Indeed, the Russian film industry is not dead! Karen Shakhnazarov's take on the novel by Boris Savinkov, who could be equated with the main-character "Georges", is nearly-flawless! Evoking Moscow during the 1905 Revolution, we are given access to the very secret world of a terrorist-cell. It is unlikely, and Shakhnazarov's film illustrates this, that terrorism has changed much at-all. From the lushness of Tsarist-circles, to the beggars in the alleys of Moscow, it's a vivid recreation of a time that is gone--and yet still alive with Chechen-bombings in Russia. The director notes astutely how minor acts of violence accumulate into a bloodbath. The Revolution of 1917 (February by the Social Democrats, then October by the Bolsheviks) began what would be a civil war that didn't really end until Stalin's consolidation of power in the late-1930s. Tens-of-millions died, and it all began with the Socialist Revolutionary Party. In some respects, the SR's were a party whose members were more reactionary and radical than the Bolsheviks under Lenin, then Stalin. Shakhnazarov's eye for composition is wonderful, and there are sweeping crane-shots, dollies, and a great mixture of static ones too. Most-importantly, however, are the close-shots that capture the intimacy of the cell and its inhabitants. The history of Russian film is on display here, and it is breathtaking.
Sakinov fancied himself a Nietzschean superman, and he played all-sides during the Russian Civil War. As part of the Socialist Revolutionary Party's underground, Georges and his cell anticipate Bolshevik terror, and a complete surrender to nihilism that was common to that period. This philosophy is most-evident in cell leader Georges. While his compatriots have their own reasons, Georges appears to have no other reason for directing his terror-attacks than a desire to kill, to stir Russian-society towards...what? Even Georges seems to be unsure why he does what he does. That is not an uncommon-feeling for terrorists and insurgents, as the Weather Underground amply displayed. In short, a cell leader is responsible for harnessing all these different reasons for why these individuals have "come to the cause." There are so many powerful moments in this film, that you really must watch it to appreciate the scope of what it is saying. It's THAT good. From the rapid-editing in the assassination-attempt scenes, to the incredible atmosphere in the making of the bombs, we're treated to the best of Russian cinema. It appears that no expense was spared in the recreation of early-1900s Tsarist Russia, down to the beggars and the filthy-streets. The acting is of the highest-order here, as well.
It's criminal that this film was not nominated for an Academy Award (TM) for Best Foreign Film, it's absurd. Without the DVD release by Kino in North America, would we even know it exists? Likely, this was the best film of all during 2004! Take-note: in late-2005, American film-chains were threatening to stop-showing ALL Hollywood PRODUCT soon if the industry decides on shortened film-to-DVD windows for release as "sell-through." If that occurs, we may see a wonderful rebirth of indie and World cinema! Especially for film lovers in the USA, this could mean a rebirth of the old "grindhouse" cinemas with their panopoly of genre and World cinema releases. Cross your fingers, we should be watching films like this all the time. With luck, the film industries of Europe and Asia will recover. Even better: new ones will be emboldened. I'd LOVE to see Chavez pull that one off, it would be a treat!