Even as “Admiral” sinks, it points to interesting trend

Saw the new Russian movie “Admiral” the other week.  The film “tells” the story of Admiral Alexander Kolchak, the Tsarist naval commander who led White Russian military forces against the Bolsheviks, focusing on his brief love affair with a fellow officer’s wife, Anna Timireva.  And when I say “tells,” I mean the film butchers the complicated history of this era in order to churn out a nauseatingly sweet melodrama that puts Hollywood’s transgressions to shame.

The Admiral Kolchak presented here is a flawless and intelligent hero scrupulous enough to be conflicted over his adulterous feelings for Timireva, pious enough to pray his ship through a minefield, and virtuous (in the soldierly sense of the word) enough to lead the White Army to, well, defeat.  But I guess I have to admit it’s pretty cool, albeit ridiculous, when he overcomes burst eardrums to man a cannon and take out a superior German destroyer with a direct hit to the bridge (notice the blood trickling down the side of his rugged profile on the film poster).  A true “Die Hard” moment.

I have to sympathize with Konstantin Khabensky, who plays the Admiral; the film was a dud from the start.  It’s bad enough that love interest Liza Boyarskaya’s repertoire consists of a faintly alluring, enigmatic smile and big glassy eyes, a dynamic duo that has more than worn out it’s welcome by the final curtain.  A more grevious error is the writers’ decision to focus on a love story (tagline: “For love is strong as death”) that should have been no more than a sideplot.  This shuffles the movie into a plot that begins boringly with the Admiral easily winning Timireva when they lock eyes at a ball (the lively conversation during the subsequent evening stroll seals the deal), continues boringly with the Admiral writing lots of letters and gazing meaningfully at the sea as he pines for Timireva, and ends boringly as the couple, finally together, makes passionate conversation in a luxurious train car on the way to Irkutsk.  And oh the suspense each time the train stops at another city, where there might be Reds!

In short, it’s a far too squeaky clean and simpleminded take on such an intersting topic.  But it is interesting to note yet another facet of the conflicted Soviet legacy here: In modern Capitalist Russia, the Reds are sneaky and evil, and the Whites are heroic, God-fearing, Tsar-loving real Russians, pure and simple.  Let’s just “Whitewash” (sorry, couldn’t help my punny little self) the whole story.


13 Responses to “Even as “Admiral” sinks, it points to interesting trend”

  1. you can get the movie at russian-dvds.com at a pretty good price

  2. It seems the Russians learn pretty fast the Hollywood approach to the movie business…. The movie reminds me the likes of “Apocalypto”, “300”, “Gladiator’ and so on… Way to go!

  3. Hey there. I found your blog while surfing expat blogs, and I have been enjoying reading it.

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    Again, good writing! Thanks for giving me something quality to read!

  4. […] and the Bear writes critically about the new Russian movie “Admiral.” Posted by Veronica Khokhlova  Print Version […]

  5. Romanova Natalia Says:

    I want to say that I liked the film very much and from my point of view “Admiral” is an examle of a good russian film (it should be mentiond, that good russian films are made not for entertaining but to make people think) After watching the film I was deep in thoughts about Russia, about our history, about us, russian people, and about many other things. And I’m absolutely sure, that “Admiral” doesn’t look like a Hollywood movie! Just imagine: Kolchak is not a superhero (such images we used to see in Hollywood movies), he is a real person who lived several years ago. He lived in very horrible circumsances, he realy did his best!!!
    I don’t think that the writer decided to focus on a love story. This love just show us what kind of person Kolchak was. It was his job to defend Russia: in military scenes it’s imposible to find out what kind of person he was.
    All in all this film is about Russia (just remembe the scene where Kappel troops are attacking bolshevikov – that is true, such things happend during the ll World War). And one more thing – russian can’t do without deep and real love)))))

  6. New Russian Film on Admiral Kolchak a Real White-Wash
    The Admiral
    PR Newswire
    Blockbuster movie refocuses the Russian mind-set.

    MOSCOW (AP) – To the Communists, he was an arch-villain: a defender of the oppressors, a class enemy. And for decades, that’s the way films and textbooks portrayed Admiral Alexander Kolchak, a leader of the fight to roll back the 1917 Russian Revolution that gave birth to the Soviet Union.

    Now comes a $20 million state-supported movie epic that glorifies Kolchak as a failed savior of Russia. Such a reversal might seem odd, coming less than four years after Vladimir Putin was decrying the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”

    But since the beginning of the Putin presidency in 2000, and continuing under his hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, the Kremlin has tried to be all things to all Russians, championing the country’s Soviet past while at the same time resurrecting symbols of the once-despised czarist era.

    Rich in Russian flags, warships and Russian Orthodox religious rituals, the movie reinterprets the checkered career of Kolchak, who led an anti-communist government and held the title of Supreme Ruler.

    Kolchak’s courage and faith are driven home repeatedly in Admiral, from his steely command against the Germans in a World War I naval battle — to his rejection of a blindfold before being shot by a firing squad midway through the 1917-1923 Russian Civil War.

