#32 - JRL 2009-202 - JRL Home

Moscow News
November 2, 2009
Terrible tales
A big budget and a belting cast make “Tsar” the new star of Russian cinema

By Vladimir Kozlov

The dream team of modern Russian cinema is reunited with a big budget - and Wednesday's nationwide release of "Tsar" has got movie buffs on the edge of their seats with anticipation.

Director Pavel Lungin has teamed up with Pyotr Mamonov once more, with the some-time rock star playing Ivan the Terrible. The pair have already created award-winning roles in "Taxi Blues" and "The Island", and Lungin wrote the title role in this film specifically for Mamonov, whose wild staring eyes currently grace every second billboard in town.

But while Ivan's notorious cruelty is given a new context in Lungin's script, he also faces a worthy screen adversary in the form of the late Oleg Yankovsky, who gives a powerful performance as the monkish Metropolitan Philipp in what proved to be his last role before succumbing to cancer earlier this year.

While Mamonov's Ivan the Terrible strongly believes in his absolute superiority over other people and his right to cruelly destroy anyone who opposes him, Philip, a scholar and the superior of the monastery on the Solovetsky Islands, dares to speak up against the Tsar's tyranny. At the centre of the film is the clash between the two, who also represent two opposing views of the world.

The director's task was to present the tsar in all his complexity. "Ivan the Terrible believed in the end of the world," Lungin said in an interview with the Ekho Moskvy radio station. "He really expected doomsday. The Oprichny palace had no roof. Why do you need a roof if there will be no sky soon? And [Ivan the Terrible] often executed people in a biblical way, like with the use of wild animals."

With a production budget of $15 million, "Tsar" became one of the priciest domestic movies released this year, with only the second film of Fyodor Bondarchuk's epic "Inhabited Island" series costing more. Expensive custom-built sets went up on the premises of Spaso-Yevfimiev monastery in the town of Suzdal, north east of Moscow. The sets, alongside carefully recreated period costumes, make the movie one of the richest productions in recent history of the Russian film industry.

The movie was premiered at Cannes last May, where it, alongside Nikolai Khomeriki's "Skazka Pro Temnotu ("A Fairytale about Darkness"), was included in the festival's Un Certain Regard section.

Meanwhile, Western critics who watched the movie at Cannes, gave it mixed reviews. "Both spectacular and pious, "Tsar" positions itself between Sergei Eisenstein's "Ivan the Terrible" and Andrei Tarkovsky's "Andrei Rublev", though without their originality and inspiration", noted a reviewer for The Hollywood Reporter, giving credit to the performances of Mamonov and Yankovsky and describing it as "rich-looking".

"Despite handsome production values and rich, atmospheric lensing by Clint Eastwood regular Tom Stern, this is a heavy meal to digest outside the fest arena", wrote a critic for Variety magazine.

The movie opens in France on January 13, but there is no word yet about a release in English-speaking countries, either in theatres or on DVD.

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