Doctor Zhivago (1965): The Price and Fallout of Revolution

Doctor Zhivago

 

This was a pretty amazing film, that made me very interested in reading the Novel of the same name that inspired it. We continue Revolution Week with “Doctor Zhivago” which covers era of the fall of the Tsar and the Russian Revolution and the purgings that happened after, as well as the cost of all of this on the common person.

“Doctor Zhivago” was directed by David Lean, written by Robert Bolt, produced by Carlo Ponti and based off the novel of the same name by Boris Pasternak.

The story begins with Lieutenant General Yevgraf Zhivago (Alec Guinness) who is looking for the daughter of his half-brother Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif) whose poetry has no become famous in the Soviet Union. Tonya (Rita Tushingham) does not believe she is the daughter of him since she never knew her father leading Yevgraf to retrace Yuri and her mother Lara’s (Julie Christie) story in the leadup to the Revolution and all that happened after.

The Pros: The Setting – The backdrop of World War 1 and the Russian Revolution is a fascinating time, especially since this film goes in depth into how no one was really safe after the Revolution and the cost of change and what it did to families.

The Cinematography – The Cinematography is gorgeous. There are lots of long shots, very reminscent of films like “Ben-Hur” or “Spartacus” it also gets personal too in small spaces and does some fascinating shots where it will be in the room and then go full shot through the open space in a foggy window. It truly is masterful.

The Soundtrack – Maurice Jarr did an amazing job on this soundtrack! Classic instruments like the Balalaika are incorporated in and it can big and epic as well as sad and personal. It feels large and captures the scale of the story really well.

The Characters – The characters in this are all rich, no one is static and everyone is changing as the nation changes from the Revolution. The one constant is suffering and how it shapes the characters and their relationships to one another.

Victor – Victor represents a lot of what is wrong with people, but especially among priveledged men. In the first scene we see him in he is creepily hitting on Lara and later rapes her on the way back. From here their relationship is one of her being afraid to tell her fiance and after a failed suicide attempt in which Yuri saves her life she decides she will use the gone Pavel gave her from a rally to kill Victor. The killing is not successful and we don’t see him for some time. When he returns he is in the Russian Government and offers to give Yuri and Lara a way to escape. They finally take him up on it but at this point Lara is no longer his slave and all attempts he has to act as if he owns her are shot down. Her trying to kill him was freeing herself of his toxic control. I hated this character and wish the gunshot had been successful in murdering him. Rod Steiger does a great job playing this unlikable man who only sees people in how they will benefit him and has no ideals beyond his own desires.

Pavel – Pavel is the idealist who becomes a “Hero” of the revolution after he gets a scar on the front in World War 1. He becomes a cold man and leaves Lara behind since he never forgave her for the affair with Victor (which shows that coldness that always existed from the beginning, she was raped multiple times by Victor). He meets Yuri at one point when Yuri and his wife Tonya are making their escape with their son and Alexander. They talk and he lets them go and we see how paranoid he has become and that his idealism has turned into tyranny. “The Russian cannot afford a private life. That era is over.” He is all about duty and the party and nothing else. The hero has now become the villain.

Alexander -Alexander is Yuri’s adopted father and a good man. He is there for Tonya the most as Yuri is very soon obsessed with the injustice around him and Lara who he served with at the front. He is a good man and has the most difficulty adapting to living poorly as he was once a very rich man before the Revolution. As Yuri becomes more involved with Lara it is really Alexander who is there to take care of Yuri and Tonya’s family and shows that he is a good guardian and Grandfather. Ralph Richardson is wonderful in the grandfather like role.

Tonya – Tonya is a very passive character who has great moments of power. For example, we learn she saved power in the shared apartment by turning it on only when Yuri was home because she knew how much he liked it. We also see it in how she tries reaching out to him, even ifs he gets nothing in turn. She is a good mother and even respects Lara, who she learns was Yuri’s mistress. She never sees Yuri again as her, Alexander and Yuri’s son escape to France. Geraldine Chapline is fantastic.

Lara – Lara is the tragic character for much of this story. Whether it’s her husband leaving her after finding out about the affair and never returning back as he becomes the “Hero” of the revolution and even that coming back to bite her when the Party turns against him and her association with him being dangerous…her rapist still being alive and still having power even until the end, though at that point she had boundaries he could not cross thankfully and of course losing Yuri after he is picked up by some Red Guards to hunt for Whites and rebels in the country. She is able to care for their daughter though and is one of the strongest characters in the film…from living alone, to trying to kill Victor and living in exile raising their daughter. She is extremely well rounded and has a good heart as seen by her devotion to the wounded when her and Yuri were serving at the front as Doctor and Nurse. Julie Christie gives a lot of depth to this role.

