Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tsar (2009)

I'm going to do a weekend of films by Russian director Pavel Lungin.

It didn't start out this way. Actually I didn't start out with the idea for a weekend double feature at all. All that happened was I happened to see two Russian films back to back, both of which I liked. Both of the films seemed to have similar themes and feels and the same star Pyotr Mamonov (in today's film he's Tsar Ivan and in tomorrow he's Father Anatoli).

However when I went to look them up on IMDB I found they had the same director and then my mind began to meld the films together in a thematic exploration about faith and belief. They are both challenging films that kind of sneak up on you. I really like them and have been thinking about them since I saw them.

I'm not sure what the release status of the films are. I saw both as import DVDs from Amazon e-sellers. I've seen some bits that Tsar is playing in film festivals around the world (I noticed it on a British site that reviewed it at a film festival). My advice is keep an eye out for both since they are worth your time.

(I'm presenting the films in the order I saw them, not int the order of release)

This is the story of Tsar Ivan (The Terrible) who it seems is sliding into madness. He is trying to divine God’s messages to him and to crush all of the traitors in his court and with in his country. He calls an old friend Philip to Moscow and then he appoints him as Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church. At the same time he makes Philip promise to always to tell him the truth. What transpires from that point is a battle of wills as Ivan proceeds to terrorize the population and Philip insists the best way to go is to show mercy and forgiveness. It all comes to a head when a battle is lost when the attacking Poles outflank a town’s defenders and take the town. Ivan wants all of the retreating soldiers killed, Philip wants them shown mercy. When Ivan refuses Philip takes steps to keep them safe. It’s all down hill from there.

This is a film less concerned with being historically accurate to the facts of the story rather it’s more concerned with exploring the ideas that the story is kicking up. I mention the lack of faithfulness to events because I’ve read several reviews of the film and the most scathing ones have been those that have taken the film to task for not being a documentary on events. Strangely they are fine with the mystical, almost border line fantastical, elements but they dislike the move away from the historic record.

Personally I don’t know how true or not true the film is. I don’t care. Any film that makes me feel as if I’ve been kicked to the curb and has had my head ringing for days with the ideas explored in the film is okay in my book.

The film has been said to be a meditation on the Stalin years in the former Soviet Union , However the film can also be seen in other lights:

- a meditation on what does god want…
- the general battle between church and state…
- the battle of atheism and belief…

There are more, but I leave them for you to work out.

There is an other worldly quality to the film. You feel as those you are in a place and time long ago. We are not here, we are not now. We are then and there. The film benefits from seemingly having been filmed on location and its own time. I read one review of the film which mentioned that the film seems to be wonderfully free of computer enhanced graphics. I agree.

The film is full of these wonderful characters. The mad Ivan trying to save his soul and trying to define what God actually wants. Philip who is clearly a good man of God, and who becomes more and more frustrated by his friends insistence that he knows what God wants. There is the demonic court jester who eggs Ivan on and who even in his final moments makes you wonder if he's human or from hell (He's actually one of the most evil characters I've run across in film).

Mostly this is a film of surprises. Its a film that doesn't go where you expect it to. It unfolds as it does, takes odd mystical turns, makes you think, it makes you feel and leaves you feeling exhausted at the end.

When I got to the end I was left sitting in my seat wondering what it was that I had just seen. I couldn't put my finger on it, but for some reason I felt that I had been moved out to the curb. For days afterward I found myself turning the film over in my mind trying to work out why I felt the way I did, and why are some people so clearly a danger to humanity.

It is a deeply felt film. It's very spiritual.

Its a trip. Its worth the time and effort to track down because it will make you feel.

No comments:

Post a Comment