Saturday, December 29, 2012


It's back to Alyosha after two very compelling long chapters on Mitya, which formed the core of previous movies made of the novel.  Dostoevsky returns to the rock throwing incident which Alyosha interceded upon.  Little Ilyusha  is on his death bed.  His father had finally accepted the money Alyosha had given from Katarina to assuage the sense of guilt she felt for Mitya beating him in the streets, greatly embarrassing his son, who was never the same after that.  But, the focus of the chapter is more on a boy named Kolya, who had been a friend of Ilyusha.

We are introduced to Kolya tending to small charges as he anxiously awaits for their mother to return.  Kolya seems the responsible sort but also has a strong rebellious nature.  He's small for his age and is quite bitter about it, because he expects to be treated as an adult.  He has schooled himself on books left by his father and now considers himself a socialist and free thinker, with a strong dislike for doctors.  There is a small dog named Perezvon, a stray which he has made his own.

In pure Dostoevskian style, we learn of the causes for the rock throwing incident, which stem back to the relationship between Ilyusha and Kolya.  Ilyusha had long been the subject of taunts from his schoolmates because of his father's foolish nature.  Kolya was the only one to befriend him and protect him, until one day Ilyusha got it into his head to feed a dog a piece of bread with a needle in it.  This greatly upset Kolya, who renounced his friendship on the spot, and Ilyusha felt utterly alone in the world.

Kolya tells all this to Alyosha through a series of conversation that dominated this part of the book.  Alyosha likes Kolya very much as a result, but feels it is very important for him to make amends with Ilyusha, for he and the dog are all Ilyusha talks about in his feverish dreams.  Kolya acquiesces on his own terms.  For the first time, life seems to come from Ilyusha once again.

It is quite touching, but a bit forced, as Dostoevesky seems to be playing this scene largely for emotional effect.  The dreaded doctor breaks the spell by diagnosing that Ilyusha is too far gone for him to do any good and that his poor father should take him to some far away spa for treatment, which only adds to Kolya's disdain for doctors, mocking the haughty doctor as he leaves the trampled down apartment.

We don't get to know what Alyosha sees in Kolya, maybe a young Ivan, but Dostoevsky chooses to leave Chapter X there and reintroduce us to Ivan in the subsequent chapter, but first filling us on a few details since Mitya's wild flight to Mokroye.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sugar Hangover!

I have no idea why Timur Bekmambetov wanted to associate himself with Yolki, or Six Degrees of Celebration as it was called in wide release.  It seems Russian producers were hoping to recreate the magic of The Irony of Fate, by inviting Timur and other Russian directors to paste together a set of vignettes loosely held together by a little girl's lie that the President is her long lost father, which can be made true if Medvedev (the President at the time) utters the code words, Na Deda Moroza nadeisia, a sam ne ploshai!, at the fateful hour.  In order to achieve this "miracle," a boy sets in motion a chain of events which he hopes will break the six degrees of separation between these lowly orphans and the President.

As Beach Gray writes in this review, Bekmambetov has a weakness for Hollywood-style movies.  At his best, he can deliver in grand style, but here he serves up a sticky sweet pastry loaded with familiar faces (to Russian viewers anyway) that pretty much ends up being pie in the face.  Granted, there are some fun moments, but you have to wonder what the point of all these sugary sentiments is other than to reaffirm that everything is fine in Russia.

What made The Irony of Fate work is that it was a simple story told in a beautifully eloquent style, pitch perfect for the holidays.  Here was a couple that managed to transcend the sameness of Soviet life much like the young couple in O Henry's classic The Gift of the Magi, without being overly sentimental.  As a result, it had the power to reach across cultural lines.

Yolki is so overtly Russian in all its stereotypes without really making much humor out of them.  It is much more fun to watch Ivan Urgant and Sergei Svetlakov in their comedy programs than it is in this insipid tale, as they are two of the funniest men in Russia.  They seemed to be used mainly to draw viewers to the lavish production, as they play relatively minor roles in a film diabetics should be warned not to watch.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Blood on my hands

Mitya didn't have very long to enjoy his moment with Grushenko before the police, magistrate and other town officials arrived to interrogate him on the death of his father.  Dostoevsky backtracks a little to fill in some of the details before picking up with the action at the Mokroye inn.

