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Posts Tagged ‘Legend of Kolovrat’

I remember when the question of what a film was actually called seemed quite simple. Of course, there were always jokes about Jaws being retitled as Teeth of the Sea, A View to a Kill as Indestructible Iron Man Fights the Electronic Gang, and the 1980s Lancaster-Douglas vehicle Tough Guys as Archie and Harry are Too Old to Do It Any More. But, you know, I try to keep my horizons nice and broad, and when you have a film which went out under the English-language title Furious, as The Last Warriors in German, and Legend of Kolovrat in its native Russia, what is a right-thinking internet-based pretend-film-critic to do? Let’s stick with Legend of Kolovrat as it saves the risk of confusion with Vin and co.

So – this is a 2017 film which operates on the more realistic side of the border between the historical adventure and fantasy genres. Things get underway in 13th century Russia, which is facing up to the likelihood of an invading Mongol horde in the not too distant future. Keen to do his bit is young lad Evpaty, whose speciality appears to be swinging two swords around his head at the same time; this leads to his master’s daughter Nastya nicknaming him ‘kolovrat’, after a spinning wheel (also the slightly sus kolovrat icon, which resembles a double-swastika).

However, Evpaty’s youth and innocence come to an end when his master is ambushed by a Mongol raiding party. Startled by his whirling-swords trick, the Mongols decide not to take any chances and just crack him on the head with what looks like a stone bola.

Abruptly, the scene changes; Evpaty is now a grown man (with a nasty scar on his temple), waking up in his room in the city of Ryazan, still busting to keep fighting the Mongols. An also-grown Nastya rushes in and calms him down: it’s over a decade later, but due to his bang on the head Evpaty (also known as Kolovrat, for obvious reasons) has a problem with his memory. Every day he wakes up initially having forgotten everything that’s happened since the battle with the Mongols, and needing to be reminded of it. (The adult Kolovrat is played by Ivan Malakov, who does what the film requires of him capably enough; Nastya is played by Polina Chernyshova, who is not the kind of able young actress to let an underwritten part and a gratuitous nude scene get in the way of her doing her best with her role.)

Kolovrat is now an officer, training the guards of the Prince of Ryazan. The guards may well soon be required to call on their skills as the Mongol horde is still on the warpath and heading in Ryazan’s direction. The Prince decides to pack his son off at the head of a delegation to try and buy the Khan (Aleksandr Choi) off, or at least give them time to prepare the defences. Kolovrat is sent with him, against his wishes – he is worried his little memory-related quirk may prove to be an issue. To stop this being a problem, Nastya sends along one of her maids, Lada (Yulia Khlynina), to remind him who he is every time he has a nap. (Nastya’s other maids, Skoda, Yugo, and Trabant, are not allowed to go along.)

Well, there is a lot of macho posturing when the Ryazans arrive at the Khan’s camp, with their host being quite open about his intention to conquer the city. It soon becomes apparent that the Khan intends to kill or capture them all (so much for the diplomatic niceties). But, of course, Kolovrat and his comrades manage to escape, taking with them some prisoners they have managed to free (including Nastya’s father, who has spent the last decade or so being used as a table leg). Now they just have to get back home and rally resistance to the invaders in the name of Russia!

One of the reasons I enjoy watching films from other cultures that I know virtually nothing about is the pleasurable frisson I get from sitting down in front of a movie which is pretty much a complete mystery to me – this is in addition to the other pleasures of a foreign movie, of course. Sometimes you end up watching something wholly new and surprising; other times what’s startling is just how closely other parts of the world end up copying the style of popular American movies (I guess that’s what hegemony comes down to in the end).

Legend of Kolovrat is a pretty decent movie for what it is: a big, broad, fairly colourful historical adventure, tending towards epic: the art direction and costuming is excellent, the fight choreography does the job very nicely, and really the only brick one could sling at the production is the fact it is every bit as reliant on obvious CGI effects and greenscreen backdrops as any comparable English-language production. But I suppose that’s the nature of the beast these days.

The most immediately striking plot element is the fact that this is a historical action movie where the protagonist is suffering from a chronic brain injury. This at least makes the film somewhat distinctive, although it’s mainly there as colour (apart from serving a useful expository function early on, it doesn’t inform the plot very much). To be honest the film doesn’t seem quite sure what to do with it, or even how it works, exactly. There’s a bit early on where the adult Kolovrat makes Nastya a whistle to replace one which she dropped just before the fight, thirteen years earlier (but only a few minutes ago from his perspective). It’s a touching beat, but I thought ‘If they did a parody of this, you’d now see Nastya putting it in a huge box of whistles, as he makes her one every day without realising it’. And then you see Nastya putting the new whistle in a huge box full of them.

Oh well, chronic brain injuries aside, the thing about Legend of Kolovrat which smacks you in the face is just how much it seems to be aping the style and structure of Zach Snyder’s 300 (maybe not the first time chronic brain damage has come up in relation to 300, but this exact context may be new). Quite apart from being a CGI-powered historical epic, the Mongols stand in for the Persians, the Ryazan delegation get to be the Spartans, and it all boils down to an heroic last stand and even more posturing before everything is resolved, with a conclusion which is almost drawn shot-for-shot from the Snyder film. Now, I like 300, up to a point, and I enjoyed this Russian version of the story quite a lot as well. But I imagine someone who puts more of a premium on originality might feel differently.

I suspect there isn’t enough about Legend of Kolovrat to make it really distinctive; this is why the film feels so much like a knock-off. But it’s a well-made and fairly enjoyable knock-off, pleasing to the eye and with plenty of pace to it. I don’t think it’s anyone’s idea of a great film (anyone outside the Russian-speaking world, anyway), but I find it hard to be really critical of it.

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