Yuri Zhivago – Yuri is the Doctor Zhivago of the title and is a very flawed but overall good person. He was raised by Alexander as he lost his family and saves Lara’s life when she attempts suicide. He isn’t the idealist, he just wants to live and this causes conflict as he still wants to be treated with dignity. This leads to trouble when he returns from the front and the party begins noting his attitude as a problem. His brother Yevgraf convinces him to run away which builds his relationship with Alexander and Tonya as well as their son, but once he reconnects with Lara that stops as his second life takes control until he is kidnapped and conscripted to be a doctor the Reds. He eventually escapes and meets Lara again and after helping her escape decides to stay in Russia. He eventually dies when he thinks he sees her as his heart was weak after all it had been through. He has a legacy though as people turn up from all over to honor him as his poetry had grown famous. Omar Sharif does a wonderful job.

Yevgraf Zhivago – Alec Guinness is a truly amazing actor. In this he plays a Bolshevik who is sent to the front to ferment Revolution. He succeeds and is a Secret Policeman and later a General. In each of these roles he knows he does wrong things that hurt others but his connection to his brother leads to him doing good. We see this when he helps Yuri and his family escape from Moscow and later when he finds Lara and Yuri’s daughter. He is at his core a good man and is uncomfortable about things he’s done and that his brother’s work was outlawed for a time…as he sympathized with the poetry and how personal it was.

The Revolution – We see the hope of revolution and the turning point for some characters. When Pavel is beaten he decides that peaceful revolutions will be no more…Sadly this is taken to the fullest degree as his government becomes so oppressive that in the end he becomes a refugee in them. This captures how the ideals of revolution can get lost when new power structures are formed and how those can be abused by any group.

The Message – There are a few messages in this film. The strongest is that Revolution may not always have a good end. Of course things weren’t great under the Tsar, that is obvious, but things aren’t great under the party either. This film captures the loss and price of it and how selfish powerful men like Victor are the ones most likely to live no matter how things change. In counter to that though, good people can change others…as Yuri changed his brother and made him a better person, and it’s implied his poetry changed the nation in small ways making it more open.

Okay: Length – This film is a bit long at times. I think the length was needed but I still felt the length of the production and story.

What Happens in the Present? – What is going on in the present isn’t fully known. All we know is Yuri’s poetry can now be read by all Russians and that the government is more open than it was before…but we only hear about it. We never see it fully but we know because we see it that the trials of the present are much easier than the trials of the past.

This was a great movie and one I would consider a classic. It gives the Russian Revolution justice because it shows us flawed characters who are fully explored in a nation that goes through radical changes. We see people at their most desperate but also moments of tenderness and love. I really want to read the novel now as I was very impressed by this film. If you are looking for a great drama, romance based in history…take a look at this film. I sincerely doubt you will be disappointed. Just know that it is around 3 1/2 hours long, so be prepared. There is a reason that the film has an intermission during it.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10.

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Kagemusha (1980): A Story of War, Purpose and the State

1980_KAGEMUSHA_poster_(11)

Akira Kurosawa is a director I’ve been wanting to review for a while. Back in College when I was studying Japanese history, culture and language we watched some of his films. It’s been a bit since then, so it was great to return to one of his classics. Not only because of how great of a director Kurosawa is, but because of the time period the “Kagemusha” takes place in. The Warring States period is one of my favorite periods in Japan to study…especially in relation to the rise of the Shoguns and the figures of Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu.

I’m going to say now, the film is not entirely historically accurate. For one the Warlord Takega Shingen was not killed and replaced by a double for 3 years. The movie also takes inspiration from Japanese Noh theatre so exaggerates some of the costumes and characters so that the message can come through clearer. In that way it is an excellent film, just not necessarily a good historically accurate film.

