Random Video Clips with a Boring Narrative
A Russian battleship depicted in the historic drama Admiral
Watching the famous Russian movie Admiral had been my challenge for several months. Living in Seattle and then travelling across the U.S. didn't allow me to see the film in Russian movie theaters. Hearing the rumors about the amazing visual effects, I did not want to download a copy from the Internet and settle for watching it on my laptop. So finally, a few weeks ago, I set down with a friend in Moscow in front of a big plasma screen. We served ourselves cherry vareniki with sour cream, and I prepared to indulge myself in a historic visual journey through the Russian Revolution (beware -- spoilers).
The film titles start with a Soviet movie set where someone is filming something about the old Russia. Grandma's eyes are looking at an old photo of a beautiful lady. A viewer thinks right away "just like in Titanic, but the titles are in Russian". After the titles are over, the film indeed proves to be engaging and jaw-dropping. Admiral Kolchak (played by Konstantin Khabensky - ÐšÐ¾Ð½ÑÑ‚Ð°Ð½Ñ‚Ð¸Ð½ Ð¥Ð°Ð±ÐµÐ½ÑÐºÐ¸Ð¹) is guiding his ship in the Baltic Sea, dropping mines and watching out for a German frigate. Sure enough, the German vessel materializes out of the fog and the battle begins. If you watched the trailer, you basically saw the battle (and the movie).
Click on the extended post to read more.
We see explosions in the water, explosions on board, sailors losing their arms and legs, and Kolchak, wet and determined, directing the counter-offensive. An explosion near the admiral throws him off and momentarily affects his hearing. Regardless of the concussion, Kolchak, like a real hero, slipping on pools of blood, climbs the gun tower and nails the command center of the enemy ship with his first shot. Kolchak's vessel then retreats through its own mines, now floating in the water. The sailors and the officers are intensely saying Orthodox prayers, the ship comes to safety, and the German frigate explodes.
Pre-revolutionary Finland is still part of Russia, and the officers are celebrating another day of war by drinking champagne and playing games at a ball in a local palace. Kolchak wins a drawing to kiss anyone who enters the room. Anna (Elizaveta Boyarskaya - Ð•Ð»Ð¸Ð·Ð°Ð²ÐµÑ‚Ð° Ð‘Ð¾ÑÑ€ÑÐºÐ°Ñ - who also costarred with Khabensky in Irony of Fate 2), the lady in the hat from the movie trailer, is the one who kisses him. Her husband, the older officer Sergei Timiryaev (Vladislav Vetrov - Ð’Ð»Ð°Ð´Ð¸ÑÐ»Ð°Ð² Ð’ÐµÑ‚Ñ€Ð¾Ð²) who reports to Kolchak, is uncomfortable with this, but says that the game is the game. Kolchak kisses Anna, and apparently right there and then they fall in love. A glass of champagne breaks -- this must be a sign of something. The film takes us on an endless slow motion journey of the spilling alcoholic beverage and shattering glass, as if we were back to watching the Mazda driving on the side of the Hotel Kosmos in Day Watch...
Watch the trailer for Admiral.
That's where you can stop watching this film, as none of the storylines will overlap, none of the characters will stand out, none of the emotions will touch you, and no battle scenes will show you something you haven't already seen before. If you don't know the details of the White Russian resistance against the Communists (heavily assisted by the American, French, British, and Czech armies), you are better off reading a school textbook. Many pieces of literature are written on this topic, and you will get through them faster than you will get through this movie. You will also learn much more from the history books than from the endless subtitles and narratives of Admiral. I remember my middle school books to be more engaging than this film.
Anna keeps on pursuing Kolchak and he responds favorably. Kolchak's wife and Anna's husband are aware of the affair and concerned, but do not object strongly enough to break up the couple. The Bolshevik Revolution begins, and the film shows uneducated soldiers shooting their officers, effectively withdrawing Russia from participation in World War I. Kolchak is popular with his sailors however, and they allow him to live. Kolchak throws his sword into the sea, and we watch it sink in slow motion for another few minutes.
With the Revolution in full bloom, Anna's husband joins the Soviets, and she takes the train to Siberia. On the train Anna meets an old friend, who tells her that Kolchak is leading the White Russian Army in their fight against the Communists just a few railroad stops from where they are. At this point, you might think that you're either drunk or unable to process and connect the visual frames, verbal content, and the narratives of the film.
The dedication of the admiral by the White Russian forces
Kolchak swears to defend Russia and Orthodoxy, everyone bows their heads to pray, American, French, British, and other flags flutter in the cold air, with snowflakes everywhere, freezing temperatures, and strong winds. Anna becomes a nurse, running around in her very clean bleached white apron. The Reds fight the Whites. The locations keep on shifting all across Russia, with trains moving, guns firing, horses running, men walking, officers talking, and my head hurting.
I run out of cherry vareniki and start fast forwarding through Anna's letters to Admiral that keep popping up out of nowhere. Anna's dull emotionless voice reads them too slowly and my friend falls asleep, as we are both unclear why they love each other so much and how their love is relevant to these random men on the screen who keep fighting each other in various locations.
At the end, Czech officers, in order to save their lives from the Communists, betray Kolchak and let the Soviets arrest him. Anna is with him, and she asks to be arrested as well. The Communists execute Kolchak and his friend, a senior officer of the White Army. Their bodies fall into a big cross-shaped ice-hole in the middle of a frozen lake under the cover of a Siberian night. Then we see more slow motion frames and loud music, and more narration and subtitles as well.
The scene returns to the old lady on the Soviet film set (my friend just woke up and tells me it's supposed to be the set for Sergey Bondarchuk's epic War and Peace). The movie is over and I realize that cherry vareniki was the best thing that happened during the previous two wasted hours of my life. WIth a budget of $20 million, why save money on a screenplay?
After the Admiral, we put in a barely known Russian action movie "Domovoy" (Goblin) starring Khabensky as well, and it makes up for what seemed to be a wasted evening. Domovoy has great cinematography, an interesting story, and plenty of suspense.
I've had it marked on my calendar for several months: "Call 20th Century Fox Searchlight (the same studio that distributed Night Watch and Day Watch in America), and ask why they're not distributing Admiral in the U.S." I just deleted that entry and I'm glad for not embarrassing myself and asking the American film producers to waste their time.
Enjoy the wonderful trailer of the Admiral, read a book about the White Russians and the Bolshevik Revolution, and spend your family's movie budget on a Slumdog Millionaire or the upcoming Terminator: Salvation. If you speak Russian -- buy the DVD of Domovoy.