Issue 46 (2014)

Aleksandr Vartanov and Kirill Mikhanovsky: Dubrovsky (2014)

reviewed by Irina Anisimova© 2014

dubrovskyAleksandr Vartanov and Kirill Mikhanovsky’s Dubrovsky is an adaptation of the eponymous, unfinished novel by Alexander Pushkin. The film follows a number of recent literary adaptations, often produced as TV series, such as Vladimir Bortko’s The Master and Margarita (2005), Aleksandr Proshkin’s Doctor Zhivago (2006), and Sergei Ursuliak’s Life and Fate (Zhizn’ i sud’ba, 2012). In fact, the film was originally produced as a TV mini-series for the NTV Channel. It was then remade for the big screen. The full TV version was released on NTV in May 2014.[1]

At the same time, Dubrovsky is not a direct literary adaptation. Instead it moves plot elements of Pushkin’s novel to contemporary time. In this respect, the film can be compared to a number of recent films that combine elements of the nineteenth-century classics with contemporary reality, such as Vladimir Mirzoev’s Boris Godunov (2010) and Aleksandr Zel’dovich’s Target (Mishen’, 2012). These hybrids of the past and present are not primarily concerned with aesthetic experimentation, they are, instead, concerned with a social and cultural potential of such fusions.

The use of the nineteenth-century classics varies in each of these films. In Target, Zel’dovich introduces plot elements from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina into a futuristic Russia. In Boris Godunov, Mirzoev preserves the text of Pushkin’s play, combining it with contemporary images. The makers of Dubrovsky take a different approach that is somewhere in between these two, since the film transposes almost the entire plot of Pushkin’s unfinished novel into contemporary Russia.

dubrovskyIn all three films, the resulting hybrids of nineteenth-century plots and contemporary or futuristic reality enable a socio-cultural message: the films point to the various feudal elements characterizing contemporary Russian society. Mirzoev describes these feudal elements as the repetition of Russian history.[2] Zel’dovich’s Target points to extreme social inequality defined in the film as “ecological democracy.” Dubrovsky contributes to this theme by establishing a connection between neo-feudal features of contemporary Russian society and the power of new proprietors, or oligarchs.[3] Another contribution of Dubrovsky is the introduction of this theme to the generally apolitical Russian commercial cinema. Whereas Boris Godunov and Target are esthetically close to art-house, Dubrovsky attempts to bring similar ideas to the mainstream audience.

dubrovskyThe film tells of a sudden disaffection of two old friends, Afghanistan veterans and businessmen, Kirill Troekurov (Iurii Tsurilo) and Andrei Dubrovsky (Aleksandr Mezentsev). Their friendship is based on the common past, despite their difference in status; at present, Troekurov is a regional oligarch with connections to the military, and Dubrovsky is a small businessman trying to organize a cooperative farm. However, their friendship comes to an abrupt end when Dubrovsky accuses Troekurov of inhumane treatment of one of the soldiers working on estate. Because of their new rivalry, Troekurov uses his connections with the region’s governor to appropriate Dubrovsky’s farm together with the entire adjacent village, Kistenevka. To support this property grab, Kistenevka is pronounced as an unlawful settlement that violates environmental regulations. Troekurov plans to turn the village into an elite housing complex and a yacht club. Made homeless by the property grab, the villagers leave for the local forest and turn to violence against the rich and authorities. During the rest of the film, the plot continues to develop in accordance to Pushkin’s original plotline, while making adjustments for the contemporary life. Surprisingly, the romantic love story of the irresistibly attractive Masha Troekurova and Vladimir Dubrovsky, despite the family feud, represents the closest adaptation of the original novel.

dubrovskyThe film’s genre is hard to define; it shifts between an action thriller, social commentary, and a love drama. Thus, Egor Moskvitin ironically describes the film as “an esthetic terrorist attack” for the viewers. He points out that the film’s poster and trailer with Masha Troekurova (Klavdiia Korshunova) in a wedding dress and Vladimir Dubrovsky, played by the star Danila Kozlovskii, in a black coat suggests a romantic drama. The release immediately before International Women’s Day on 8 March could contribute to this initial reading. However, the actual film starts with images of graphic violence, and the love subplot develops only towards the middle of the film. At the same time, the love line becomes dominant towards the film’s ending.

