Saturday, August 18, 2007

Ivan the Terrible

Ivan Groznyy; historical film, Russia, 1944/ 1946; D: Sergei M. Eisenstein, S: Nikolai Cherkasov, Lyudmila Tselikovskaya, Serafima Birman, Mikhail Nazvanov, Mikhail Zharov

In Moscow in 1547, Ivan IV. Vasilyevich becomes the Tsar even though he is only 17 years old. Already then he announced taxes for the church and wars to expand Russia, but the first rebellion of the villagers was resolved peacefully. When a Kazakh lord recommended him to surrender, Ivan became infuriated and conquered his country in 1556. He became sick when he returned to Moscow, but he surprised his enemies when he recovered. After his first wife got poisoned, he left Moscow for a convent, started a war to conquer the Baltic sea and cruel fully eliminated the Bolyars. His enemies hire a assassin, but he kills the wrong person. The Tsar displays his loyalty to the people.

Impressive epic classic "Ivan the Terrible" was the last film by the legendary Soviet director Sergei M. Eisenstein who initially planned to film the life of the historical Russian despot as a trilogy, but he only managed to shoot the first two parts, that combined together arrange for 175 minutes of running time, before he died. That's why the film doesn't end with Ivan the Terrible's death but with an open ending where he announces that he will exalt Russia. Unlike Eisenstein's earlier silent films, "Ivan" is a sound film with better planning, opulent production and set design, a high concept story and sheen monumental tone, but doesn't offer the master in full form: the visual style isn't all that special, the title hero's personality is slightly blurry and the story simply too long, obvious in the truly frustratingly overstretched finale. Among the best sequences is the exposition with the opening credits while smoke can be seen rising in the background, as well as many expressionistic sequences, like the one with the giant shadow of Ivan's head while little shadows of his servants pass by it or when he is walking on the staircase while behind him is a giant, a mile long queue of people. "Ivan the Terrible" is a sometimes shaky, demanding and heavy but professionally made film of a spoiled ruler corrupted by power who lost from mind what to do with his life, a gloomy emotional vision of history.


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