Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ilya Muromets (1956)

I think the general public thinks of Soviet cinemas a long, depressing dramas about farmers crying over the dry summer and cold winter. They might have done some of those plus a generous amount of documentaries and war movies, but here and there, tucked between the propaganda (basically the same propaganda all other countries had in their movies, but the opposite) Mosfilm produced some stunning "mainstream" entertainment. The spectacular Vietnam drama Koordinaty smerti (1985, my favorite anti-war movie), disaster movie Air Crew 1980) and Die Hard-scenario/martial arts action flick Pirates of the XXth Century (1979)! But one of the best movies EVER produced by Mosfilm was Ilya Muromets, more known as The Sword and the Dragon in the US.

Ilya is a big man, with a big beard, usually strong and brave - but after illness he's paralyzed and sits on his throne in a little Russian village longing for his glory days. At the same time the evil Tartars invades mother Russia and all he wants is to help out and destroy the invaders. One day some pilgrims comes by his farm and they give him an antidote and suddenly he can move again. He takes his faithful horse to Kiev and joins Prince Vladimir there (after a lot of adventures of course). But through misunderstandings Ilya is imprisoned and the Tartars is slowly taking over the country. Ilya is the only one to help them... if he gets out!

Ilya Muromets has a lot of grand scene-chewing, stoic actors posing in front of sunsets and more bearded men than at a Bear Weekend in Berlin. The dialogue is stiff, but in a very conscious way - this is a fairy tale, a "jolly grand tapestry" and  a "Hellman’s mayonnaise of epics" according to William S. Berger in two colourful tweets to me. It's not meant to be realistic or low-key, this is the grandest spectacle made in the fifties and it easily beats every damn epic made in the US or all other countries. Even today it's impressive, with action and effects that still holds up.

Big-boned Boris Andreyev plays Ilya, 41 years older at the shooting of the movie - playing a "young man". That will never work in any normal movie, but he's such a cool (and bearded) man that it works in such a crazy piece of cinema that this is. He's the essence of manliness without being a total asshole. Ilya Muromets is packed with wonderful scenes, including some kind of creepy wind demon who with his mouth can blow away most people, animals and house! Another weird character who shows up is a giant fat Tartar (carried on a big shield by his men), who both manages to look fucking freaky and humours at the same time. The last half hour is only action with thousands of extras bashing each other on battle fields and finally a dragon, built in "real-size", using it's fire-breath to kill and destroy during the final showdown outside the city walls.

Ilya Muroments is THE best fantasy movie ever made. It still manages to entertain and stunt he audience with it's visuals. Another fantastic thing with it is that it won't take three hours to tell the story - just eighty-six minutes, and I wish every fantasy movie could be that short. I mean, it's has not time for boring scenes or drawn-out walks. This is essential cinema, a movie every fan of fantasy should watch - and even like me, who hates the genre, can't withstand the charm and intelligence - not to forget the action and monsters - in a movie like this.

Long live Mosfilm!


Anonymous said...

"and even like me, who hates the genre"


I always took you for fantasy nerd....well, I think you should take look at Game of Thrones (2011)...better then its reputation.

You mentioned swedish film reviews on your twitter....?

Are they up next?

Ninja Dixon said...

Yeah, I've disliked the genre all my life. From books to movies - and TV-series. Some stuff is good, like this one. But the rest - nah, not for me.

Maybe Swedish movies. I've prepared for one review, but suddenly it feels like a bad idea. Who cares about alternative Swedish cinema?

Anonymous said...

Ninja: I do....but then again I´m swedish....ahhahhahah.

No, I think you are being overly negative....for the same reasons people like obscure films from Asia, Eastern Europe etc....people would be interested in reading something about Sweden as well.

I think you should post that review anyway....