"DodO iS noT dEAd"

A punk Naturalist

Saturday, 13 February 2010

D'Artagnan and Three Musketeers (д'Артаньян и три мушкетёра), by Georgi Yungvald-Khilkevich (1979)

Musketeers of the world, unite!

I have seen weird films in my time – including a Bhutanese film, and a Greek B movie entitled Attack of the Giant Moussaka. None however got close to the degree of improbability of D'Artagnan and Three Musketeers by Georgi Yungvald-Khilkevich, a Soviet pop musical from the late seventies. Yes, that’s right, a - Soviet - pop musical. If you thought Soviet and songs were synonyms with “Red Army Choir” or with “ruddy-cheeked, sturdy Kolkhoze farmers singing the merits of collective agriculture boisterously”, it is time to let go of your prejudices and discover this little gem of escapist entertainment.

I must say that I was surprised by the film’s lack of communist propaganda – not, mind you, that it is easy to find in Dumas’ original work; unless you consider the famous “One for all…” an apology of collectivism! Indeed, if any, the only political subtext is be of a subversive kind: in one of the first scenes a street singer makes fun of the police state established by puppet-master Cardinal Richelieu, singing that “Frenchmen cannot sneeze without the Cardinal knowing”.

As a musical, it is mildly impressive. The songs are suitably kitsch and catchy, mixing seventies pop with traditional Russian sonorities, but the choreography is inexistent, apart from one vague attempt at filming the corps of musketeers in fencing training from above.

There are some very weird and rather disreputable shots, which add a certain charm to the whole – random close up of cows or flocks of geese; and one dialogue scene made of a painfully obvious succession of reverse shots, with an ugly frontal of the Cardinal staring at the camera.

The film has pure pantomime moments, such as the scene where two camp agents of the Cardinal set a trap for the Queen’s confidante Constance Bonacieux: in the process of fastening her to a pillar one of the them manages to bind his colleague as well, before receiving a thorough shaving at the hand of d’Artagnan.

If you prefer nonsense and absurd situations, there is plenty of that too. The fight scene where D’Artagnan, about duel the three musketeers, ends up fighting the Cardinal’s guards with them, is completely surreal: inexplicably in the middle of the square where the battle rages there are three completely impassive veiled women sitting in front of big baskets of feathers, who don’t bat an eyelid as the feathers get blown away and bodies fall around them. The battle concluded, D’Artagnan is seen breaking the shell of a hard-boiled egg on the pommel of his sword and eating it, with the bodies of the guards in the background.

The fight scene is immediately followed by a musical set-piece, one of the highlight of the first part: pretty boy and casuist Aramis, winking at the camera, explains in song that despite evidence pointing to the contrary he is not a duellist (duel being bad in the eyes of the Lord); he is merely helping to correct the less successful aspects of Creation, such as the Cardinal’s thuggish guards.

Possibly the most improbable thing about this film is how it still manages to stay true to the original characters and the spirit of the novel. D'Artagnan is decidedly dashing, the cardinal suitably scary and silky, the action scenes are highly enjoyable and the whole thing is garanteed to put you in a buoyant mood. Definitely worth checking up on Youtube. If only for the pleasure of of hearing D’Artagnan singing his pride of being a Gascon in Russian.

D'Artagnan and Three Musketeers (Russian: д'Артаньян и три мушкетёра; d'Artanyan i tri mushketyora) (USSR, 1979). A TV mini series by Georgi Yungvald-Khilkevich, adapted from the novel The Three Musqueteers (Les Trois Mousquetaires) by Alexandre Dumas, père.
Part I: "Athos, Porthos, Aramis and d'Artagnan" (Атос, Портос, Арамис и д’Артаньян)
Part II: "Queen's Pendants" (Подвески королевы)
Part III: "The Adventures Continue" (Приключения продолжаются)
Starring Mikhail Boyarsky, Veniamin Smekhov, Igor Starygin, Valentin Smirnitsky, Margarita Terekhova.

1 comment:

  1. Hello from Russia! :)

    I have accidentally come upon your review of Russian Musketeers’ movie and read it with huge interest. I have to say it’s one of my favourite films – it’s pity the review is quite short, anyway it would be interesting to me to read more detailed analysis of the Yungvald-Khilkevich’s film taking into account your interest to the 17-18 centuries and old costume prose/ cinema.

    To your notes I can add the shooting have been in Western-Ukrainian’s town Lvov where are much Baroque architecture. Composer Maxim Dunaevsky is extremely famous person in ex-USSR (also as the all the rest members of the film crew), he composed the soundtracks to many Soviet/Russian films (as a rule, the musicals), including “Good Bye, Mary Poppins!” (1983) and “31 of June” based on John Priestley’s novel (1979).

    After ten years, film director made the Musketeers’ sequel – TV mini based on Alexander Duma’s stories, not so successful and popular as the previous one, but, on my taste, quite good. Though, the fans became divided – about 1/3 viewers disliked new episodes, because, I think, a musical genre was changed into merely adventures. In 2009 the filmmakers released new sequel titled “The Return of Musketeers, or Cardinal Mazarin’s Treasures”, though, this movie is a very free fantasy on Duma’s world. Still, unfortunately, at end of last year an actor portrayed Aramis passed away.

    …In my Live Journal blog I often repost the Western film reviews on Soviet/ Russian cinema (preliminary translating texts into Russian, indeed). For example, there are posts on Russian TV series “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson” starring Vasily Livanov and Vitaly Solomin (1979-1986) –by the way, I highly recommend these films.

    I’m sure the Russian bloggers would be glad to read your review on the Musketeers’s musical – in turn, I can translate the most interesting replies by Russian readers for you.

    If you agree on my translating and posting in LJ, I’d ask how better to introduce you to Russian audience? a name, gender, status etc. geography? If you are not Vladivostok, but are from Irkutsk or Khabarovsk (or another Russian town, instance, from Ekaterinburg as I do), my hope that I actually found a Western viewer watched Russian D’Artagnan film is broken…

    Alexander S.