Perkhotin starts to have second thoughts and goes to Madame Khokhlahov to see if she really gave Mitya 3000 rubles.  After getting the straight story he goes to investigate Mitya's father's house to find that all hell had broken lose and reports his findings to the police.  The policeman, the magistrate and the town clerk already know of the crime and Perkhotin's story of how a blood-soaked Mitya came to him with a wad of rainbow-colored notes in his pocket seems to pretty much seal the deal.  But, in true Dostoevskian fashion we hear from Mitya first, and what an admission it is.

He admits to almost everything except killing his father.  Honor and pride lead him to omit key details, which the interrogating officers insist would only help his case.  Mitya says he never took the 3000 rubles.  He had 1500 left over from that which Katerina had given him, throwing the blame on an epileptic Smerdyakov who was having a seizure at the time of the murder.  Of course, the prosecutor isn't buying it, having a score of witnesses who attest to him having gone through 3000 rubles the last time he was in Mokroye, but still somehow the money doesn't add up.

Dostoevsky leaves it at that, preferring to focus more on Mitya's state of mind than the particulars of the case.  It makes for very compelling reading as Mitya reveals much of himself in this long chapter.  His biggest worry is what will happen to Grushenko.  There are a couple of highly charged moments where the two are brought back together only to be torn apart again.  The prosecutor reassures Mitya that no charges are being brought against Grushenko, although many consider who ultimately to blame for the apparent patricide, as she was the one between them.

The reader is left dangling, as Dostoevsky takes up Alyosha in the following chapter, resurrecting the incident where Alyosha tried to intercede in a fight between kids.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Wild Night in Mokroye

It is a bit like Chichikov's wild ride and there is even a reference to Gogol's Dead Souls in Dostoevsky's marvelous chapter on Mitya.  At 80 pages it reads like a novella, beautifully crafted from beginning to end.  Of course, it helps having the preceding chapters to capture the full impact of Mitya's wild night where he finally connects with his beloved Grushenka.

At first you get the sense of Don Quixote chasing after his Dulcinea.  You figure there isn't much chance for the impetuous Mitya who stakes everything on a carriage full of champagne and foodstuffs to recreate a previous wild night at the inn in Mokroye.  When he arrives at the inn and sizes up the situation, his hopes at first seem dashed, but over a game of cards his luck turns and the two Poles are revealed to be little more than hucksters, and the officer that Grushenka had harbored her love for a total dud.  Mitya dismisses with them both, but not in the way you would imagine.  The pair of guns remain in the carriage.

Mitya breaks out the champagne and the party begins in full force.  Grushenka is taken by Mitya all over again as he and Maximov dance with the girls while a Jewish band plays.  Maximov had earlier regaled everyone in a story where he was the subject of one of Gogol's parochial land owners.  A self-deprecating gesture as Maximov seems to like to play himself as a fool to appeal to Mitya, who is flush with cash.

The inn keeper tries to keep a tight rein on Mitya, but it is impossible.  It is this sense of abandon which Grushenka loves most.  Eventually, she leads him behind a curtain where Dostoevsky has them revel in each other's sex before the police arrive early in the morning to issue a warrant for his arrest.  Mitya doesn't seem to mind as he heard what he had so desperately wanted to hear -- Grushenka declare her unconditional love for him.

Above is the scene depicted in the 1931 film by Fyodor Otsep.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dasvidaniya Galina

The opera world lost a great diva in Galina Vishnevskaja.  She reigned supreme in the Soviet Union until the mid 70s when she and her husband, Dmitri Rostropovich were deemed "unpersons" for having harbored the Soviet dissident, Aleksandr Solzhinitsyn.  She was removed from the official history of the Bolshoi, if you can imagine that.  However, Galina got the last laugh when in 1990 she returned to a country on the cusp of independence and was reinstated in the Bolshoi in 1992.  She set up an Opera Center, which has nurtured a new generation of voices.  She starred in Sokurov's 2007 film, Alexandra, a very different role for her.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Around page 420, depending on which edition you are reading, we finally get to the heart of the story, as Mitya finds he has been duped in more ways than one and begins lashing out at everyone.  Dostoevsky gives us an interesting chapter on jealousy, comparing Mitya to Othello, but Mitya knew in his dark heart that everything wasn't as he imagined.  So, the events which follow aren't so much tragic as they are farcical.

