Issue 61 (2018)

Dzhanik Faiziev, Ivan Shurkhovetskii: Furious (Legenda o Kolovrate, 2017)

reviewed by Eva Binder © 2018

kolovrat“And one of the noblemen of Ryazan by the name of Evpatii Kolovrat was in Chernigov at this time together with Prince Ingvar Ingorevich. And he heard about the invasion by the godless Emperor Batu, and left Chernigov quickly with a small squad. And he arrived in Ryazan and found it devastated:  the settlements destroyed, the churches burnt down, the people killed.” The legend of Evpatii Kolovrat unfolded in The Tale of Batu’s Capture of Ryazan tells a story of Russian bravery and resistance against the vastly superior army of the Mongol ruler Batu Khan after the siege of the town of Ryazan in December 1237. As the story goes, Kolovrat, when finding his hometown destroyed, gathers “one thousand seven hundred men” and, together with his warriors, avenges the carnage in a fierce battle against the Mongol intruders. Out of respect for Kolovrat’s bravery, Batu Khan, when facing the dead body of the Russian warrior, exclaims: “If such a man served me, I would love him with all my heart”.

kolovratAlthough the heroic feat of Evpatii Kolovrat constitutes only a small episode in the medieval Russian chronicles, his bravery and strength have been praised in Russian mass culture, literature, and art from the 19th century onwards. In this sense, the 2017 film spectacle The Legend of Kolovrat can be regarded as a contemporary echo of the medieval hero’s unwaning popularity. The film premiered in November 2017 in Russia and gathered a total number of 2.49 million viewers. With relatively low production costs of $6 million it easily recouped them and was even sold to a number of countries, among them the United States, Germany, and France (Anon. 2017). This respectable commercial result is most likely due to Dzhanik Faiziev, who has launched a number of box-office successes as a director (in particular the Boris Akunin adaptation Turkish Gambit in 2005) and even more as producer (e.g. Andrei Kravchuk’s 2008 historical drama Admiral). As far as The Legend of Kolovrat is concerned, Faiziev is credited as producer, scriptwriter and director—together with co-director Ivan Shurkhovetskii who, with the exception of a number of TV series, has not made anything noticeable so far.

kolovratIn order to stretch the medieval legend to a full-length feature film, a number of additional characters and plotlines had to be introduced. The story opens with Prince Iurii of Ryazan sending a delegation led by his hot-tempered son Fedor to the Mongol ruler Batu Khan to conduct negotiations. The encounter with the androgynous, slightly decadent Batu (played by Aleksandr Tsoi, son of the legendary rock musician Viktor Tsoi) results in a dispute about the question of who should kneel before whom. In the sword fighting to follow Fedor is killed while Evpatii Kolovrat (played by newcomer Il’ia Malakov) and a number of Russian captives escape. Kolovrat is the most courageous among the brave, simple, and lusty Russian warriors, but suffers from amnesia due to a childhood trauma caused during a Mongol attack years ago. Therefore, every time he wakes up, his wife and later his maidservant need to tell him who he actually is.

kolovratOn their way back to Ryazan during a heavy snowstorm, the small group comes across a monk accompanied by the enormous bear Potapych who, as his master states, “does not attack Russians”, but will later turn into a downright fighting machine against the Mongol army. Back home they find their town devastated, their families killed, and their houses burnt down. When the attempt to get support from the Princes of Vladimir and Murom fails, the small group of warriors (numbering17 rather than the 1,700 in the medieval legend) engages in an unequal fight against the Mongol army. Only Kolovrat’s maidservant and his closest comrade Karkun do not die heroically on the battlefield, but set off to rescue the surviving children of Ryazan on a sledge that, when reaching the ice-covered river, is turned into an iceboat with scarlet sails (which are reminiscent of Aleksandr Grin’s popular neoromantic story by that name). In the film’s epilogue we see Karkun as a leading Russian warrior in the 1242 battle against the Teutonic knights at the frozen Lake Peipus. The lesson the viewers should learn from this is clear: the Russian forces have finally overcome fragmentation. Only a united Russia will be able to prevail over the foreign intruders.

