This film of Dostoyevsky's The Idiot by director Vladimir Bortko is a work of art and genius. I watched this 10-part, 8-hour long mini-series immediately after reading the novel (the Eva Martin translation). The Idiot is one of the best novels I have ever read, and this film is one of the best movies I have ever seen.
With a few understandable exceptions, the film is true to this brilliant novel in every detail. Director Bortko and writer Kathrine Travinskaya have meticulously (reverentially) translated Dostoyevsky's novel to film: the dialog, internal thoughts, facial expressions, gestures, character movements, settings, costumes, buildings, etc., etc., are impressively true to the novel. In fact, one might enjoy this film more without prior experience of the novel (unlike Bortko's The Master and Margarita, which really required one to read Bulgakov's novel first).
The casting is nearly perfect: even minor characters have been meticulously well-cast. While it is true that some of the actors may be too old for their parts, their superb acting justifies their selection for their roles. The performances are totally believable and deeply moving. I was particularly impressed by the performances of Yevgeny Mironov (as Myshkin), Lidiya Velezheva (as Nastasya Filippovna), Vladimir Mashkov (as Rogozhin), Inna Churikova (as Lizaveta), Aleksei Petrenko (as General Ivolgin), Vladimir Ilyin (as Lebedev). I was very moved by the performance of Lidiya Velezheva during the scenes of Nastasya Filippovna's birthday party; she brilliantly and seamlessly shifts back and forth from a vicious coquette to a destroyed little girl. Of course, Yevgeny Mironov's performance is so perfect and convincing, he was not really acting at all; instead, he surely must have been channeling the very soul of Prince Myshkin from the mind of Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky himself.
Bortko's direction is impeccable. (Has he won a foreign language film Oscar? If not, why not?) I was also very impressed with the settings, art direction, lighting, costumes, and cinematography.
The language track is Russian (of course); but the DVDs have English subtitles. Although my Russian is very rusty, I believe the translation is quite accurate (in any case, it matches the dialog from the novel, which I had just read). Different people must have worked on the subtitles for the ten different episodes: some episodes are perfect, some have a few problems. However, the occasional minor problem with a subtitle is trivial compared to the overall greatness of this film. In the case of rapid (sometimes multi-character) dialog, I simply slowed the playback of the DVD player (it is no big thing).
All of the menus on the DVDs are in Russian; but do not let that scare you from buying the film. From the main menu, the top selection will start the film; the second selection will bring up a part selection menu; the fourth (bottom) selection will bring up a menu to turn on English subtitles. Just use a little trial and error (it is no big thing). Of course, you can also select chapters and turn on the English subtitles using the standard features on your remote control.
I highly recommend this film to anyone who loves great literature and great cinema.
* * *
The Idiot's unsurpassable humanity
Comment: If, like me, you think you have seen it all in terms of actors and acting, take a look at this performance. Yes, we all know our stars, we surround them with love, adoration, Oscars, Golden Lions, Eagles, etc. Put that aside, and again, take a look at this performance. If after you have seen it, you find a category to place it in – I will owe you.
Yevgeny Mironov. His act feels like everything but acting. And to say the truth, it is not a real acting – it is rather a part of his soul, dissected, turned inside out, given a name and a separate life. If your soul can host prince Myshkin too, congratulate yourself – you are there with Dostoyevsky himself.
The series is well done. Good directing, good actors, except for Nastasya Fillipovna's part. Ms. Velezheva acts unemotionally, most of the time mechanically. It is hard to justify why a wooden doll was cast as an object of passions. Vladimir Mashkov, on the contrary, is burning with passion. His language, though, often sounds too contemporary, far from Dostoyevsky's epoch. Inability to adjust the manner of speech, rhythm, and pronunciation to the epoch works against the actor's best effort.
I do not really want to waste time discussing the flaws. Save your time for important things. Watch Mironov act, saturate yourself with Dostoyevsky's humanity. Enjoy an encounter with a giant talent, but most of all, an incredible soul.
* * *
An inspired Idiot
This has to be the best ensemble acting I've seen in years. Yevgeny Mironov does a stupendous job with this role: he is shy, simple-appearing, self-effacing, but innately intuitive and heart-piercing as Prince Myshkin. The other actors are all superbly chosen: Elizaveta Prokofyevna, Rogozhin and Lebedyev stand out in my mind. My one quibble might be the casting choice for Nastasya Fillipovna, but then, her character is larger than life; it's doubtful that anyone could capture her nature as Dostoyevsky describes her.
The locales, costumes, even the cadence of Russian phrasing no longer heard, faithfully conjure the atmosphere of late-19th-century Russia. I agree with the comments about the subtitles, which indeed are horrible. After a while, I abandoned them and listened to the Russian dialogue, which, when spoken slowly, was comprehensible. I admit to becoming lost when the action heated up and characters spoke so fast, they almost spoke over each other.
I liked this version so well, I plan to buy it and watch it many more times. A commendable effort for recent Russian cinema. Also recommended: The First Circle, The Master and Margarita and The State Councillor (all are 2005 films, I believe).