Monday, November 30, 2015

Zemlya (Earth) (1930)

The last film of the month is Zemlya.  This was a rollercoaster ride from start to finish.  

The poor farmers are tired of having nothing while the rich farmers have everything, including fancy tractors.  It starts off with a grandfather dying, and we know this because he actually says I'm dying.  The young Vasyl talks of the greatness of collectivism, everyone working and sharing together.

They get a tractor to share amongst the farmers, but the radiator dries up and they pee in it???  Then it's ok because I guess ammonia is good for tractors and they carry on.   Vasyl is happy and dancing, but then a bad guy kills him!!       D:

Vasyl's dad is upset at his death and asks everyone to sing songs of new life and beginnings, instead of hymns.  Everyone turns away from the church and goes towards atheism.  Which made sense because priests had a lot of power and the churches are ornate while the people live in poverty.  Everyone gathers to remember Vasyl while the rain nourishes the plants.  

There is some opposition to the idea of collectivism, but they are largely ignored by the rest of the people.  The film is a positive ideal of what communism could possibly be, but never became.  I will give it a 6/10.  

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Andrei Rublev (1966)

Today's film is Andrei Rublev,  which is about a guy who lived a really long, long time ago in Russia.  We remember him as a an artist who painted icons, or religious artwork.

The film is very long, but it is broken up into chapters that detail different random parts of his life.  Like him being hired to paint icons. He is excited about that.  Then, there is widespread famine. He is not excited about that.  Seems like Russia is always going through some famine in these films.

 A huge portion of the film has nothing to do with Andrei at all. Instead, it's about another man making a huge copper bell.  It shows in great detail how everyone worked together to create it. If only they put that much effort into growing food.  Our friend Andrei is standing round watching them make the bell just like we are.

Overall, the film was pretty good and tells a lot about life back then. I will give it a 8/10.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Dersu Uzala (1975)

Today's film is Dersu Uzala.  It is fairly predictable but still a nice film.

It reminded me of Tarzan or George of the Jungle or any other film where someone used to living outdoors in the wild is forced to live in the city.  But the film is based around an actual soldier's journal so we know that this is somewhat true.

So a long time ago, over 100 years ago, a group of soldiers were sent by the Russian government to explore the wild lands of Siberia.  They run into a random dude living out there.  His name is Dersu Uzala and he is a member of the golden people.  He had a family with him, but they all died from smallpox decades ago.

Dersu and the soldier Arsenev become friends, and Arsenev relies on wisdom many times.  Sometimes it even saves his life.  He invites him to come with him, but Dersu wants to stay in the wild where he is comfortable and happy.

Years later, Arsenev comes back with a bigger group. He is happy to see Dersu again!  However, a tiger stalks their camp and Dersu shoots it.  It only wounds the animal so he is now afraid he is cursed.  Soon, his eyesight becomes too poor to focus on the animals to shoot.  Arsenev insists that he come with him because a hunter isn't so good when he can't see.

Why didn't he just go and buy Dersu some glasses?  Well, I mean, he's old so he might have a condition like macular degeneration or hardening of the lenses that glasses won't help.  Or, his problem might be psychological.  He is so upset at wounding the tiger that he can't focus on any targets.  We don't know.

Obviously after watching other films like this, we can see how this is going.  Dersu belongs in the woods and can't cope with city life.  Even though he can't see so well, and can't hunt animals or find other ways to feed himself, he still convinces his host family he needs to go.  Arsenev gives him a really good rifle to hunt with.  Unfortunately, Dersu is killed by someone who stole his gun.  I liked this film but it was just too predictable and I couldn't expect anything.  It was directed by Akira Kurosawa so we knew it was going to be a good story.  He was actually invited by the Russian government to make a film because they didn't much access to American television and needed good filmmakers.  It was a nice change of pace from the other Russian films I've seen.  I will give it an 8/10.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Letyat zhuravli (The Cranes are Flying) (1957)

Today's film is The Cranes are Flying, which focuses on Russian families during World War II.  It mainly follows one woman and her family.  This is Veronika, who is in love with Boris and plans to marry him.  Boris's cousin, Mark, is also in love with Veronika and is a total creeper whenever he's around her.

Boris is smart and talented enough to avoid the draft, but he volunteers to serve his country.  Mark somehow escapes the draft, but we will learn how later.  In the scene where the soldiers are leaving for war, we see all of the families saying goodbye. There are new mothers holding tiny babies, looking very worried, as well as old grandparents who have seen war before. Most of the films like this would be propaganda about how great it is to serve, but we really see that this may be the last day any of them see their families.