kolovratAnnounced as heroic fantasy there appears to be nothing new or startling about this “digital bylina” (Zhukov 2017) and Russian blockbuster that offers one more filmic super-hero (cf. Al’perina 2017). Faiziev’s film thus adds to the recent cinematic mélange of medieval history, fantasy, and fairy tale such as Andrei Kravchuk’s The Viking (2016), Rustam Mosafir’s The Scythian (Skif, 2018) and Dmitrii D’iachenko’s less heroic and highly successful comedy The Last Knight (Poslednii bogatyr’, 2017). Focused on the time of the so-called Tatar-Mongol Yoke, The Legend of Kolovrat has an additional point of reference in the numerous films on Genghis Khan and his followers, the androgynous Batu being particularly reminiscent of Andrei Proshkin’s The Horde (Orda, 2012). All in all the film presents a dense net of quotations from Russian folklore to contemporary popular culture—with recognizable filmic techniques and settings ranging from successful international productions, such as Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) or Zach Snyder’s 300 (2006), to Russian blockbusters about historical figures and events. As a typical product of contemporary mass culture and mainstream cinema, Furious primarily addresses the mere cinematic pleasure of motion and spectacular fighting scenes together with a childlike yearning for heroic narratives. This kind of cinema is particularly suited to convey simple patriotic messages, such as the one about the importance of a united community of all Russians and the everlasting danger of invasion from outside.

kolovratFurious represents a highly hybrid cinema not only with regard to content, narration, or genre but also in terms of digital technology. The film was shot on the territory of the former “ZiL” automobile plant in Moscow where factory buildings were adapted and equipped with chroma key green screens on the background of which all the scenes were filmed. At the film’s presentation at the Cannes film market in May 2017, Faiziev stressed that Furious was the first Russian production made entirely in chroma key technology. This means that not one shot of all the landscapes, nature scenes, town gates, or nomad camps is “real” (cf. Chachelov 2017), with the effect that the whole scenery resembles a computer game more than a feature film. This effect of virtuality is something Faiziev demonstratively welcomes: “Today the market segment of computer games is twice as big as that of cinema. I don’t see anything bad about this. We produce films in the format of legends. My hallmark is: realism plus” (Al’perina 2017). In all likelihood many more films of this “confectionary-style” Russian heroic fantasy are to be expected in the near future.

Eva Binder
University of Innsbruck, Austria

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Works Cited

Anon. 2017. “Rossiiskii fil’m ‘Legenda o Kolovrate’ pokazhut v SShA i Zapadnoi Evrope,” RNS (11 Feb.).

Al’perina, Susanna. 2017. “Ne poslednii bogatyr’. Novaia volna v kino – kartiny pro rossiiskikh supergeroev”, Rossiiskaia gazeta (31 May).

Chachelov, Artur. 2017. “Kak snimalas’ ‘Legenda o Kolovrate’. Triuki, grim, spetseffekty, kostiumy”, Biulleten’ kinoprokatchika (1 Dec.).

Zhukov, Kim. 2017. “Invalid Evpatii, travesti Batyi. ‘Legenda o Kolovrate’ – legenda o legende”, Argumenty i fakty (30 Nov.).

 

 


Furious [lit. The Legend of Kolovrat], Russia, 2017
Color, 117 minutes
Director: Dzhanik Faiziev, Ivan Shurkhovetskii
Script: Sergei Iudakov, Evgenii Raevskii, Dmitrii Raevskii, Dzhanik Faiziev
Cinematography: Maksim Osadchii
Production Design: Vilius Vanagas
Music: Serj Tankian
Cast: Il’ia Malakov, Aleksandr Tsoi, Aleksandr Il’in, Iuliia Khlynina, Timofei Tribuntsev, Aleksei Serebriakov, Igor’ Savochkin, Polina Chernyshova
Producers: Dzhanik Faiziev, Rafael MInasbekian, Pavel Stepanov
Production: Central Partnership, Kinostudia KIT

Dzhanik Faiziev, Ivan Shurkhovetskii: Furious (Legenda o Kolovrate, 2017)

reviewed by Eva Binder © 2018

Updated: 2018