Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Mad Monk: "Rasputin" (1985)

This Russian language film serves as a triumph in film acting, with Alexei Petrenko not just playing the mad monk, but channeling and becoming him.

The prologue provides background about this mysterious man who came from Siberia. He attempted to heal the Czar's hemophiliac son, and wedged himself into the royal family, eventually given unlimited access to decision making. He claimed to have visions, and advised the royals as to their next moves. All of this was happening during World War I, and on the eve of the Russian revolution. Eventually, the Czar's enemies decide to kill Rasputin, and in one of the most absurd murders ever put on film, they find poison does not work.

Alexei Petrenko is excellent as Rasputin. He has straggly hair, a patchy long beard, and the same piercing stare that apparently wooed the ladies of the time. Rasputin sinned and sinned and sinned, all in the name of purging his own demons at the request of God. He was truly insane, and Petrenko brings that out right away. We do not see a gradual slide into mental illness, Rasputin was this way right off the bat. Too bad, the royal family was blinded by faith and not reason.

The conspiracy to kill Rasputin is a little confused, as we see a group of men plan and execute, but it is never clear who is who. The Czar himself is doubtful of Rasputin's divine advice, but follows his orders anyway, resulting in a bloodbath of his troops at the hands of the Germans. The czar's behavior here is muddled, and the film makers do not clear it up.

The direction, by Klimov, is wonderful. He shows Rasputin's own madness, as scenes shift from color to black and white, then back again. A terrifying scene involves Rasputin's ambush by the Orthodox Church, who trap him with the singing voice of a pretty girl. Perfect scene.

Again, Petrenko is perfection. This is subtitled, but nothing is lost in the translation. Petrenko becomes Rasputin without resorting to theatrical tricks and showy acting. He was not looking for film awards, he was looking to bring one of history's most infamous men to life, briefly.

The video version I saw runs 107 minutes, but IMDB has listings for the film at over two and a half hours. If anything, more story and Petrenko would be enlightening, but I am completely happy with this version for now. (* * * * *) out of five stars.