Universal problems in Russian
Born in Russia in 1948, Sergei Bodrov snr. has written more than 20 film scripts and directed a dozen films. His breakthrough came in 1996 with a film version of Kavkazskij Plennik (Prisoner of the Mountains) after Tolstoy, which received many awards, including the international critics’ prize in Cannes. Bodrov’s tales are nearly all set in Russia and often based on historical events but apply to more than the Russian situation.
Sergei Bodrov’s films are empathetic, realistic and successful, and always with main characters of Russian origin. Though dealing with Russian and political events, they have a universal relevance. An example is his best known film Kavkazskij plennik (Prisoner of the Mountains), which brought him his international breakthrough in 1996. The film is based on a tale written by Leo Tolstoy in 1863 and centres on the fate of two Russian soldiers. They have been captured in the long lasting conflict with Chechen and are due to be exchanged.
Bodrov was not concerned with military analysis and declared. ‘I wasn´t interested in making a political film.’ He describes Prisoner of the Mountains as being ‘the story of lost innocence’. It focuses more on humans and their relationships than on deeds, and impressed viewers and critics alike by showing the futility and inhumanity of behaviour in wartime. But it also showed the history, culture, landscape and lives of the Muslim inhabitants with a fascinating realism, patience and simplicity which brought it many awards. It was nominated as the best foreign film for the Academy Award and the Golden Globe. It won the Nika Awards and the Best Film Award in the San Diego Film Festival, the Great Prize in Saarbrücken, and the European Film Prize for its script in 1997.
Thanks to this success, his earlier films received more attention. Katala (The Gambler, 1989) is adapted from Dostoyevsky’s autobiographical short story about a young man who starts frequenting a casino to finance his escape. S.E.R – Svoboda eto rai (Freedom is Paradise, also 1989) is about little Sasha, who after the early death of his mother is taken to an orphanage and has no other wish than to flee and find his father, who, however, is mostly in prison.
Ya khotela uvidet angelov (I wanted to see Angels) was shown in the International Forum in Berlin in 1992. ‘A outbreak into extremism: experiments, fantasies, phantasms" was the title of Norbert Grob’s review. The film shows the life of Bob, who starts as an irresistible killer and ends up as a wayward victim. ‘Bodrov’s film is a fantasy about black leather, motors and snow, about subversive emotions, warfare and dreams. No one has a chance, yet no one gives up.’ Bob fails, and evil wins.
While Bodrov writes committed scripts, he is also interested in dabbling in the US film industry. He scripted for instance the romantic-dramatic film East-West (1999), setting it in the former USSR during the Stalin era. In June 1946, the dictator promises an amnesty to all Russians who have fled to the west, saying they may return, acquire Soviet passports and help to rebuild the country. Alexei Golovine is living in France and hears of the promise. He and his French wife are deceived by it and leave for Odessa. There they have a surprise.
In 1999 Bodrov used a colleague’s script for his first American film Running Free, produced by Jean-Jacques Annaud. In 1914 the foal Lucky is born on a steamer transporting horses to a mining town in Africa, but due to unrest from the first world war even in Africa, Lucky ends up in the desert. There he falls in love and has a number of adventures, finally becoming the head of a herd which he leads to freedom. The film shows life from the point of view of a horse.
Bodrov’s latest film is set in the USA today. The Russian multi-millionaire Oleg lives in Los Angeles and is asked by his Russian partner to return an investment of 50 million dollars. Oleg realises that the affair could be a hot potato but feels sure of being able to cope.
Events at the HKW:
Sunday, 20th October, 1991
The World of Metin, Lena and Amir
Freedom is paradise
Organiser: House of World Cultures
18th March, 1992
Freedom is a Paradise
Organiser: House of World cultures
28th June, 1995
Ja Chotela Uwidetj Angelow (I wanted to see Angels)
Organiser: House of World Cultures
Sergei Bodrov was born on 28th June, 1948, in Khabarovsk in Russia. He studied for two years at the Institute of Energetics then at the Moscow Film School VGIK. In 1974 he took his finals in ‘scripting’ and became a correspondent for the magazine Crocodile. Meanwhile he also wrote scripts but had little success till the start of the 80s. In 1984, together with Amanbe Alpiev, he turned to directing with Sladky Son Vnutri Travy (Sweet Dreams in the Grass). His international breakthrough came in 1996 with the Tolstoy adaptation Kavkazskij plennik (Prisoner of the Mountains). He has also published short stories and essays.