Sunday, September 16, 2012

Serf's Up! - One Russian Summer (1973)

Based on the unfinished novel Vadim (1834) by Mikhail Lermontov, One Russian Summer (1973) (also known as Days of Fury) was a British-Italian production with Bulgaria standing in for the Russian steppes. It was directed by Antonio Calenda, with a script by Edward Bond (Walkabout), and an original score by Riz Ortolani.
Oliver Reed stars as Palizyn, head of a 19th Century Russian farming estate which he runs like a miniature kingdom, cages and whippings at the ready for any unruly serfs. It's one of Reed's better performances, though it does allow him to play to his strengths - quaffing ale, laughing uproariously etc. etc.
The story begins with the entry of the subversive hunchback Vadim, a great performance by John McEnery. At first apparently happy to work like a dog for his master (literally), his cynical manipulations and provocations amongst his fellow serfs lead to revolution and tragedy.
The production has an epic scale and is a splendid evocation of another time and place. The scenes between Reed and McEnery are psychologically fascinating as the relationship develops. However, as is common with European co-productions of the era, the dramatic pace and narrative cohesion leave something to be desired. Still well recommended though.
Also featuring Claudia Cardinale (Anya), Zora Velcova (Natalya), Carole André (Irene), Ray Lovelock (Yuri).

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