Tuesday, October 9, 2012

More Mad Monk: "Rasputin" (1996)

Rasputin made himself available to the Russian royal family and seemed to cure their sickly son, Alexei, of his hemophilia.

This version is told through Alexei's eyes, and he is marvelously performed by Freddie Findlay. Eventually, during the tumultuous World War I and a likely revolution, Rasputin is killed by a relative of the royal family. The Romanovs are devastated, and meet their own violent end shortly thereafter.

Alan Rickman is very good as the monk. Rickman plays the role with gusto, reminding me of Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis De Sade. Two roles that call for the actors to be completely opposite of what then polite society would expect. Rickman does not rant as much. There is a certain mystery to his Rasputin. Rasputin could manipulate, but was he a holy healer or a really good hypnotist? Did he really have visions of the Virgin Mary, or at least think he did? Rickman allows other cast members to have very good moments without overwhelming the film with his debaucherous behavior.

Great Scacchi as Czarina Alexandra will make you forget all of her previous sexpot roles in films like "White Mischief" and "Presumed Innocent." She is a touching mother whose love for her son may have clouded her judgment when inviting Rasputin into her home. Ian McKellen is equally impressive as Czar Nicholas. He and Scacchi have wonderful moments together where you can see they were deeply in love with each other.

This film focuses more on Nicholas and Alexandra's reaction to Rasputin, who often disappears from the proceedings. The couple watched helpless as their beloved country crumbled around them, and had to deal with the internal turmoil of having a sickly son who may or may not survive to become the new emperor of Russia.

Also in this film, Rasputin's carousing is given more reason, as he believes that in order to repent, one must first sin. He takes this warped logic to the extreme, sleeping with prostitutes, getting bombed out of his gourd, yet still getting into the family's good graces by talking young Alexei through the scary bleeding episodes that plagued him.

The scariest scene here is the assassination of the Romanovs in a cellar in a farmhouse in Siberia. The camera does not cut away, and we witness the terror. Often history numbs our emotions with names and dates, but to see an entire family shot and killed (including the children) is heart wrenching and difficult to witness.

Ironically, we know how well communism worked in Russia, and a coda at the end of the film mentions that the family's remains were not uncovered until over seventy years later. Alexei's were not found, as of the epilogue.

As history, I am not sure of the accuracy, but this film is on the mark. The costumes and cinematography are lush, one's eyes can do nothing but try to take everything in.

Add the performances and very un-made-for-cable-TV direction, and this version of "Rasputin" is every bit as moving as the Russian version I reviewed earlier. I highly recommend this version. (* * * * *) out of five stars.