An adaptation of Anton Chekhov's short story of the same name, Ward No. 6. Co-writer/director Karen Shakhnazarov and and co-writer Alexander Borodyansky have moved the story from the 1890s to the present day, and tweaked the basic idea, with the lead character of Dr. Ragin (Vladimir Ilyin) wandering the halls of a mental institution he used to run in a existential funk, obsessing and despairing over the futility of therapy. A patient named Gromov (Alexey Vertkov) has convinced Dr. Ragin that very little makes the difference between the institutionalized and the so-called "normal" people, destroying Ragin's understanding of what it is he's accomplishing in his interactions with the patients at the facility.
I wish I had more to say about Ward No. 6. As Russia's official entry for 2010 Academy Award nominations, I have to assume it is a good movie. Unfortunately, Kino Lorber's DVD is plagued with extremely pale, burned-in yellow subtitles that completely vanish into the blinding natural white glow of lab coats, snow, and white paint, rendering at least 2/3 of the dialogue during the first half of the movie unreadable. I kept waiting, hoping the problem would get better or resolve itself to a point at which I felt confident about reviewing the film, but the problem continued to rear its head nearly forty minutes into the eighty minute movie. A glance at one or two other reviews on the internet (specifically, Kevin Thomas' review in the LA Times) indicate that the subtitles were a hassle even when the movie was in theaters; it's a shame that Kino International was unable or unwilling to find a better print of the film, and encode more visible player-generated subtitles so that the film could be fully experienced.
Ward No. 6 has an attention-grabbing cover that has a photo of Ragin walking amongst a group of bizarre animated caricatures, but, like the disc itself, it's a somewhat underwhelming effort overall when one sees the bland block of text and single photo adorning the back cover. Inside the case, a booklet of Kino's catalog is included for the viewer's perusing pleasure.
The Video and Audio
In addition to the unreadable subtitles, Ward No. 6 arrives with one of the most garish and ugly-looking transfers I can remember seeing. The best thing that can be said about the 1.85:1 widescreen image is that it's anamorphically enhanced, which, frankly, comes as a surprise to me. Even accounting for the fact that the film appears to have been shot on consumer-grade digital cameras (and not particularly nice ones to boot), that doesn't excuse the blocky, compressed look that plagues the film at all times. It's like the video file was only meant to be displayed at iPad size and anything bigger is stretching the available resolution far beyond its capabilities, resulting in jagged edges and noise everywhere. Making things worse is the blown-out natural lighting, which is irritatingly bright, coupled with sickly-looking, unstable colors that are on the verge of bleeding. An atrocious effort on all fronts.
Dolby Digital 2.0 is a similar story to the video, full of echo, ambient noise, and other on-set oddities picked up by the microphones, but it's harder to discern whether or not any of the audio quirks can be attributed to the disc rather than the source. On one hand, I suppose the audio doesn't make much difference, since the vast majority of American viewers would choose watch it with the subtitles (well, they would choose to if the subtitles weren't burned in), but it's not the most pleasant-sounding disc.
None, aside from a single trailer for the Kino release The Return. No theatrical trailer for Ward No. 6 has been included.
Don't let the no-star rating fool you -- I am not judging the film itself -- but this DVD is shameful. With a low-budget foriegn film, I don't want to heap all of the blame on Kino for the terrible presentation itself (the elements they used were probably the best that they could get, if not the only elements available), but I can say without hesitation that they should have shelved plans to release the disc in light of the elements given to them (not to mention charging the usual high-end price tag that comes with many foreign film DVDs). There is also no question that absolutely everyone with any interest in Ward No. 6 should skip this disc, because the feature presentation is undeniably crippled.