Next comes the German bombings that destroy everything.  It's easy to see the Soviet Union as the faceless monster of communism, but it had real people who lived there, and millions of people died during the war.  Veronika loses her parents when their house is hit, and Boris's family invites her to stay with them.  During another air raid, Veronika hides out with Mark, and he takes advantage of the fact that no one is around and rapes her, then manages to shame her into marrying him.  We knew he was a bad guy creeper the whole time.  Afterwards, he is a terrible husband, ignoring her to play music and party.  Eventually we learn that Mark bribed someone to escape the draft and he is later kicked out of his marriage and his house.

Veronika works at a hospital as a nurse and sees many injured soldiers.  After one soldier has a breakdown because his girlfriend left him, she leaves to go outside.  She never meant to hurt Boris and she's stuck with someone else.  Meanwhile, Boris dies while trying to save another soldier, but she doesn't find out until the war is over.  At first she doesn't believe it, because he's listed as missing. She decides to wait until his friend, who volunteered with him, returns.  Unfortunately, he really is dead.  Meanwhile, she takes care of a child missing his parents, who more than likely were killed in an air raid.

When the war is over, the surviving soldiers return.  Boris's friend gives her a bouquet of flowers to show her he's sorry for her loss and tells everyone a speech about how they will never forget those who served.  Meanwhile, Veronika takes out the flowers from the bouquet and hands them out to others.  The film serves as a remembrance of all the Soviet soldiers and citizens who died in World War II.  It also shows how people grow up and change by war.  Veronika went from a goofy girl who called herself "Squirrel" to a mature nurse who takes in a child and stands up to her loser husband and kicks him out.  I will give this film an 8/10.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Ivan Groznyy part two (1958)

So the first Ivan Groznyy came out in 1944 and the second part didn't come out until 1958.  That's a long time to wait for a sequel!

So there's more government problems and more stuff to worry about for Ivan in this film.  We also learn more about his past, that his mother was poisoned by the boyars.  We know this because she shouts poison really loudly.  Thanks for the exposition, Ivan's mom.

Ivan also learns that Big hat lady was responsible for poisoning his beloved wife, and vows revenge.  Big hat lady wants her son to rule as tsar.  Or, since he's a giant man child, she would do most of the actual decision making.

Ivan proves he's a pretty clever guy.  He invites Vladimir, the man-child over to watch a play and drink with him.  Vladimir tells him about certain people wanting his reign to end, so Ivan gives him his crown and lets him play pretend tsar for awhile.  While doing so, an assassin kills him, thinking that he's the real tsar.  His mom comes in joyous that Ivan has been destroyed, only to realize her own son was killed.  Ivan announces that he won't punish the assassin, for he has killed his enemy.  And that's it, it's a really short film.

Ivan does do some talk about his power being derived and strengthened by the people, but we know that was really Stalin talking.  This was less like a silent film than the first, but it still wasn't any better.  I will give it a 5/10.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Ivan Groznyy (Ivan the Terrible) (1944)

When I think of Russia,  I mostly think of hilarious dashcam videos.  But Russia actually has a very rich history.  So today we are going way back in time to the Elizabethan Era to watch Ivan the Terrible.

 This film reminded me a lot of old silent films.  There was use of Shadows to create dramatic effect. Also, the actors' faces and especially their eyes were exaggerated a lot the same way silent film actors do.  Especially that guy who had a crush on I van's wife.  That guy had he best eye game of all.  So we learn from this film that Russia used to be many kingdom until Prince Ivan was crowned Tsar of all Russia, uniting the kingdoms.  This made many people unhappy.

 The worst person was the mother of all prince that we will call Big Hat Lady.  She does not like Ivan and wants her son, a giant man-child, to rule.  She really hates the queen, or tsarina, Anastasia.  The Queen supports her husband, Ivan, in everything he does. 

Most of the film is various battles, where Ivan finds new friends friends and supporters, and loses old allies.  The whole film film is peppered with silent film style overacting.  Big hat lady sees bringing down the queen is the key to the throne, so she poisons her.  Having lost the person he loves the most, and the mother of the his child, Ivan becomes more ruthless.  In real life, they had six children together.  Anastasia was the only person that could hold his cruelty in check, and now there's nothing holding him back. Ivan tortured and killed tons of people, and spread out Russia's boundaries.  It is no surprise that this film was endorsed by Stalin himself. I will give this film a 7/10. I didn't like the sudden ending. It seemed too unfinished to me.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Stalker (1979)

So we are continuing Russian month with Stalker.  I have to say I was quite disappointed with this film.  I was under the impression that this was a great science fiction film and you know me, I love sci fi films.  But I felt this was more under the genre of fantasy rather than science fiction.

