Color, 143 minutes
Russian with English subtitles
Director: Vladimir Khotinenko
Screenplay: Arif Aliev
Cinematography: Il'ia Demin
Art Direction: Konstantin Mel'nikov
Music: Aleksei Rybnikov
Cast: Petr Kislov, Artur Smol'ianinov, Mikhail Zhebrovskii, Violetta Davydovskaia, Aleksandr Baluev, Marat Basharov, Mikhail Porechenkov, Valerii Zolotukhin, Daniil Spivakovskii
Producers: Nikita Mikhalkov, Leonid Vereshchagin
Production: Studio TriTe, RENOVA-MEDIA, Studio "Zolotoi Orel"
1612, heavily subsidized with funds from the Kremlin, hit Russia in wide release on 4 November 2007, in time for the Day of National Unity. Set in the Time of Troubles, the film follows Andrei, a boy-servant, and his fascination with and love for Ksenia Godunova, whose family was murdered by the False Dmitrii, pretender to the throne in 1605. Sold to a Spanish merchant, Andrei assumes his identity after the Spaniard is killed during a skirmish with Russian brigands. The film establishes a connection early on between Andrei and the Spanish merchant through their respective unicorn horns, the Spaniard's "real" one and Andrei's wooden one, given to him by Ksenia before the attack on their village by the False Dmitrii and the Polish army. The Spaniard's ghost helps Andrei at key points by lending Andrei knowledge or strength he needs: how to make gunpowder and the ability to defeat the Polish hetman. With the help of his friend Kostia, Andrei steals Ksenia from the Poles, fleeing to a nearby town. Successfully defending the town against the pursuing Polish army but eventually relinquishing Ksenia, Andrei makes a successful bid to become tsar as Mikhail, the founder of the Romanov dynasty. Much as Andrei can reinvent himself as Mikhail, so can any lowly Russian aspire to the seat of power—at least as long as he has the money to recreate his lineage. Appropriate then that this film immediately preceded the Russian Presidential election—as in the film, the empty throne will again be filled.
In addition to the blatant nationalistic political message, 1612 also links Russian Orthodoxy to the concept of being a Russian citizen. Ksenia Godunova is to be spared until her consort, the Polish hetman, slanders her by saying that she has embraced the Catholic faith and prays in Latin. Even more than simply a political allegiance, forsaking one's religion is here tantamount to renouncing one's people. A secondary subplot involves an Italian Roman Catholic monk, sent by the Pope to try to convert Russia to Catholicism. The monk is initially skeptical, saying that he is only one man and Russia is large. He returns to Rome years later, with the question "How can I make them understand: What is Russia?" Russia and the Russian people are a people apart, incomprehensible to traditional Western modes of understanding. Rejecting not only Catholicism, paganism, perhaps unsurprisingly, is shown to be a dangerous false path; as a child, Andrei is almost injured by the fire cannon during a Shrove-tide celebration, and brigands attack the Poles while pretending to be folk minstrels. During the final battle for Moscow, scenes of combat are intercut with scenes of the Holy Fool flipping the pages of the Bible he constantly reads. The conflation of the two images implies that Andrei's victory was preordained by God, invoking the divine right of the tsar, or by extrapolation, president, to rule.
While the film has drawn criticism for a decided lack of historical accuracy, in a film that includes a ghostly Spanish double that helps Andrei and pervasive computer generated unicorns, verisimilitude almost seems beside the point.
In interviews, Khotinenko has emphasized that he never sought to make an accurate portrayal of a past that has long been lost. At this remove, such a past can only exist through fantastic recreation. Despite the $12 million budget, an international cast, and having been shot on location in Vyborg, Minsk, Rome, Prague, and Moscow, the film is simply an interminable swashbuckling costume drama with aspirations of epic grandeur. Critics have remained understandably skeptical both about the film and about the money and support behind it.
Vladimir Khotinenko (1952- )
Vladimir Khotinenko was born in Stavgorod. He graduated from the Sverdlovsk Architectural Institute in 1976. From 1978 to 1982 worked as an artistic director at the Sverdlovsk Film Studio. Having finished the Advanced Courses for Scriptwriters and Directors, Khotinenko made his directorial debut in 1984 with the film Alone and Unarmed. His films Mirror for a Hero, Makarov, and Muslim catapulted him to the status of auteur. In 2002, Khotinenko made the move to the small screen, directing the TV mini-series The Investigation is Conducted by Experts. He continues to work both in film and television.
2005 The Fall of the Empire (TV mini-series)
2004 72 Meters
2004 Evening Bells
2002 On the Other Side of Wolves (TV mini-series)
2002 The Investigation is Conducted by Experts 23 (TV)
1999 Strastnoi Boulevard
1995 The Road (short) in Arrival of a Train
1992 Patriotic Comedy
1990 The Swarm
1989 Sleeping Car
1987 Mirror for a Hero
1986 In Deafening Silence
1984 Alone and Unarmed