“Kagemusha” as said before, takes place around the Warring States period when the largest powers at play were Tokugawa Ieyasu, and the one he’d allied with and become a retainer of Oda Nobanaga as well as the third largest faction Takega Shingen. The story than goes smaller as Shingen’s brother found a criminal to play as a Kagemusha…a body double for Takega so he would have more protection and could “be” in many places at once. This body double is an unnamed theif, and after Takega is shot during one of the sieges he is called up to take his place so the generals can keep stability and keep Nobunaga’s and Ieyasu’s armies away. From here the story unfolds.

large_kagemusha_blu-ray4Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Cinematography – Kurosawa uses the the stark Noh colors for inspiration throughout the film and it is done masterfully. Even mundane things like marching become beautiful as the different legions wear different colors of armor. This is used as  a backdrop for battles as red is used to illustrate the violence or the multi-colored backdrop of the Kagemusha’s dream sequence. This helps the movie flow better, as it is a really long film.

Takega Shingen / The Kagemusha – The same actor Tatsuda Nakadai plays both the Warlord and the Body double, and though people say he overacts…this is based off Noh, that is kind of the point. He plays the extremes really well. From extreme cowardice as the thief, the confidence and coldness of Takega and when the Kagemusha embraces his role and becomes a kinder version of the warlord.

Oda Nobunaga – This is one of the most fascinating people in history, and this movie illustrates parts of the reasons why. He was an atheist who was a patron to Jesuit Missionaries, he wore Western Garb and drank wine from Spain but also was a huge supporter of the arts within Japan. He was an adaptable man which is why I think he was able to conquer so much before he died. Daisuke Ryu does an excellent job capturing this character as he is always smiling, energetic and active, but serious and respectful of his enemies. He has some great scenes with Ieyasu where they share some red wine and another scene where he says Amen to a blessing from the missionaries. Daisuke Ryu lives this role…and I can’t wait to see him in more films.

Tokugawa Ieyasu – Historically in regards to looks he was the opposite of Nobunaga. While Nobunaga was active and adaptable…Ieyasu was the waiter and watcher and tester. He always figured things out before he acted, which is why out of all the Shoguns leading up to Unification in the Warring States Period, he was the one stood victorious at the end. We see bits of that here too, though at this time Nobanaga was the superior force so we see that deference in their alliance. Masayuki Yui does a good job in the role, I just wish we could have got more. He doesn’t have as many unique character moments as Nobanaga.

The Battles – There are two major battles we get in this. One where Takega Shingen’s son goes to win honor as he was exiled away from his father and wants to reclaim honor and leadership of the clan from the Kagemusha, who with his generals than has to rescue him with a show of force…and at the end where the same son leads all his soldiers to the slaughter form Nobanuga’s guns.

The Reveals – The Reveal of the Kagemusha not being Takega Shingen is heartbreaking. It all came from pride too. He tried reading Shingen’s horse and was cast off revealing that he didn’t have Shingen’s scar on his back. He is given money and cast out into desolation. It is touching as the generals who have had some respect for him can do nothing since it was all a lie and ruse to begin with. After this Nobunaga does a Noh performance before Ieyasu in honor of Shingen and being tricked for three years by such a worthy foe.

The Ending – We see the banner of Shingen’s clan in the water as the Kagemusha is dying after joining the battle, having finally found his purpose.

The Messages – There are quite a few messages in this film. One major one, is how duty can give one purpose since as the Kagemusha tries to steal from Shingen after his death, and it only when he realizes all he lost that he devotes himself to the clan and the role they gave him. This in turn leads to him dying for a cause at the end. He is no longer lost, no longer wandering…his purpose is found.

Another message is the uncaringness of the State. The Kagemusha is just a tool and after he is of no use he is left as a possible death in the Warring States. No one checks up on him and the relationship he formed with Shingen’s grandson means nothing because he was a peasant and thief so has no power. He is only worth as much as he is useful, which is exaggerated even more in war time.

Kurosawa is a master director and this film is a classic for a reason. It is a bit long, but the cinematography and major characters are so great that it keeps you interested and curious to see what happens. The time period being one of my favorite periods of study is also a plus for me as well. I highly recommend this film and it is one of my all time favorites after today.

My final score for it is 9.5 / 10

 

Casablanca (1942): An Amazing Story of Love in a Time of War

Casablanca

       “Casablanca,” is a film I always caught at the wrong time, every time it was on, so much was going on already so the movie was always in the background and usually remained unfinished by the time I would leave. “Casablanca,” is a fascinating film, considering it was completed when World War 2 was still going on. The Nazis still occupied a lot of Europe and it was unknown who would be victorious in the end. The screenplay itself is based off a play called “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. The fact that they were writing from a time where history remained unwritten gives the present of the story so much life. 

