Monday, 22 September 2014
Iraklii Kvirikadze:Rasputin - Распутин (2013)
Directors: Josée Dayan, Irakli Kvirikadze
Writer: Irakli Kvirikadze
Stars: Fanny Ardant, Gérard Depardieu, Vladimir Mashkov
Rasputin, it seems, is fated to live forever. The real Grigorii Rasputin, as his assassins discovered, was hard enough to kill. But the so-called Mad Monk has enjoyed a long afterlife on the page, in musical lyrics and onscreen, serving as a malleable symbol for many decades. He has been portrayed as an evil villain, a sympathetic starets, a reincarnated helper to the Nazis (in the comic book and movie, Hellboy), and, of course, as “Russia’s greatest love machine.” The first film version of Rasputin’s life appeared within a year of his death, with silent film star Montagu Love playing him in the September 1917 Rasputin, the Black Monk. Since then, Conrad Veidt, Lionel Barrymore, Christopher Lee, Tom Baker (before his turn as Doctor Who), and Alan Rickman (just to name a handful) have all played the character onscreen. In one sense, therefore, no one should be that surprised that a heavyweight actor such as Gerard Depardieu should take a turn playing Rasputin, even if he is nearly 20 years older than the mystic was at the time of his physical death. While Depardieu sought to make his subject human again, the story of Iraklii Kvirikadze’s Rasputin has more to it than yet another reappearance of the man who cannot truly die.
The movie mostly focuses on the First World War and Rasputin’s assassination. Kvirikadze reworked a poorly-received 2011 French television series directed by Josée Dayan and turned it into a 90-minute feature film for Russian audiences. The director declared that the original version “was like a very fat man who needs to run a marathon […] and needs to lose 40 or 50 kilograms to become lean and energetic” (Kas’ianova 2013). His Rasputin consists of a series of vignettes taken from the French series that reveal the royal family’s reliance on Rasputin’s ability to deal with the tsarevich’s hemophilia and the growing conspiracy to eliminate the so-called holy devil.
Rasputin opens with the 1918 murder of the Romanov family at the hands of Bolsheviks in Ekaterinburg. One of the murderers strips Empress Alexandra of her jewels and discovers a locket with Rasputin’s picture on it. The film then jumps back to a brief, obligatory scene that explains how Rasputin came to be an intimate of the last tsar and his family, an excuse for the director to include stereotypical shots of Russianness, complete with wintry Siberian landscapes, a troika, and an Orthodox Church. The action then transfers to Petersburg, where Rasputin heals Alexei and others brought to him, dances drunkenly, and, in one scene, lounges in bed with three naked women around him. Just 20 minutes into the film, the war breaks out, an event that guides the plot to its inexorable conclusion: Nicholas II’s larger family, including his cousin, Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, warns him about Rasputin’s baleful influence and the rumors that are spreading in the press. Angered by this perceived influence and the threat it represents to Russia’s political system, a group of conspirators plot to get rid of Rasputin. The conspirators are led by Prince Feliks Iusupov, Grand Duke Dmitrii Pavlovich, and the monarchist politician Vladimir Purishkevich. The last 20 minutes of the film focus on the murder, which occurs in the basement of Iusupov’s palace. After Iusupov poisons and then shoots Rasputin (which does not kill him), he toasts with Dmitrii “to Russia,” only to be corrected “to Imperial Russia.” The very last scene consists of the plotters throwing Rasputin’s body into the Malaia Nevka River.
Read more in KinoKultura