Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tsar, dir. Pavel Lungin, Russia, 2009

To many of you this movie may sound unfamiliar as it did even to me.  I heard about it in my Russian film class in school and was excited to see this historic film following the reign of Ivan the Terrible in the mid-to-late 1500's.  The trailer looked action packed and intense, yet to my surprise the movie failed to follow through.  No I'm not a big history person so I would not do well in ANY history trivia game.  Except in cinema.  But definitely not 16th century or Russian history for that matter!  That being said, I had no conceptions going into this film.  When I came out, I was completely disoriented and did not feel that I had learned anything about Ivan's reign except that he slaughtered and corrupted a great many citizens.  I finally realized halfway through that he was supposed to be portrayed as a completely insane dictator.

I was greatly disappointed with many levels of this movie, but mostly the cinematography.  I cannot even remember one sensible edit or transition from the film.  For example, the most erratic and unsatisfying cut was from a brutal war to the Tsar being carried in a field of white blossoming trees.  In some very demonic symbolism, Ivan enjoys his peace and freedom as ruler at any cost, even at the expense of soldiers' lives.  The petals fall into the hands of the ever-present wind which painfully controls the life and beauty that calls for so little attention.

A reason why the film seemed so uninterpretable at times is because it did not take any strong or specific stance toward any character or action.  I felt lost because it failed to blatantly show me the horror of Ivan's rule via easy techniques, such as: low angle shots that signify Ivan's intimidation and great power and maximize his movement as an immovable ruler, oblique angles that disorient the audience in relation to Ivan's unnatural thinking process, or wide angle shots that minimize his actions to acts of terrorism in light of what is right in the world.  Obviously the violence and brutality is blunt enough to convey a strong message, but a film should be much more symbolic and complementing with techniques that make cinema such a highly acclaimed form of art.  Maybe I am just being too critical...

Tsar focuses on the interactions between Ivan and Philip and Ivan's fight for dominance at any cost.  He unleashes such fury and violence over the state that at times it is hard to imagine such torture occurring so frequently.  It is ironic that Ivan is so religious and pleads "God, give me a sign you still love me" when he goes against all of the core foundations of religion and engages in murder, betrayal, and falsehood.  Not to leave out that he embraces Satan as his right hand man for more than half of the film.  He also converts "Leonardo, the Italian's" creative works into tormenting, death machines.  For example, the water mill was converted into a rotating ring of swords that demolished any body that got in its way.  In his wrath, he destroys the one source of hope that the state has left: Philip.  In a very symbolic end, Philip has a godly epiphany realizing he will die in three days.  The religious undertones relating to Jesus can be blunt and overwhelming, but they definitely serve their purpose both to juxtapose and further the missions of Ivan and Philip, respectively.

On a final note, I do admit that the acting in the film was phenomenal.  All of the characters were extremely focused on creating a realistic portrait of the horrific lifestyle under the reign of Ivan the Terrible.  And boy did they make that come true!

In order to better analyze this film, I better watch Eisenstein's two-part Ivan the Terrible which also catalogues his intense reign.  If anyone has other (more uplifting) thoughts, feel free to comment!


Peach Mango Banana
1 cup each fresh or frozen peaches and mangoes
1 cup yogurt
1 cup ice
1/2 banana
honey (to sweeten the deal!)
milk or juice, at your discretion
Add in order of listing, and enjoy!!

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