    To underscore his religious devotion, the film shows his body being dumped in a cross-shaped hole cut in the ice of a Siberian river.

    Kolchak is played by Konstantin Khabensky, hero of the Night Watch vampire movies popular in the West. The film takes him from the privileged world of an officer in the czar’s navy, through the increasingly beleaguered efforts of his so-called White Russians, the counterrevolutionary forces in Siberia, to his execution in 1920.

    Some have compared the new myths and images created by the film to Putin’s own path to supremacy.

    “Just as Putin built his chain of command, so Admiral builds a new historical line,” reviewer Yuri Gladilshchikov wrote in the Russian edition of Newsweek.

    This lavishly promoted history lesson has sold more than 4 million tickets since it opened Oct. 9 in what is reportedly the widest release ever in Russia. Filmmakers plan to release the movie, directed by Andrei Kravchuk, in the United States and elsewhere once they find distributors, executive producer Dmitry Nelidov says.

    At the October, a sleek, renovated Moscow multiplex that has kept its Soviet-era name honoring the October 1917 revolution, Admiral has been playing on as many as four of the theater’s 11 screens.

    Partially financed by a government eager to replace post-Soviet disgruntlement with patriotism and pride, Russia’s resuscitated movie industry has produced a string of films — several of them major box office and critical flops — that glorify the country’s past.

    But Admiral is the first to canonize a figure who fought the founders of the Soviet state.

    It stops short of rejecting Russia’s Soviet past. But its popularity strongly suggests that, as the Communist era recedes and its staunchest defenders die off, the czarist past is a greater draw for millions of Russians.

    Shortly before the movie opened, Russia’s Supreme Court declared that Czar Nicholas II, his wife and children, shot in 1918, were victims of political repression, officially rehabilitating them.

    Admiral is Kolchak’s rehabilitation, depicting him as a resolute man with a deep faith in God and unshakable loyalty to Russia.

    The Bolsheviks, as the Communists who would run the Soviet Union for 74 years called themselves, get much rougher treatment on the screen in Admiral than Russian moviegoers are used to seeing. In one scene, Bolsheviks bind a block to a White officer and drop him into the sea. It is the mirror image of a famous scene from Soviet cinema, but with the good-guy, bad-guy roles reversed.

    But Soviet audiences would recognize one aspect of Admiral, reviewer Larisa Malyukova wrote in the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, “a White and Red world divided into us and them — only the chessboard has been turned upside down. One theme of the film — and of Russia’s current rulers — is that the biggest threat to Russia comes neither from Reds nor Whites, but from abroad.”

    It is a French general and Czech forces who, in the end, deliver Kolchak to the Bolsheviks for execution. And some of the Communist villains look more like Georgian or Central Asian than ethnic Russian.

    In line with Russian ideology today, a foreigner can only be a foe, Gladilshchikov wrote.

    Putin’s critics have accused the Kremlin of playing down the crimes of the Soviet era to help justify its centralization of power. Admiral may seem to buck the trend in that here it’s the anti-communist Whites who get whitewashed.

    But few expect the film to mark the death knell for the Kremlin’s celebration of the Soviet legacy, or of lingering public nostalgia for Josef Stalin, the most brutal of Soviet dictators.

    Critics warn that glossing over the gritty details brings the nation no closer to a much-needed reckoning with its tortured 20th century history — in the way Germany, for example, has sought to confront the Nazi past.

    “It would be wrong to answer 70 years of fakery in our cinema with a single film that is just as false,” prominent Russian film critic Daniil Dondurei said at a public discussion of Admiral.

    Yegor Filippov, a 20-year-old law student, saw Admiral and called it appropriate redress for 70 years of pro-Soviet propaganda. “There are many films that show the Red movement in too positive a light, and now they are rehabilitating the White generals,” Filippov said. “I’m for it.”

  7. I agree with Natalia Romanova. The movie is great, and nothing like hollywood, the love story is not the main plot line at all….

    This review is pretty bad, obviously written by an American who has no clue.

  8. I look forward to seeing the movie.

    My hunch is that it’s a good film.

    Given the biases out there, I can understand why some think negatively of it.

    Over the course of time, there has been a good deal of politically slanted biases against the Whites.

    For accuracy sake, history should be rewritten.

  9. I just picked up the DVD from HKFLIX.com. This film definitely has a different feel from Hollywood movies of a similar genre. Its difficult to explain. The romance feels less forced, while the context is more grim and tragic than what is expected. Overall, a good movie

  10. Jeff Stockton (Honolulu) Says:

    The cinematography and production values of this film are astounding. It had a budget of US$20m, but Hollywood wouldn’t have been able to make it for less than US$100m.

  11. The film was complete twaddle. How can such a great people throw away their history in this way.

  12. The movie critic reminds me of the Simpson’s episode where Homer Simpson becomes a food critic and pooh poohs every restuarant he visits while his fame continues to grows. Let’s be objective. The quality of the cinematography, the screen play, the acting, and the plot are well done and rival most Hollywood movies of the same genre. As always, the director takes some liberties with the facts and it does take a slant in favor of the Whites. But it is a great historical epic movie non-the-less.

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