By page 450, I'm still not sure whether Mitya killed anyone.  Poor Grigori apparently stumbled and fell on a rock, not as a result of the brass pestle Mitya tossed away.  When Mitya turned to help out the poor servant, he covered himself in blood.  I'm sure it will be atleast a hundred more pages before we find out what actually happened.  In the meantime, Mitya is a fugitive with a wad of 100 ruble notes in his coat pocket.  You figure it won't last him long, just as he had squandered Katya's 3000 rubles before.

He apparently wants to chase after Grushenko, who has left to be with her officer that jilted her five years before, but has apparently sent for her to come to his estate.   First, Mitya puts together a few provisions for the road, including bottles of champagne, jars of caviar and other assorted delectables, which we assume come from the 3000 rubles his father, Fedya, had earmarked for Grushenko.

Dostoevsky sure knows how to string the reader along, and once again I am reminded this was a story released in syndication, a Russian soap-opera if you will, filled with many intriguing twists and turns in what is a very compressed period of time.  Nabokov certainly must have cringed at how Dostoevsky put together this story, as one doesn't get any sense of time in this novel.  Rather, we move back and forward in time, as the narrator piecing together the events that occurred in what amounts to little more than a week in this provincial town.  Nabokov would have also cringed at the translation, which employs a great number of distinctly British collaquialisms, such as "every Tom, Dick and Harry," which Dostoevsky almost certainly didn't use, even if this particular expression can be referenced in Shakespeare.  But, at least now we have some action.

Here's the fateful scene from the 1969 Russian adaptation of the novel.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A foul and pestilent congregation of vapours

It seems Dostoevsky got paid by the word for The Brothers Karamazov as he stretches just about every situation to its breaking point, such as the unruly smell of Father Zossima which leads fellow monks and laypersons who gather for the viewing to question his legacy.  There wasn't much in the way of embalming back then but still a saintly corpse wasn't expected to smell the next day.  Zossima apparently stuck up the place, leading Father Ferapont and others to speculate on his faith, which greatly upset the young Alyosha, who had literally taken Zossima as his father figure given how unfortunate he was to have a miser like Fyodor Pavlovich as his biological father.

Alyosha, like his brothers, was raised by surrogate parents, as Fedya didn't appear to have much time for his offspring.  Instead, he preferred bars and brothels, chasing after young trollops like Grushenka.  Alyosha appeared perfectly content to devote himself to the monastic order, but Father Zossima had given him permission to leave the monastery to experience life as he had done before committing himself fully to the lord.

We get quite a chapter on Zossima's life, which the narrator tells us was taken from  Alyosha's notes Zossima's last night when he was particularly animated and led his fellow monts to believe he had found a new lease on life.  The elder had been a bit of a dandy in his younger days, and as an officer in the Tsar's army ready to marry a young woman he had taken a fancy to, but apparently this love was not reciprocated.  The turning point came the morning of a duel when he realized he had deluded himself, seaking absolution in his manservant and refusing to fire back at the man who had challenged him to a duel over comments he had made.

A large part of the material appears as typical fodder from that era, even the "love triangle" between Dimitri, his father and Grushenko feels contrived, which Alyosha thrust into the middle of this melodramatic struggle.  There is also the "love triangle" betwen his two brothers and Katerina, which he is also forced to intercede upon.  All this becomes too much a burden for a young man of God.  He questions his knowledge on affairs of the heart, taking a scolding from his older brother Ivan, who leaves Katerina for Dmitri, should he choose to take her.

At the halfway point of the novel, the women seem little more than foils, although Grushenka is given a very interesting chapter in which she reveals quite a bit of herself.  However, you are left to wonder if she is only playing games, like she did with Katerina earlier in the book.  The two remind me a lot of of Nastya and Aglaya from The Idiot.

I keep waiting for something to happen.  After all, this is supposed to be a murder mystery.  But, to this point the only mystery is when the murder will occur?