Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Assassin of the Tsar

We recently got a package DVD which includes ten movies - mostly from the 90s, I think - and have only watched a couple so far. Last night it was the turn of a strange movie called Assassin of the Tsar. Made in Russia by a Russian director and with a Russian cast and crew, it stars Malcolm McDowell who plays a psychiatric patient, Timofeyev, with his usual intense on-the-edge approach, and also plays a real-life person, Yurovsky, the man who, along with a number of 'comrades', murdered the Tsar and his family. The other main actor, Oleg Yankovskiya well-known actor in his native country, plays the new doctor at the asylum where McDowell has been hospitalised for many years, as well as the Tsar. Confused? You should be. 

Even for people who know the story of the assassination, and the botched assassination of the Tsar's father (which is also in the movie), I suspect this film would appear confusing. Timofeyev believes he is Yurovsky, and on a certain date each year (July 16th, if I remember rightly) a wound appears around his neck, a circle like that of a hangman's rope. On another date in August, he also shows extremes symptoms of a stomach problem. Both of these are somehow related to the assassinations. In due course the doctor takes on the role of the Tsar in order to try and treat Timofeyev, but in the process comes to see himself actually as the Tsar, and dies - though not by assassination. Why he comes to take on the Tsar's persona isn't adequately explained, except with a bit of psycho-babble. 

The scenes set in the past where the Bolsheviks are planning to kill the imperial family are full of tension. The scenes in the asylum seem random and unrelated to the rest of the movie, and the whole nonsense of the doctor dying makes no sense. Then there's the woman who's lost her child and who's waiting outside the residence where the Tsar and his family are confined. We have no idea what she has to do with the story. Some reviewers see the film as a kind of releasing of guilt of the Russians in modern USSR. I have no idea, and couldn't see the connection.

The film is in English, presumably with the Russian cast dubbed. Curiously, while they all have accents, McDowell for the most part doesn't. By all accounts there's a version in Russian in which McDowell is dubbed. The soundtrack is also odd: there's music playing a good deal of the time, the usual sort of music that accompanies any film, but it seems to be coming from another room, and is often quite faint.

How this film came to be made and how McDowell got involved in it isn't obvious. McDowell gives it his all, as you'd expect, and is worth watching. But beyond that the film makes too little sense to really engage an audience. 
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