Sunday, January 27, 2008

The revolution comes to Film Club

A much reduced film club evening as Mrs The Millbrooker and I watched David Lean's 1965 adaption of Boris Pasternak's masterpiece novel, Dr Zhivago.

Sadly we can't hold the usual Sunday evening get together this week as Mrs The Millbrooker is off to Bath today to be with her mum whilst her step-dad is in hospital during and after an operation; I'm on stupid-o'clock shifts this coming week as well.

I've not seen Zhivago before; Mrs The Millbrooker was taken to see it when she was knee high to a grasshopper by her mum. I'm sure no one really needs me to say what a masterful piece of cinema this is, but I'm going to anyway. Lean's trademark vast sweeping vision leaps from the screen in glorious technicolour and the narrative allows for some intelligence within the audience by not explaining every last minute detail. Just as well; the film weighs in at three hours and twenty minutes as it is. The film successfully portrays Pasternak's tale of what happens to the intelligentsia in a revolution. The mild mannered but honest and forthright Zhivago (a Moscow GP) is caught in the build-up to the October revolution during the first world war and then becomes an internal exile as the Bolshevik forces make life impossible for anyone to speak their minds no matter how just their thoughts may be.

The film concentrates on the human element within this enormous struggle, managing to become what I can only describe as an intimate epic. Huge, world changing events are happening all around, just off screen, as normal intelligent people try to survive and live their lives peacefully.

The love story between Zhivago and Lara (Omar Sharif and Julie Christie respectively) is never allowed to become unreal or over sentimental even though it's entirely central to the motivations behind Zhivago's actions in the latter parts of the film.

The performances from the many fine actors is kept low key, secondary to the great vision of the whole film. Lean famously considered actors to be a pain in the backside on the set (although he enjoyed dinner with them after a day's work), and he has stamped his authority firmly on every aspect of this tremendous piece of cinema. Noteworthy appearances apart from Sharif and Christie include Ralph Richardson as Zhivago's father-in-law and Alec Guinness as the slightly sinister secret policeman who is Zhivago's half-brother. You also get Tom Courtenay as Lara's Bolshevik zealot husband. Every last one of them manages to keep their character down to a human scale despite the enormity of what the script is asking them to deal with. It doesn't get much better than that.

Every scene is gorgeous to look at, even the dull and quite realistic interiors always have some splash of colour: a daubed red star, a posy of daffodils. Lean's eye for cinematic tableaux is inimitable and a joy to behold. Dr Zhivago is acknowledged as a true classic by people who know a great deal more about a cinema than a frequently befuddled Millbrooker and I can't properly put into words just how good this one is. Creative and interpretive cinema at it very finest; a work of art; visionary.

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