 So, we are not entirely sure what exactly happened, but some sort of meteor hit the earth and it created a room that grants wishes.  Or maybe it wasn't a meteor? The room just appeared?  We are not sure.  However, this is definitely qualifies as magic and fantasy than sci fi.  Sci fi is futuristic or space related and this is neither. It's more like magic.

So, the name Stalker doesn't refer to someone who creepily follows someone, it's what they call the person that leads them to the Zone (the room that grants wishes).  So it's more like a coyote than an actual stalker.  The Stalker takes two men to the Zone, each having their own reason for going.

It is interesting to note that the Zone is very green and full of color, where everywhere else in the country is muddy brown.  The part I didn't like is that the two men never ever stop talking.  This is what my dad calls "walking movies".  The whole time the characters walk towards their destination, and they may or may not make it.  The two men jabber the entire time about existentialism and other philosophical questions and try to reason them out themselves.  Seriously this film is worse than the second Matrix.  It's almost the same film really.

And then here comes the best part, they actually reach the room where the Zone is.  And they don't even go in!  I waited over two hours they had better go in or I will push them in!  If this film starred women, they would have gone in there, said nothing philosophical, got their wishes and they would have been back before their kids got dropped off by the bus after school.

This movie was a huge disappointment.  Magical wish granting rooms is not in any way science fiction.  Also reading one philosopher's book in high school does not make you a genius so shut up no one wants to hear you whining about your existential crisis.  I will give this film a 4/10.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Dr. Zhivago (1965)

This month we are focusing on films from Russia and the post-Soviet counties.  We start this month with Dr. Zhivago.  It has sort of the same plot structure of The English Patient, wherein a love affair during time of war is told through flashback, but there is more excitement in this film.

This movie actually spans quite a but of history.  Of course the flashback starts in the late 1930's, when Stalin already had power, so we get to hear how everything happened.  It begins with Yuri Zhivago's childhood as he moves to turn of the century Moscow.  Then he becomes a doctor and experiences life in first class Russia.  He has a crush on Lara who likes Pasha.

Pasha is involved in peaceful demonstrations against the government.  The country is sharply divided between rich and poor, and they desire equality for everyone.  Which sounds good in theory, the Russians just execute it very terribly.  Pasha's ideas and demure nature change when he is violently attacked by riot police/soldiers during a peaceful demonstration.

Lara marries Pasha.  Even though Yuri is still in love, he settles for Tonya.  During WWI, Lara and Yuri work together and he stays faithful.  During and after the war, the country starts falling apart, and they begin to run out of food and supplies.  Then, the Communists manage to kill the royal family and overthrow the government.  Now everyone can starve equally.

Yuri's family house has been confiscated by the government, so they stay in the cottage. When Tonya becomes pregnant with her second child, Yuri encounters Lara again and this time and this time he does sleep with her.  It is amazing that even when the country is going down the drain and everyone is starving to death, that men will still find time to cheat on their wives.

Yuri acts like everything is normal with his wife.  He rides back through the woods to get to Lara in town, and is kidnapped by  the evil Strelnikov's forces.  They force him to work as a doctor on the front lines.  Oh guess what? Strelnikov is actually Pasha for reals!!  He hasn't even been to see Lara or their daughter, Katya.

The government closes in on Lara and Yuri, for his non-regime-friendly poetry, and her being the wife of a really dangerous person.  However, they refuse all offers of help.  Man you people need to swallow your pride and get the hell out of this country before you get yourselves killed.  Meanwhile, Yuri's family, remember the wife and babies he left behind to shack up with the blonde? Yeah she was smart enough to leave for Paris like six months earlier.  Unfortunately, Yuri will never be able to see them again.

The story of them ends sadly.  Yuri dies of a heart attack in the street, and Lara dies somewhere in one of Stalin's labor camps.  They have a daughter but we don't know what became of her.  The story of their love is told by Yuri's brother, who is sure he has found her.  But without DNA evidence, there is really no way of knowing.  In the end, he sees her carry s balalaika, just like Yuri's mother had.  Did she inherit her musical talent from her? She really could be his daughter!

Overall, yes the movie was long, but it covered a significant part of Russian history.  And yes, it did focus more on romance. If you want to more of the Revolution, read a freakin history book.  I will give this film a 9/10.