow. A series of adventures ensue, bookending a clichéd romantic triangle involving Aleksei, his object of affection Beate (Anna Chipovskaia), and the spy De Witt who wants to force her to marry him. In the resolution of the film, as in Dumas’ tale, young Aleksei is trained in sword-fighting by his comrades, and eventually avenges an earlier embarrassing defeat at the hands of the spy and master swordsman, De Witt. Aleksei returns the crown to Tsar Alexander, receives a medal, gets the girl, and, like D’Artagnan, is finally accepted into the band of brothers.
Reviewed by Frederick C. Corney in KinoKultura