Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Irony of Fate

Or Enjoy your Bath! is a wonderful Soviet era film that has become a holiday classic.  Here is a clip to the movie.  A couple years back they updated the movie, but I haven't seen it.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Voyna i mir

My wife and I watched Voyna i mir (1968) over the holidays.  At 405 minutes, we broke up our viewing over three nights.  It is really incredible to watch, not only for the lavish ball scenes and expansive battle scenes that rival that of Alexander Nevsky, but for the depth of emotion that Sergei Bondarchuk plumbs and the wonderful performances of Bondarchuk himself as Pierre Bezukhov and Lyudmila Savelyeva as Natasha.  Bondarchuk lets the story unfold naturally, not rushing any aspect of it, so that one gets the full feel of Tolstoy's epic novel.

Bondarchuk took various viewpoints and even includes some sage advice of an old oak tree to Bolkonsky, and captured the addled mind of a wolf as he is being chased by a hunting party.  But, it is the lovely Natasha that remains front and center in this movie.

Fascinating closure, with Napoleon rushing back to Paris and his Grand Armee left to fed for itself in the harsh winter, with stragglers finding their way into Russian camps and sharing fires and comraderie, as if to say men are all the same and that only emperors and generals are to blame for these wars, although Tolstoy also hails the Russian spirit for so gallantly defending itself at Borodino, and leaving Napoleon with a hollow victory when he reached Moscow.

Interesting reading about Prokofiev's operatic version of the novel, which was to be initially staged by Sergei Eisenstein, but went through various transformations before finally being staged in 1953.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Vanka - a Christmas Story

VANKA ZHUKOV, a boy of nine, who had been for three months apprenticed to Alyahin the shoemaker, was sitting up on Christmas Eve. Waiting till his master and mistress and their workmen had gone to the midnight service, he took out of his master's cupboard a bottle of ink and a pen with a rusty nib, and, spreading out a crumpled sheet of paper in front of him, began writing. Before forming the first letter he several times looked round fearfully at the door and the windows, stole a glance at the dark ikon, on both sides of which stretched shelves full of lasts, and heaved a broken sigh. The paper lay on the bench while he knelt before it.

"Dear grandfather, Konstantin Makaritch," he wrote, "I am writing you a letter. I wish you a happy Christmas, and all blessings from God Almighty. I have neither father nor mother, you are the only one left me."

Vanka raised his eyes to the dark ikon on which the light of his candle was reflected, and vividly recalled his grandfather, Konstantin Makaritch, who was night watchman to a family called Zhivarev. He was a thin but extraordinarily nimble and lively little old man of sixty-five, with an everlastingly laughing face and drunken eyes. By day he slept in the servants' kitchen, or made jokes with the cooks; at night, wrapped in an ample sheepskin, he walked round the grounds and tapped with his little mallet. Old Kashtanka and Eel, so-called on account of his dark colour and his long body like a weasel's, followed him with hanging heads. This Eel was exceptionally polite and affectionate, and looked with equal kindness on strangers and his own masters, but had not a very good reputation. Under his politeness and meekness was hidden the most Jesuitical cunning. No one knew better how to creep up on occasion and snap at one's legs, to slip into the store-room, or steal a hen from a peasant. His hind legs had been nearly pulled off more than once, twice he had been hanged, every week he was thrashed till he was half dead, but he always revived.

read on

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dreams of My Russian Summers

Curious if anyone has read this or other books by Andrei Makine. He is considered one of the top contemporary Russian writers. Dreams was his first novel to gain international attention, after it had won numerous French awards under the title, Le Testament Francais.