   “Casablanca,” was directed by Michael Curtiz and is the story of Rick (Humphrey Bogart) who owns a saloon in Nazi occupied Casablanca in the French Morocco. He is a pretty selfish guy whose perspective changes when a former lover named Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) re-enters his life with her fascist resisting husband Victor Laszlo…from here the story unfolds as politics between factions arise as the drama unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Music – God I love the music in this. From “As Time Goes By,” to the orchestra pieces and the jazz…you feel like you are in Casablanca and the music always fits what is going on. I could listen to this soundtrack for days and plan on using it to inspire my own writing. Max Steiner is fantastic.

The Cinematography – The cinematography captures the cramped feel of the bazaar, the open feel of Rick’s saloon and the noir feel of the ending in the escape sequence intermixed with the backstabbing and double dealing.

Rick Blaine – Humphrey Bogart owns this role and creates a compelling character who we never know if he is selfish and all about the money…or still the idealist at heart that brought him to Europe in the first place to fight the fascist governments as a mercenary. We see his complexity through his relationships, from Sam who is his piano player at the saloon to the French Captain Louis Renalt and Isla and her husband Laszlo (as well as smaller smuggler characters too), they  each reveal parts of his selfish and selfless side as the story goes on.

Isla Lund – What would you do if you believed your husband to be dead and fell in love with another? This is Isla’s dilemma as her romance with Rich in Paris occurs when she has believed for some time that Laszlo is dead. Also Laszlo loves the cause more than he loves her and Rick loves her. This is an interesting choice and she only gives up her agency to Rick at the end when he tells her he’ll need her to to help her and Laszlo escape. Ingrid Bergman is amazing in the role and gives us a complex character who makes her own path in a situation where it is difficult to do just that.

Sam – Dooley Wilson is the connection to Rick and Isla and is a character with a lot of awareness. He tries to talk Rick out of dredging up the past and tries to help him and Isla move on even as they use him as a tool to express their feelings of love lost in the song he plays, “As Time Goes By,” he is a great singer and the only downside is I wish he’d played more of a part after the First Act. After his attempts fail, he just kind of exists as the piano player.

Louis Renalt – I love this character. He is the kind of character I love watching in television shows…characters who are a shade of grey but when they sell themselves as truly selfish it is believable because of how charming they are and how they do what is asked of them…though with always an added twist. Claude Rains is my favorite minor character and I’d have watched the movie it was just about him and how the events of the story change him or force him to reveal where his true loyalties are.

The Dialogue – Reveals the distinct personalities of the characters and helps show events rather than tell events. The best example of this is when we see Isla and Rick’s time and Paris and how the romance happens. It is subtle and the lines show how each of them are hiding their past but want to be together with what they can give…as well as Isla’s leaving where you know there is more going on, but until Laszlo’s reveal…we don’t know what that thing is.

The Reveal – Renault sets up a Nazi officer being sent to the airplane where Isla and Laszlo will be escaping but the Nazi Officer is killed by Rick who is fighting for them. His choosing to fight for Isla and a higher cause of the resistance is the big reveal as well as Renault being sympathetic and joining with Rick to go and fight the Nazis.

The Message – Love is greater than romance, there are ideals greater than the individual and the theme of solidarity in resistance. Love is greater than romance in that Rick gets over his wish to be with Isla and lets her leave with her husband telling her “We’ll always have Paris.” He has finally gotten past himself and sees that if they were together it would involve hurting her (letting Laszlo get caught) in the process. The other part is when he kills the Nazi officer and re-devotes himself to fighting the fascists. Renault joins him in this and they decide to join the French Resistance. There are also the themes of solidarity in the singing of “Viva la France,” against the Nazi’s nationalist anthem and Rick helping a Bulgarian couple escape by letting the husband win in his gambling so they’ll have the funds to travel to America. There are others as well, but this theme is pervasive and makes the film even stronger.

Okay: The Nazi Officers – They are just kind of there, but exist mostly as a threat. I never felt like they were fully fleshed out in regards to their motivations. Sure they get lines, but there aren’t any characters like the S.S. Officer in “Inglorious Bastards.” They serve their role, but are pretty replaceable.

Victor Laszlo – I really wanted to like this character. He is a resistance fighter with a compelling backstory (fought for the Czech and other resistances in Europe against the Nazis) is put in a concentration camp and escapes, and he forgives Isla for cheating on him. The actor just doesn’t make his character greater than his role though. He is there to be the face of the resistance and love of a cause (he’d leave if he got the chance and leave Isla if it meant continuing the fight), but he just isn’t as compelling as Isla and Rick. I wish we’d heard more about what he went through, we can really only guess based off what we know.