Despite this genre disjunction, in its depiction of both romantic love and violence, Dubrovsky follows the aesthetics of TV series. It is particularly close to the crime dramas produced for NTV; ironically, the film’s connection to this channel is self-referential, since NTV serves as a prominent media presence within the film. The film even contains a NTV report about the property grab and the subsequent criminal activities of the villagers that are eerily reminiscent of real NTV reports.[4]

dubrovskyWhile using conventions of a popular adventure novel, Pushkin’s Dubrovsky also contains a social message that was strongly emphasized in Soviet interpretation of the novel. The new adaptation preserves this tension and even makes it more pronounced than in Pushkin’s original work. The tensions are perhaps amplified by the fact that the film was directed and scripted by two directors, he documentary theater playwright and director Aleksandr Vartanov and émigré filmmaker Kirill Mikhanovsky; and two screenwriters, Konstantin Chernozatonskii and Mikhail Brashinskii.

dubrovskyWhile the theme of social corruption successfully unites Pushkin’s unfinished novel and the film, Troekurov’s relationships with the authorities, his treatment of the drafted soldiers and workers, and the corruption of the justice system closely replicate the nineteenth-century prototype. By contrast, other elements of Pushkin’s adaptation look forced and artificial. This is particularly true of the romantic line of the film. The arranged marriage and the romantic love story, while natural in the context of nineteenth-century conventions, appear out of place in a contemporary drama.

It is this somewhat forced romantic line, combined with the fact that Danila Kozlovskii plays the protagonist, that makes Dubrovsky reminiscent of Roman Prygunov’s Soulless (Dukhless 2012), which similarly combined blockbuster aspirations with a somewhat undefined social message. In both films, social critique is undermined by the protagonist’s aloofness and the romantic subplot. However, whereas the middle-class protest in Soulless felt flat and lifeless, in Dubrovsky corrupt authorities and oligarchs, as well as the violent actions of the masses, are full of life and dynamism. The images of the court procedures and the news reports seem uncannily familiar to the contemporary viewers. The film’s social stance is a welcome distinction from the apolitical, contemporary commercial cinema.

Irina Anisimova
University of Pittsburgh


Notes

1] Some critics believed that the mini-series version would be more coherent than the shorter film whose plot is at times inconsistent and contradictory. See, for example, review by Ivan Gireev.

2] He well expresses this idea in his interview to Radio Liberty, “I was interested in exploring the historical track in which we whirl, it seems that our history is not even spiral-like but forms a circle, like the serpent Ouroboros that bites its own tail” (Vasil’ev).

3] In social sciences, the connection between feudal tendencies in contemporary Russia and the introduction of big property has been explored by Vladimir Shlapentokh (2013).

4] While NTV Channel lost the independence it enjoyed in the 1990s, its tone and focus is significantly different from the main state TV channel, Channel One, since it focuses on news about crime and law violations.

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Works Cited

Gireev, Ivan, ”Spokoino, Masha, on — Kozlovskii!” Vash dosug (5 March 2014).

Moskvitin, Egor, “Masha, ia Kozlovskii,” Gazeta.ru (8 March 2014).

Shlapentokh, Vladimir and Anna Arutunyan, Freedom, Repression, and Private Property in Russia (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Vasil'ev, Iurii, “Rezhisser Vladimir Mirzoev – o ‘Borise Godunove i skhlopnuvshemsia vremeni,” Radio Svoboda (8 November 2011).

 


Dubrovsky, Russia, 2014
Color, 123 minutes
Directors: Aleksandr Vartanov and Kirill Mikhanovsky
Screenwriters: Konstantin Chernozatonskii and Mikhail Brashinskii
Cast: Igor’ Gordin, Klavdia Korshunova, Danila Kozlovskii, Ol'ga Malakhova, Aleksandr Mezentsev, Liubov’ Sergeeva, Iurii Tsurilo.
Cinematography: Vsevolod Kaptur and Anastasiia Mikhailov
Music: Aleksei Aigi
Editors: Ivan Gaev, Dmitrii Naumov, Maksim Smirnov
Producer: Evgenii Gindilis
Production company: Avangard media

Aleksandr Vartanov and Kirill Mikhanovsky: Dubrovsky (2014)

reviewed by Irina Anisimova© 2014

Updated: 04 Oct 14