Posted by martinteller on March 25, 2012
I still haven’t read the second half of the Cervantes novel (shame on me) but I wanted to see this since I’d heard somewhere or other that it was the best adaptation. The postmodern attempt by Orson Welles (“finished” by Jess Franco, most likely for the worse) had some intriguing elements but was far too flawed to satisfy. This was a much better experience. One tends to think of Soviet Russia as being culturally isolated — probably an unfair assumption, but so it goes — and it’s a bit surprising to see a Soviet adaptation of “Don Quixote,” much less one so skillfully executed. I know less than nothing about 17th century Spain, but it certainly was believable to me… except for the fact that everyone speaks Russian, of course. The landscapes are gloriously captured in lovely widescreen color vistas.
More importantly, the character of Don Quixote is wonderfully brought to life. Nikolai Cherkasov had previously starred as the title roles in Aleksandr Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible, and played Gorky twice (and once he was FDR!). He brings to Quixote the necessary dignity and nobility, letting himself be the butt of the joke without ever appearing to be in on it. There’s no wink to his performance, he plays it straight, with steadfast belief in his ideals, as outmoded as they may be. It begs the central question of the novel (erm, what I’ve read of it)… is it better to be a virtuous fool or a knowing cynic? And one can’t overlook Sancho Panza, played here by Yuri Tolubeyev. He tackles the role with comic gusto, and his devotion to Quixote, though laced with skepticism, is endearing and sweet. He gets one of the film’s finest moments, as he rules in a matter of justice in the “island” he believes that he governs. Does this “fool” rule any worse than the disinterested Duke?
Naturally, at 100 minutes the film is a severely truncated version of the story, but it’s a surprisingly charming and funny work. I swear I’m gonna finish that book one day. Rating: Very Good