Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Present to Me - Admiral

Tonight my husband and I settled onto the couch - which luckily is right across from the computer monitor for comfy viewing - to watch a Russian film that I've been longing to see for months. My husband found it for me on Russian Remote, a Russian site where you can watch films - but there are no English subtitles. Admiral is the kind of film that would have been inconceivable a decade ago. It looks at the leader of last century's White Russian Army as a complex and honorable man, the type of story that was utterly forbidden during the Soviet era.

You can check out the official Russian site for Admiral - complete with Cyrillic alphabet. The film was directed by Andrei Kravchuk.

Admiral stars one of my favorite actors, Konstantin Khabensky. You may remember my mentioning the Russian urban paranormal films Night Watch and Day Watch. I discovered him in that film series.

Admiral also stars Elizaveta Boyarskaya, whom I discovered through YouTube clips of Konstantin Khabensky's work.

She appeared with him in The Irony of Fate 2, a Russian Christmas/New Year's holiday film. The Irony of Fate 2 is a film sequel by one of my favorite directors - Timur Bekmambetov, who did Wanted with James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie. It's the Russian equivalent to making a sequel to It's a Wonderful Life.

Elizaveta plays a married woman who falls in love with the also married Kolchak in Admiral. Their relationship is restrained, intense and they barely share several onscreen kisses for the duration of the film. But the sexual tension and longing is magnificent.

Here's some background on Admiral Kolchak:

"Admiral Aleksandr Vasilevich Kolchak began the war (Julia's note: between the White Army, or monarchists, and the Red Army, or Bolsheviks) as the commander of the Russian Imperial Black Sea Fleet. Kolchak had been promoted to rear admiral at the extremely young age of 43. A year later he was promoted to vice admiral and given the command of the Black Sea Fleet. He was at the height of a very promising military career when the Russian Revolution destroyed the Imperial Russian Navy. After the Tsar abdicated in March of 1917, the navy was thrown into chaos.

Erosion of the fleet's discipline led to many of the ships' crews revolting against their officers. Kolchak was only partially successful in keeping his Black Sea Fleet operational. The fleet mutinied in June 1917, demanding that the officers be disarmed. Kolchak assembled his crew on the deck. Declaring the demand that the officers be disarmed was a personal insult, Kolchak hurled his sword over the ship's rail and into the sea, ending his naval career and beginning a political career for which he was not prepared nor equipped to succeed.

As a naval officer, Kolchak inspired loyalty in his men and superiors. He was honest and chivalrous, had a sense of duty and personal honor, and was a true gentleman. He has been called one of the 'great tragic personalities of the Russian Revolution.' When Captain G. Hunt wrote The History of the Twenty-Seventh Infantry, he considered Kolchak to be one of the greatest men that Russia ever developed.

Kolchak's obvious command experience and a 'kingly quality... that made men eager to place authority in his hands' made him a good choice to send to Omsk to help organize the White Russian forces. A few days after he arrived in Omsk he was appointed as the Minister of War, maintaining his close ties with the British. Kolchak writes about 'the terrifying burden of Supreme Power' and that he thought of himself as 'a fighting man, reluctant to face the problems of state craft.'

Not all the blame for the Kolchak government's inability to win the support of the people can be placed on the incompetence of government officials or on the fact that regular army officers encouraged desertions by their degree of cruelty to their own men. They believed that 'salvation of Russia lay in the whip and only in the whip: the whip in the barracks, the whip in the villages, the whip against the peasants and, in particular the whip against the workers.'

When Kolchak was in the navy, his advisors would have been men who were trained, motivated, and sincere in their careers. The army was one of the inherited problems for the new government. Brutal recruiting techniques filled Kolchak's army with conscripts who would not fight with their hearts and would run if given the opportunity. Poor discipline was not limited to the soldiers. Many of the officers were hiding-out in the bars and restaurants of Omsk instead of fighting on the front, or busy 'swindling the men of food and equipment.' The job of actual fighting went to the non-commissioned officers.

Some of the blame for the fall of the Kolchak government can even be placed on the British government and the other allies who pushed Kolchak into the role of Supreme Ruler. Perhaps he'd been selected because he was the strongest option. In Admiral Kolchak's defense, is is possible that no one may have been able to control the many and varied intrigues and political agendas, the insubordination of army officers, and the lack of support by the population.

Kolchak was turned over to the Red Army by Czech forces while he was traveling eastward to Vladivstok. The allies had sufficient strength to free Kolchak but chose not to.

The White government represented all that was unpopular with the Monarchy. Nepotism, corruption, brutality, greed and incompetence spread and grew until it took on a life of its own and became uncontrollable. Admiral Kolchak ended his ill-fated political career with the same courage that he showed in Sevastpol Harbor, when he threw his sword into the sea rather than submit to the orders of those he thought beneath him.

After being interrogated by the Bolsheviks, he was led out into the cold Siberian pre-dawn for execution. True to his nature he remained outwardly calm as he faced a firing squad, even refusing a blindfold."

- Fedor Babanine

Here are two trailers - the first one has English subtitles, and the second is in Russian only. Enjoy!


Kailana said...

Do you speak Russian?

Julia Smith said...

No, not really - but my sister and I made friends with some Russians and have a very rudimentary understanding of key words. I can even read their alphabet, phonetically.

I adore listening to the Russian language being spoken, and the wonderful thing about Russian cinema is: they're so good at what they do, you can follow the storyline easily without subtitles. For me, anyway.

Travis said...

I've done some limited reading about Russian history. Not really enough to form any real opinions, other than it is rich and complex.

Dylan said...

Oh, this has got me crying all over again. I really love history-based movies in this sense where even though you already know the tragedy before-hand, the way that they play it out and display such an interesting personality evokes an emotion that you never thought you could behold. You've done an excellent and unbiased job describing and explaining the politics and personalities surrounding the fall of the White government.