Russia has produced some extremely talented directors. From Sergei
M. Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin) to Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker,
Solaris) to the recent Andrei Zvyagintsev (The Return),
Russians have been behind the camera of some of the most memorable films
ever created. Another name to add to that list is Elem Klimov.
His 1975 film Agony: The Life and Death of Rasputin is a powerful
film that looks at this enigmatic character through fresh eyes. This
movie was banned in the Soviet Union for 10 years, and was only released
theatrically during the era of Glasnost, but now it is avalible from Kino
In 1916 things were going very poorly for the Russian Czar Emperor Nicholas
II and his government. They were immersed in WWI, there were food
shortages across the country, and illness plagued the population.
Strikes were becoming commonplace, and many were openly talking about revolution.
The Czar's personal life was no easier. His only son and heir
to the throne was a hemophiliac and was constantly in pain. The only
person who could help the boy at all was a wandering mystic from Siberia,
Rasputin. He was able to ease the boy's suffering where doctors couldn't.
Because of this Empress Alexandra would give the imposing man anything
he wanted, and soon Nicholas was doing the same.
With the country on the verge of collapse, many of the people resented
this outsider gaining so much power so quickly. He was inserting
himself into policy decisions, sometimes with horrible results. The
fact that he was nearly mad didn't help either. Rasputin's
mood swings and wild tears were the talk of Moscow, he drank freely and
slept around even more than he drank. Finally a group of politicians
decides that Rasputin must go for the good of the country. But killing
him is far harder than it sounds.
This is an amazing and forceful film, that does a wonderful job of recreating
the Russia of the mid teens. Director Elem Klimov included vintage
newsreel footage (some authentic and some apparently recreated) of the
time to show and explain all of the problems Russia was having at the time.
The avarice of those in power was astounding, and this film clears illustrates
how hard it was to control. You can even begin to see how someone
like the Czar and Czarina could fall under the spell of an charismatic
Alexei Petrenko plays Rasputin with a ferocity and madness that's rarely
seen in movies. His intense performance really makes the film, and
he seems to be truly insane in some scenes. It's a crime that this
performance was hidden for a decade.
On the down side, some of the intricate plot details can be a little
tough to follow. It's hard keeping the many long Russian names straight,
especially when the plot is coming together near the end. This is
a minor problem though as the strong narrative manages to sweep the viewer
The stereo Russian soundtrack is about average. There isn't any
hiss or background noise and the sound is clean but there isn't a lot of
range either. About what you'd expect from a 30 year old movie.
While the image doesn't look too bad, I was hoping for a bit more.
The 2.35:1 widescreen picture was not anamorphically enhanced, which is
a shame. Also it appears that this DVD was created from a PAL master,
as some quick movements are blurred. The image was also fairly soft,
with fine details being a little blurry and lines not being as tight as
they should be. Some details were lost in dark areas too. This
makes the picture sound worse than it actually is. It is generally
clear and the colors look fine. Not bad at all for a film that was
banned in Russia for 10 years.
This disc has a great bonus item, a 50 minute biography of Agony's director:
Klimov. This documentary covers Klimov's visit to the US in 1985
and includes several interviews with the director where he talks about
his films and influences. A nice piece.
There is also a trailer for Klimov's film Come and See, as well as a
filmography of the director.
This is an excellent film, with an outstanding portrayal of the mad
monk by Alexei Petrenko. Director Elem Klimov does a wonderful job
crafting the story and giving a succinct yet thorough explanation of the
problems facing Russia at the time. A truly great film that comes