Genre: Action/ Fantasy
Director: Vladimir Khotinenko
TRASH CINEMA RECOMMENDED MOVIE
Imagine a Russian update of one of those 1930s Errol Flynn swashbucklers, with a heavy overlay of mysticism, religion and nationalism, and tarted up with the graphic violence of the Saw series, and you’ll have a pretty good sense of what 1612 is like. Arrows in the face, partial decapitations, bodies ripped in half by cannon fire — 1612 is, hands down, the most graphically violent adventure movie I’ve ever seen. And we’re not talking about just the aftermath, like CSI. We witness the cannonball rip a person in half and the pieces go flying.
In the early 1600s, Czar Gudunova and his family are assassinated. Thus begins the Time of Trouble, in which various pretenders to the throne briefly rule Russia, and chaos reigns. For a while, it seems like 1612 is going to be nothing more than a historical pageant, with a cast of thousands, opulent costumes, and sweeping cinematography. Frankly, it’s a little dull. Then, fifteen minutes in, we get to the actual story.
It turns out that the Polish soldier Hetman (Michal Zebrowski) was the one who killed Tzar Gudunova and his family, but he spared the Tzar’s sister, Kseniya Godunova (Violetta Davydovskaya). Counting on the chaos that reigns in Russia, Hetman plans to storm Moscow, install Kseniya as Czarina, convert her to Catholicism, marry her so he can rule Russia by proxy, and ultimately produce an heir to carry on what he hopes will be the Hetman dynasty.
Only one person stands in his way: Andrei (Pyotr Kislov), a serf who spied on Kseniya while she was bathing when he was a little boy, and was smitten for life. He witnessed the slayings of the Gudunovas by Hetman, who also killed Andrei’s mother.
The filmmakers take their good old time setting up the story, and I can’t say I cared for all the mystical and religious touches. Every few minutes, we get a shot of a unicorn, or of the priest who vows to remain up in a tree (like a logging protester) until the Time of Trouble ends. Worse yet, the Maid Marion character (following our Errol Flynn analogy), Czarina Kseniya, is a total drip. She does nothing but whine and feel sorry for herself. Frankly, she doesn’t seem worth fighting over.
But there are compensations. The physical production is impressive. The costumes are fantastic, and the scenery is beautiful. Many of the performances are entertaining, in that broad action adventure, Lord of the Rings kind of way. Pyotr Kislov is dashing as the heroic Andrei; Artur Smolyaninov is the clownish Kostka. Ramón Langa is charming as the Spanish mercenary, Alvar. Which brings me to another thing that 1612 does well: everyone speaks in their own languages, whether it’s Spanish, Russian, Polish, or Italian. That should be standard practice.
But where 1612 really comes into it’s own is the siege sequence that climaxes the film. Andrei has stolen Czarina Kseniya from Hetman and is hiding her inside a walled city. Hetman has vastly superior forces and weapons, such as dozens of cannons. All Andrei has is his imagination. Every time it seems that Hetman’s forces are going to overwhelm the city, Andre comes up with an ingenious solution that causes levels of carnage that will make your jaw drop.
If only the rest of 1612 was as entertaining.
To me, 1612 is worth a marginal recommendation. It’s a lavishly produced historical epic, which you don’t see all that often, about a period in Russian history you don’t hear alot about. It’s got a distinctive Russian flavor, which is entertaining all by itself, at least to me. It’s got some nifty swordfights. The battle strategies in the siege sequence are a lot of fun. And for those gore hounds in my readership, the death scenes and the special effects makeup that goes with them are outrageous.