UK Release date: Out now
Running time: 139 mins
Director: Vladimir Khotinenko
Starring: Pyotr Kislov, Artur Smolyaninov, Michal Zebrowski, Violetta Davydovskaya, Aleksandr
Reviewer: Daryl Wing
Excelling in historical films and large battle scenes, Vladimir Khotinenko won the Golden Eagle (an accolade by the Russian National Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences of Russia to recognize excellence of professionals in the film industry) for 72 Metres in 2004. Three years later he directed 1612, released finally in the United Kingdom, using all his skills to create an epic that dissects the bloodstained battles between the Russians and the Polish during what was known as ‘the time of troubles’…
During the late 16th century the czar of Russia has died and a power vacuum has developed. There are many impostors who dare to claim the right to rule but there's only one heir, the Czarina Kseniya Godunova.
She has married a Polish military leader who wants to claim the Russian throne in her name so he can rule all of Russia, and as the Poles move in on Moscow in an attempt to install the czarina on the throne, Andrei, a serf with a life-long infatuation of the czarina attempts to save her from her brutal Polish husband…
If you’re not immediately annoyed by the perplexing opening gambit, in which a lengthy, muddled history lesson is forced upon the viewer with questionable necessity, you’ll probably enjoy this tiring tale more than most. You could, of course, skip the first ten minutes, which basically concludes that Russia is a big country full of savages, and it’s in turmoil. Then somebody gets his tongue cut off and a half decent story emerges – for a while at least.
Ignoring the titillating scene in which a group of attractive ladies go skinny-dipping, watched by our protagonist Andrei in one of many flashbacks piecing together a story more interesting than the bewildering one in the present, 1612 is a mess of a movie, confusing throughout, skipping story in favour of action sequences, but at least offering a fine lesson in how to fire a cannon – again and again.
Fortunately, the film does offer rich, authentic-looking, and sometimes haunting settings with some truly striking visuals. One scene that really stands out is an early ambush by robbers, in which one of the thieves takes his crossbow and sinks beneath the rivers surface, waiting to strike. It’s a cracking moment, and one of the more original action sequences during a two-hour-plus crawl through plot wilderness. Viewers expecting anything volatile won’t be disappointed either. The action is brutal and bloody, ditching any political ramblings or slushy melodrama in favour of sensationalism.
Charting one man’s journey from downtrodden optimist to wannabe king of the throne, Khotinenko does at least manage to make his lead, Pyotr Kislov’s good-looking Andrei extremely likeable, as is his sidekick Kostka, played by Artur Smolyaninov; sadly, detached, unemotional performances from the rest of the cast, who seem equally confused by what’s actually happening, puncture a story already hindered by the bizarre and unusual sideshow involving a unicorn and a white-haired Gandalf-wannabe who likes to read books. Then there’s the villainous ghost that appears every now and again when our protagonist needs a little helping hand – this is either a load of old tosh or clearly some of us weren’t paying attention in history lessons.
It may be slick at times, nicely shot, and boast a powerful score, not to mention a briefly engaging midway point packing in a hell of a lot of action that manages to generate thrills, but you’ll certainly soon lose interest in what’s happening plot-wise - the strangely complicated story wrapped around mysticism and legend thankfully climaxes in a bloody battle between the Poles and the Russians but for the most part there’s little else going on. 1612 is just another example of the auteur’s impressive skills to showcase frenetic action. Of course, it won’t be a massive surprise if you fail to reach the good stuff because for the most part your hand will be hovering over the skip function on your remote control.
The only way to enjoy this film is to distance yourself from the utter ridiculousness and find something interesting to do during those scenes not saved by butchery. This is obviously what Vladimir Khotinenko did. He’s not too attentive to detail – there are plenty of continuity errors for those who adore to point out such things – and the finale, with its poor editing, cuts the more juicy stuff out, skipping several years without guilt, reveling in a lengthy conclusion that isn’t half as thrilling as what happened thirty minutes earlier. In just under two and a half hours there’s a body count as large as the numbers of Polish and Russians now living and working in the UK, but it just isn’t enough. And you still won’t have a clue about the unicorn.
Grow a beard, put on a cassock and wear a heavy cross. Maybe the Russian people will be listening to you, but it's doubtful that even they can explain away a plot that lacks continuity; a film edited poorly while basking in bloody action sequences to compensate for its tiring, skip-to-the-end running time - and don't even mention the horse with a cornetto on its head.