Monday, November 10, 2014
Imperialist Russia, 1916. The emperor, Tsar Nicholas II of the Romanov dynasty, is increasingly influenced by charlatan and mystic Grigori Rasputin, which further exacerbates the already disastrous mismanagement of the country, where the poverty and the neverending war in World War I front already alienated the people from the court. Claiming to be a healer and a prophet, Rasputin just uses the Romanovs to stage decadent parties. He even starts influencing Nicholas II in decisions at the front. Finally, he is exiled and killed, which signals the end of the empire.
Elem Klimov's 4th film, "Agony" is a disappointing achievement that has very little of the dazzling style of director's other films, and is arguably his weakest film. It is an overlong, boring and ponderous historical account, a one in which the event portrayed - the bizarre influence of the mystic, healer and all-around fraud Rasputin on the naive people around him, which went all the way to the highest circles, thereby mirroring the theme of how religion can be misused to deceive the masses - is very interesting, but it is shown in a very uninteresting manner. Full of chaotic scenes of decadent parties and carnival at the court, stiff characters and inconsistent narrative, this is an overall a mess of a film, with a few very questionable scenes (one example of animal cruelty, where the actor playing Rasputin throws a living pig and sends it smashing on to a table full of beverage). The only scarce examples of Klimov's more imaginative style are black and white scenes of archive footage combined with the played events, and the use of subtitles to introduce and identify several historical characters. If anything, at least Klimov refused to succumb to Bolshevik propaganda since they are not shown in this - for them - important time before the October revolution. Other than that, even though it was banned and tempered with, this is a mediocre film.