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Quiet Flows the Don
Set in the beautiful Don River Valley Sergei Gerasimov's epic Tikhiy Don a.k.a Quiet Flows The Don (1957) retells the tragic story of a feisty Cossack (Grigori, Pyotr Glebov) who falls madly in love with the wife (Aksiniya, Elina Bystritskaya) of a fellow soldier. Understanding that their love will be forever condemned by the peasants at the village where they live as well as the authoritative ataman Grigori and Aksiniya struggle with their feelings.
When Aksiniya's husband returns from military duty the inevitable happens - he is told that his wife's heart belongs to someone else. Grigori's parents are enraged yet they quickly manage to marry their son to a local girl from the village (Natalya, Zinaida Kiriyenko). Realizing what has become of his life Grigori leaves with the only person his heart desires: Aksiniya.
Based on Mikhail Sholokhov's Nobel Prize winning novel Tikhny Don (1957) is often referred to as the Soviet Gone With The Wind. Chronicling the fate of Russia as the country is immersed into WWI and consequently the Bolshevik Revolution Gerasimov's picture traces history without glorifying it. From the rise of communism, to the fratricidal bloodbath between the Cossacks, to the storming of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, and eventually the Red Army's ousting of the Tsar Tikhny Don is a monumental achievement by a director with an agenda.
Clocking in at approximately 5 ½ hours the picture boasts an unprecedented cast (hundreds of professional and non-professional actors were involved in this project) as well as a large technical crew that assisted with the filming along the Don River. The massive battle scenes are incredibly well done and so are the revealing vistas from the tiny Cossack villages where ordinary people assisted Gerasimov.
The film's greatest accomplishment however remains its authentic depiction of a very crucial for the Russian state period when Lenin and his supporters were on the rise. The ongoing conflicts amongst the Cossacks who are often seen torn apart provide the audience with the opportunity to witness political demagogy at its best: the passionate communist tirades, the monarchists' counter-speeches, the uncertainty amongst the peasants, are indeed fascinating to behold.
Tikhny Don is also a film of moving intimacy. The undying love between Grigori and Aksiniya remains the thread that links all of the grandiose events taking place on the screen. Rather ironically their fate mirrors that of the Russian state providing the picture with a spectacular finale.
Winner of the Crystal Globe Award for Best Director at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 1958.
How Does the DVD Look?
Arriving in a massive 4DVD set offering Sergei Gerasimov's complete 5 ½ hour long cut Tikhny Don appears to have been sourced from a PAL-master (most likely borrowed from Ruscico). Unfortunately I have every reason to believe that this was an analog master as well. Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 the film print reveals a great deal of scratches, debris, and annoying dirt that greatly affects the viewing experience. Furthermore, the color scheme is incredibly unstable: reds overlap into dark brown, while whites often become shimmering yellow lines that puzzle to say the least. There are plenty of jitters as well that are easily noticeable especially when the camera is static. I must also note that the "ghosting" effect is incredibly strong here to a point where it becomes painful to follow most of the massive battle scenes. Finally, edge enhancement is certainly an issue and those of you with large, advanced home set-ups will most likely be affected by it.
How Does the DVD Sound?
In addition to the restored Russian mono track (as well as an "original" 5.1 Russian mix) what you will find on this set is an English voice-over in 5.1 as well as a French voice-over in 5.1. Quickly, let's dismiss the two dubs as they are quite laughable to say the least (as noted in previous reviews it is not the narration but the fact that there is absolutely no emotion here whatsoever transforming this into a monotonous robotic chatter) and focus on the Russian tracks. The 5.1 mix offers slightly more depth in terms of rear activity but during dialogs I am unsure whether or not there is any advantage listening to it. As far as I am concerned the Russian mono track serves the film quite well and frankly I do not see why you would want to replace it with anything else.
This being said, once again the viewer is given the opportunity to set the menu system in either Russian, French, or English. Subtitle options include: Russian, English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Hebrew, Swedish, Chinese, Arabic, and Italian.
Disc 4 of this set contains the extras. First, there is an archival footage from the Nobel Prize ceremony in Sweden where King Gustav is seen granting Mikhail Sholkhov the prestigious award. The ceremony is narrated by a Russian speaker. Next, there is a standard "Making Of" which traces director Sergei Gerasimov and his team on location-amidst selected scenes from the film a Russian narrator explains what the crew and cast are attempting to achieve. The scenes from the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg are an excellent opportunity to grasp the enormous scope of this project. Next, there is a curious political interview with ataman I. Kononov in which he traces the history of the Cossack community from Tsarist Russia to and past USSR. Next, there is a section of interviews with Elina Bystritskaya and Zinaida Kiriyenko (respectively Aksiniya and Natalya) where they recall their involvement with Gerasimov during and after the completion of the film. Next, there is a short section of Cossack Songs and Dances where a Cossack troupe of actors performs tradition songs and dances. Finally, there is an outstanding interview with a Russian film historian who sheds a great deal of light on the rumors surrounding Quiet Flows the Don (there are speculations that it was not Sholokhov who wrote it) and how truthfully the film depicted the turmoil within the Cossack community. I can not recommend this segment highly enough!!
One of the great jewels of Russian cinema is finally in North America. Unfortunately, as expected, the presentation is somewhat disjointing. I must warn you to proceed with caution and if possible rent this DVD set first before adding it to your library. The film alone deserves the DVDTALK Collector's Series, the presentation is far and away from it.