Film Scouts Diaries

2008 Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries
Diary #6: It’s All About Theatre

by Henri Béhar

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, July 9, 2008 – Two films shown these last few days focus on theatre and its strange, sometimes tragic, echoes in real life. Apparently there is, in Cracow, Poland, an alternative drama festival during which various companies from all over the world present famous plays and/or original works in unusual venues. In Petr Zelenka's Polish-Czech co-production The Karamazovs (International premiere, in competition), a theatre company from Prague arrives to present a stage adaptation of Dostoiewsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov in a huge and semi-inactive steel factory. As rehearsals get under way, the themes of immortality, faith and salvation that are examined in the novel find surprising equivalents in the relationships within the company itself. When an accident occurs involving one of the spectators during rehearsal, reality barges into the drama and transcends it – or is it the other way around? Based on the successful production by Prague's Dejvice Theatre, The Karamzovs strongly brings to mind the far superior Vanya on 42nd Street, Louis Malle's (and David Mamet's) adaptation of Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya


As the main credits tell you right away: Nikita Mikhalkov's 12, which had its world premiere at last year's Venice Film Festival and is, therefore, shown here out of competition, is based on Reginald Rose's play and Sidney Lumet's film Twelve Angry Men. A modern classic that Mikhalkov very cleverly transposed into a Russian context. The killer (or is he?) about to be sent to the gallows is no longer Latino, he is a boy from Chechnya adopted as a child by a Russian officer (the victim). The jury does not gather in a courthouse deliberation room but in a disaffected gymnasium. The first dissenting juror (Henry Fonda in Lumet's film) is less a Tom Joad than a Joe Blow. In a bold stroke, Mikhalkov (who co-wrote the script and plays the jury president) "opens" the play – we catch glimpses of the war in Chechnya and of the boy in his cell waiting for the verdict. A no-no for Rose and Lumet, but here it unexpectedly works (at least for this viewer). Departing from the original -- a definitely bolder (and more debatable) stroke -- Mikhalkov tacks on a surprising twist at the end of the deliberation that tackles head-on various issues in contemporary Russian life. One may disagree with those changes, but there is no denying that the acting here is absolutely spectacular.

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