Like Tolstoy’s novel, this epic-length War and Peace is rough going, but worth the effort. Winner of the 1969 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and widely considered the most faithful adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic, Sergei Bondarchuk’s massive Soviet-Italian coproduction was seven years in the making, at a record-setting cost of $100 million.
Bondarchuk himself plays the central role of Pierre Bezukhov, buffeted by fate during Russia’s tumultuous Napoleonic Wars, serving as pawn and philosopher through some of the most astonishing set pieces ever filmed.
Bondarchuk is a problematic director: interior monologues provide awkward counterpoint to intimate dramas, weaving together the many classes and characters whose lives are permanently affected by war.
Infusions of ’60s-styled imagery clash with the film’s period detail; it’s an anomalous experiment that doesn’t really work. Undeniably, however, the epic battle scenes remain breathtakingly unique; to experience the sheer scale of this film is to realize that such cinematic extravagance will never be seen again. Continue reading
Widely recognized as a masterpiece, Andrei Tarkovsky’s 205-minute medieval epic, based on the life of the Russian monk and icon painter, was not seen as the director intended it until its re-release over twenty years after its completion. The film was not screened publicly in its own country (and then only in an abridged form) until 1972, three years after winning the International Critics Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Calling the film frightening, obscure, and unhistorical, Soviet authorities edited the picture on several occasions, removing as much as an entire hour from the original.
Presented as a tableaux of seven sections in black and white, with a final montage of Rublev’s painted icons in color, the film takes an unflinching gaze at medieval Russia during the first quarter of the 15th century, a period of Mongol-Tartar invasion and growing Christian influence. Commissioned to paint the interior of the Vladimir cathedral, Andrei Rublev (Anatoli Solonitsyn) leaves the Andronnikov monastery with an entourage of monks and assistants, witnessing in his travels the degradations befalling his fellow Russians, including pillage, oppression from tyrants and Mongols, torture, rape, and plague. Faced with the brutalities of the world outside the religious enclave, Rublev’s faith is shaken, prompting him to question the uses or even possibility of art in a degraded world. After Mongols sack the city of Vladimir, burning the very cathedral that he has been commissioned to paint, Rublev takes a vow of silence and withdraws completely, removing himself to the hermetic confines of the monastery.
This ambitious 1979 Russian film attempts no less a feat than the encapsulation of the tumultuous history of Russia in the 20th century. Written and directed by Andrei Konchalovsky (Runaway Train, Tango and Cash), the film weaves an engrossing tale of three generations of two Russian families in the remote region of Siberia, each trying in their own way to find fulfillment in their lives as they seek to reconcile themselves with the ever-changing landscape of their homeland. Sandwiched between the chaotic events of the First and Second World Wars, as well as the Russian Revolution of 1917, the people of the small village find themselves at the cusp of great changes, from communications to the expanding infrastructure and the changes that brings, to the discovery of oil and the riches and perils that come with it. Konchalovsky juxtaposes archival footage with stunning cinematography and contrasts the assaultive changes of the modern world with the timeless impulses of family and the enduring need to adapt and survive. Reminiscent of such great films as Giant and 1900, Siberiade is a visually adept and stunningly effective epic about the price of a country’s history on its people. —Robert Lane
The first film of Tizuka Yamasaki, a young Brazilian woman of Japanese ancestry, Gaijin: Roads to Freedom is based on the experiences of Yamasaki’s own grandmother in coming to Brazil in the wave of immigration at the turn of the century, when Japanese were encouraged to join the Brazilian labor force during that country’s coffee boom. In an effort to comply with the immigration agents’ preference for family units, a very young Titoe marries Yamada, a man whom she has never met, and the two leave for Brazil. Life on the plantation is close to slavery: workers, forced to buy food at the plantation store, are presented with falsified accounts, and at the end of the year are still in debt to the plantation. The film treats relations between Brazilian plantation owners and foremen and their Japanese laborers (a group which, traditionally, did not cause labor problems), as well as relations between the Japanese and other immigrant groups, in particular the Italians. A compelling story of a woman’s struggle to survive, spanning many years, is juxtaposed with the growing union consciousness among immigrant workers in Brazil. Continue reading
In this epic tale of wrongdoing and retribution set in 16th-century Cévennes, Michael Kohlhaas starts out as a successful, well-to-do horse trader with a loving family. The once unshakable feudal system is slowly declining, and when a local nobleman humiliates Kohlhaas and seizes two of his horses, he retaliates by gathering an army and embarking on a Robin Hood-esque mission to have his revenge against the baron. Kohlhaas’s actions become more and more violent and extreme, and the repercussions increasingly devastating. Based on Heinrich von Kleist’s classic German Romanticist novel, the story of Michael Kohlhaas previously inspired a 1969 film by Volker Schlöndorff. With gorgeous widescreen cinematography, skillful stunt work, and a powerful score, “Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas” is a stunning period piece that also raises important questions of faith and morality. ~ psfilmfest Continue reading
Lars von Trier´s direction makes this film a shocking look into the disturbed mind of a woman who has been scorned and left. Medea´s revenge is horrible but never unbelievable. She does what every sane person would do, when deprived of all that she loves. The film burns itself into your mind and leaves you with a lasting impression of what human misery can be like. Continue reading
As exciting as any Hollywood epic, Chronicles of the Years of Embers follows a poor peasant from his drought-stricken village through his first encounters with colonialism, his service in the French army in World War II and finally his participation in the nascent Algerian resistance movement. Rich and inventive, this wide-screen epic is an ambitious historical fresco of the years leading to the outbreak of the Algerian War of Independence. A rare treat this gem of world cinema has not been previously released commercially and has not been made available on video in the United States.