Oh, those Russians

Two DVDs with an Eastern European theme

Night Watch
The most expensive film in Russian history, released there in 2004, where it broke all box office records, and in the rest of the world in 2005, thanks to distribution by 20th Century Fox. It’s a cross between Lord Of The Rings and Blade Runner, a vision of the present in Moscow based on the notion that a centuries-old truce between Light and Darkness is about to be broken. It’s visually arresting, with more camera trickery and strange editing than Green Wing, and the look of a graphic novel (even though it’s based on a non-graphic novel), and you can’t help but be awed by some of the showboat stuff, like the sequence in which the camera follows the downwards trajectory of a single rivet, popped from the panel on the side of an airliner, as it descends to earth and plops down an air vent, only to end up in a coffee mug. Sadly, such wizardry does not necessarily a satisfying narrative make, but it’s a good ride. The DVD offers a dubbed version as well as a subtitled one. The latter has to be preferable, as what’s the point of watching a Russian film and not being able to savour the crunchy sounds of the language?

Everything Is Illuminated
Not a Russian film, an American one, directorial debut of actor Liev Schreiber, but one that’s set in Ukraine, as novelist, vegetarian and “collector” Jonathan Safran Foer (played by the big-eyed, upside-down-eyebrowed Elijah Wood) travels there, in his suit, to discover who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Actually, I’ve found out that it was shot in the Czech Republic, but the effect is the same: endless arable land, high sunflowers, dirt roads disappearing into the horizon, great fields of wheat, reminding me of that great Woody Allen speech in Love And Death: “The crops, the grains. Fields of rippling wheat. Wheat. All there is in life is wheat. Oh, wheat! Lots of wheat! Fields of wheat. A tremendous amount of wheat!” It’s a road movie, and one that doesn’t quite hang together, but nevertheless throws up some poignant and funny moments, thanks to the performance of Eugene Hutz, lead singer in real life with Gogol Bordello, who recently passed through the 6 Music Chart, as Safran Foer’s translator (“Many girls want to be carnal with me as I am such a premium dancer”).

Didn’t get to the end of this film as we were tired out.


3 thoughts on “Oh, those Russians

  1. It’s possibly worth mentioning that the ‘Nightwatch’ subtitles are properly integrated into the film, rather than added later by a distributor. They’re colour-coded and ‘animated’ – some melt, some vanish behind items on-screen – so the subtitles add to the overall experience.Or they did at the cinema, anyway. According to Amazon, the DVD isn’t out in the UK until the end of April, so some of us have a little longer to wait!

  2. I am extremely fond of Jonathan Safran Foer’s writing, and I encourage you to read the novel that Everything is based on, if you haven’t already. “Brilliant” doesn’t even begin to describe it. And you have to get to the end as the payoff is tremendous!

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