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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » September 24, 2008
Film review
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1612
September 24, 2008 By Witold Żygulski   
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This film was supposed to be the greatest triumph of Russian cinema of the early 21st century. Director Vladimir Khotinenko was given a budget that set new records in the Russian movie-making industry, consisting of both state grants and generous donations from Moscow billionaires keen to curry favor with the Kremlin. With such funding, the movie has an epic sweep, especially in its impressive battle scenes. A sensitive viewer may find these a little too naturalistic when severed heads and other body parts fly through the air, people get burned alive and blood flows in a never-ending stream.

1612 was conceived as the story of how Russian troops defeated the Polish occupiers of Moscow following the Times of Trouble, the interregnum in Russia between the death of the last of the Rurik dynasty and the establishment of the Romanov dynasty. Nov. 4, the date when the Polish garrison in the Kremlin surrendered, was declared the main national holiday in Russia a few years ago, replacing Nov. 7, the anniversary of the 1917 Revolution. Khotinenko was thus assigned the task of supplying propaganda fuel for the new ideology of the Russian state. The effect is not exactly a success.

Writing the script for 1612, Arif Aliyev, most famous for the Kazakh epic Mongol by Sergei Bodrov (2007)-which garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Picture-played with several movie and literary conventions. The end result is a bizarre hybrid of a historical action movie and the fantasy genre, sprinkled with religious mysticism rooted in both the Orthodox Christian church and in Slavic pagan beliefs. The screen is populated by ghosts and unicorns and a holy elder can see into the future.

Russian peasant Andrei (Pyotr Kislov, in an utterly bland debut) has been in love in a Russian princess ever since he was a little child. He now has to save his sweetheart complete with the entire country, no less. Andrei will need to outsmart evil invaders, foreign mercenaries and finally defeat the personification of all evil, a Polish military commander called Kibowski (played by Polish superstar Michał Żebrowski-With Fire and Sword, Pan Tadeusz: The Last Foray in Lithuania). To achieve his goal, he impersonates a Spanish mercenary, a ploy which goes perfectly smoothly even though Andrei speaks no Spanish and is illiterate. Later, he constructs a cannon using leather and a few bits of wood and, firing it only once, he destroys the ammunition depot of the Poles who have been besieging a Russian fort. He also performs lots of other equally valorous and equally implausible deeds.

The list of infantile ideas and plot holes in 1612 goes on. The only decent performance is delivered by Żebrowski. It may only be a matter of time before, as a Russian critic has suggested, Russian women who like action movies start hanging posters of Żebrowski above their beds.
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