Dostoevsky on screen

7 March 2012 § Leave a comment

Last week I watched the first part of a film adaptation of  The Idiot. I think it was the first time I’ve ever seen anything by Dostoevsky existing outside my own head, and I found the experience slightly unsettling to begin with. Once I’d got over the shock of actually seeing real people being Myshkin, Rogozhin and the rest, I began to enjoy it. Dostoevsky is essentially a dramatic writer, and the big set-piece scenes and the intense conversations transfer wonderfully to the screen.

What does get lost though is the inner drama and torments, and of course the meat behind the dialogue. The long speeches have to be cut, and there’s only so much you can do with agonised facial expressions and creepy music, so I did wonder how much sense the film would make to anyone who hadn’t read the book. It was, however, a Russian film (made in 1959 – IMDB link here http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0051762/) so of course the idea that anyone watching it might not have read the book probably didn’t enter the producers’ minds.

And the fact that it was in Russian contributed to the unsettling oddness. Of course there should be nothing strange at all about watching Dostoevsky in Russian, but his novels have rooted themselves so firmly inside my head, that it was almost a surprise to hear the characters speaking familiar lines in perfect Russian, and to hear all the names pronounced without my dodgy Russian accent. The familiarity of it all does at least allow me to con myself that I’m understanding all the Russian perfectly!

The lead characters, Prince Myshkin (Yuri Yakovlev) and Nastasya Filippovna (Yuliya Borisova) were perfect. They’re both pretty hard acts to pull off, but they got the perfect, dangerous beauty of Nastasya and the otherwordliness of Myshkin just right. Ganya was good too, and anyone who has ever been bullied and harangued by a bossy, matronly khoziaika will immediately recognise Liza Prokovyevna Yepanchina.  Rogozhin on the other hand was too wild, as if he’d just got off a train from Siberia, not Europe. Yes, he’s mad, but there has to be some reason why Nastasya is so attracted to him, and there was absolutely none that I could see.

I think the film may only be the first part of the book – I’ve watched 90 minutes and we’ve only got to Nastasya’s birthday party – I’ll update this when I’ve finished watching it. Now that I’ve broken the ice, perhaps I need to find some more Dostoevsky adaptations to watch – any recommendations? The 2002 BBC adaptation of Crime and Punishment is on YouTube. I wonder if I dare watch it.

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