Friday, July 15, 2011

Alexander Nevsky (1938)

Genre : Epic, Historical, War, Drama.
Language : Russian
Country : Soviet Union (USSR)
Cast : Nikolai Cherkasov, Nikolai Okhlopkov, Andrei Abrikosov.
Directed by : Sergei Eisenstein
Run Time : 112 min
Release Date : 1st December, 1938

Synopsis :
“Alexander Nevsky” (Russian: Александр Невский) is a 1938 historical epic drama film directed by Russian master Sergei Eisenstein, made at a time when tensions between the Soviet Union and Germany were high, the film has heavy political overtones and propagandas. ‘Alexander Nevsky’ was the most popular of Eisenstein's three sound films. In 1941 Eisenstein, Pavlenko, Cherkasov and Abrikosov were awarded the Stalin Prize for the film.

This film depicts the attempted invasion of Novgorod in the 13th century by the Teutonic Knights of the Holy Roman Empire and their defeat by the Russian people, led by Prince Alexander, known popularly as ‘Alexander Nevsky’.

Plot :
The film opens in a rural setting, with Prince Alexander toiling away in an implausible fashion among the fishermen. "Hack their ships we did nigh to smithereens", they sing, referring to the teenage Alexander's earlier triumph over a Swedish invasion at the River Neva (which lent him the commemorative surname ‘Nevsky’). A Mongol emissary from the Golden Horde appears and offers Alexander a job as commander in his army, but he refuses.

Back in Novgorod, news arrives of the crusading Teutonic knights' capture of nearby city of Pskov with the help of the traitor Tverdilo and brutal massacre of the population (including a scene in which the knights casually drop children into a fire), which adds fuel to Nevsky’s cause.

Prince Alexander is sent for to lead the troops because he’s well known for his bravery and intelligence and for his ability to rally the people. He devises a plan to lure the knights into a fight on the ice, reasoning that their heavy armour will eventually lead them to catastrophe.

In the face of resistance by the boyars and merchants of Novgorod (urged on by the monk Ananias), Nevsky rallies the common people of Novgorod in a decisive Battle of the Ice, on the surface of the frozen Lake Chudskoe on 5th April, 1242.

Running parallel to Nevsky’s story is a subplot involving two soldiers, Vasili Buslai and Gavrilo Oleksich, two famous warriors from Novgorod and friends, who have used the war as the pretence for a wager. Whichever shows the most courage and skill during the Battle on the Ice will win the right to marry Olga Danilovna, a Novgorod maiden whom both of them are courting. After both of them have been seriously wounded, Buslai publicly states that neither he nor Gavrilo was the bravest in battle: that honor goes to Vasilisa, the daughter of a boyar of Pskov killed by the Germans who had joined the Novgorod forces as a front-line soldier; and that after her came Gavrilo. Thus Gavrilo and Olga are united, while Buslai chooses Vasilisa as his bride-to-be (with her unspoken consent)!

“Eisenstein doesn’t get terrifically experimental with this film – it’s pretty straight forward narratively, though there is a lot of visual symbolism. It can be a difficult story to engage with at times because the characters are so thin, but I can see how it would have worked as a rallying piece at the time it was made and especially at the time of its re-release in 1941. The Battle on the Ice is the film’s big set piece and is one of the best and most memorable large scale hand-to-hand combat sequences I’ve ever seen. The story can be a bit plodding as it wades through layers of political commentary, but this battle sequence makes the film worth watching!“

Cast :
■ Prince Aleksandr Nevsky (Nikolai Cherkasov)
■ Vasili Buslaev (Nikolai Okhlopkov)
■ Gavrilo Oleksich (Andrei Abrikosov)
■ Ignat, the Master Armourer (Dmitri Orlov)
■ Pavsha, a Voivode of Pskov (Vasili Novikov)
■ Domash Tverdislavich, a Novgorod Boyar (Nikolai Arsky)
■ Amelfa Timoferevna, Buslay's Mother (Varvara Massalitinova)
■ Olga Danilovna, a Maid of Novgorod (Vera Ivashova)
■ Vasilisa, a Maid of Pskov (Aleksandra Danilova)
■ Hermann Von Balk, the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order (Vladimir Yershov)
■ Tverdilo, the Traitor of Pskov (Sergei Blinnikov)
■ Anani, a Monk (Ivan Lagutin)
■ The Archbishop (Lev Fenin)
■ The Black-Hooded Monk (Naum Rogozhin)

Awards :
1. In 1941, Eisenstein, Pavlenko, Cherkasov and Abrikosov were awarded the Stalin Prize for this film.
2. In 1939, it was nominated for the Best Foreign Film in the National Board of Review.

Ratings : = 7.8/10; = 4.5/5
[Source : Wikipedia, IMDB, AllMovie, Criterion, RussiaBlog]

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