The Length – This movie at times feels long. This is good for building tension, but sometimes can drag. This isn’t a con though since I love all the time with the characters…it just needs to be addressed since it isn’t a pro. It would have been a pro if it didn’t feel long.

     This is one of my all time favorite films after tonight and one I intend to watch again in the future. There is a reason it won 3 Academy Awards and why it is recognized as one of the classics. It’s themes are timeless, it’s characters are great and the music is some of the best from any movie. It is a near perfect film and reminds us of the things worth living and dying for. I can’t recommend this film enough.

My final Score for the film is 9.8 / 10.

Spartacus (1960): What it Means to be Free

Spartacus

“When a free man dies, he loses the pleasure of life. A slave loses his pain. Death is the only freedom a slave knows. That’s why he’s not afraid of it. That’s why we’ll win.” -Spartacus

“Spartacus,” directed by Stanley Kubrick is the Academy Award winning film about the slave who lead one of the largest rebellions against Rome, Spartacus.” The story goes into the politics of the senate and the life of the slaves while tying it into the current events going on at the time.

The current events I speak of are the Red Scare and the Blacklisting of supposed communist sympathizers. The screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted as was the author of the novel “Spartacus,” Howard Fast. These themes were worked into the novel as well as the screenplay (http://comptalk.fiu.edu/blacklist.htm).

Here is my assessment of the film:

The Pros: The cinematography – Is beautiful. Kubrick is able to capture the large scale movements of troops and also the small scale conversations between individuals or groups while keeping the scene active.

The Music – Is epic and reminded me very much of John Williams. Everything is big and though there are some off music moments (some strange violin pieces during love scenes) the rest achieves the scale and tone it needs.

The actors – Laurence Olivier is fantastic as Crassus and Kirk Douglas nails it as Spartacus. The rest of the supporting cast is good too and adds depth to their characters…from Gavin as Ceaser to Laughton as Gracchus. The actors are able to keep weaker scenes interesting.

The Theme – The theme of freedom as something worth dying for and what is worth living is the point of the story. Spartacus goes against enslaving the masters and so much of the problems and and corruption we see in the film is from ignoring this fact. Those in power wishing to dominate others and how it is an ongoing struggle. It is masterfully executed through the eyes of “Spartacus” and the corruption in Rome.

The story – It is fiction based off historical events but emphasis on fiction. The story of how Spartacus leads the slave rebellion begins when an African Slave in the arena attacks the masters present…which later leads to Sparatacus leading his own revolt in the arena and uniting the slaves and stopping their enslavement of the masters. It goes on to his love story with one of the slaves and their having a child as politics unfold in Rome and his slave rebellion is used as a tool for Gracchus versus Crassus for control of Rome and the senate with Ceaser as the deciding man.

The politics – There are lots of politics at play…from the pirates working with Crassus after getting paid off to turn against Sparatacus, from Gracchus getting Crassus’s man out of Rome to take on Spartacus, and Ceaser turning against Gracchus in order to unite Rome and joining forces with Crassus (and Crassus becoming Consul) and in the end to Gracchus freeing Sparatacus’s wife.

The characters – Are intriguing and three dimensional. Completely wrong morally in many cases (all the slave holders), but all are complicated and human. You see why Ceaser joins with Crassus, you get why Gracchus wants to take Crassus’s power and you get what drives Spartacus and why he doesn’t want to become like the masters. It is brilliantly written and the characters are all three dimensional…when they could have easily just become ideals and caricatures.

The time period: I find Roman History fascinating and love when artists (Directors, Studios, etc.) try to capture it on film. The characters and politics are such rich stories that are still relevant today and can teach us about ourselves.

Okay: The length – It doesn’t feel like it all the time but sometimes it does (I can see why they had an intermission in the film). “Spartacus” is over 3 hours long. In some ways this helps since the characters have time to be explored, but other times it feels like it takes too long to get the action started (the beginning is 5 minutes long at least of music, this before the movie even begins). I think shortening up in some areas like the battles and the introduction would have served the story better.

This is a film I would highly recommend. It isn’t Kubrick’s best film and I do think, “The Shining,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and “The Killing” are better films, but this film is still great and worth a watch. It being considered one of the great classics is a well deserved title for this historical fiction that takes inspiration from the present  it was created in and can still be relevant today.

I give this film a 9 / 10.