Thursday, June 27, 2019
Directed by Sergei Eisenstein and Dmitri Vasilyev and written by Eisenstein and Pyotor Pavlenko, Alexander Nevsky is the story about the Russian prince who defeated the Teutonic Knights of the Roman Empire during the Invasion of Novgorod in the 13th Century and his rise to prominence from that battle. The film is an unconventional bio-pic that explore the titular figure as well as his gift for strategy as it’s told through folklore and other unconventional storytelling devices with Nikolai Cherkasov in the titular role. Also starring Nikolai Okhlopkov, Andrei Abrikosov, Dmitri Orlov, Vasili Novikov, Nikolai Arsky, and Varvara Massalitinova. Alexander Nevsky is a grand and evocative film from Sergei Eisenstein and Dmitri Vasilyev.
Set in 13th Century Russia, the film follows the Russian prince who would lead a band of peasants and his own army against the Teutonic Knights of the Roman Empire from Germany who are trying to invade Russia leading to the Battle of the Ice near Novgorod. It’s a film with a simple premise as it explores Alexander Nevsky and how he was able to defeat the Teutonic Knights but also in trying to bring a sense of pride and honor to the people of Russia. The film’s screenplay by Sergei Eisenstein and Pyotor Pavlenko follows a straightforward narrative where it opens with what was happening with Russia as they were still recovering from a conflict against Mongolia where Nevsky sees some Mongolian warlords passing by while he is with some men fishing on a lake. The warlords offer Nevsky a chance to join them but Nevsky politely declines as a way to not create anymore conflict only to learn about what’s been going on in nearby villages prompting him to take charge as the film’s second act is about him banding the villagers to fight back after the atrocities of what the Teutonic Knights have done.
The film’s direction from Eisenstein and Dmitri Vasilyev is definitely vast in terms of the world that is created as well as provide this sense of a world that is about to be attacked only for its leader to not back down. Shot on field locations for parts of the film along with some shots set inside studio sets, Eisenstein and Vasilyev would use some close-ups and medium shots as it play into the drama including a subplot about two villagers in Vasili Buslaev (Nikolai Okhlopkov) and Gavrilo Oleksich (Andrei Abrikosov) trying to fight for the affections of a maiden in Olga Danilovna (Valentina Ivashova). Yet, Eisenstein and Vasilyev do maintain this air of terror such as the sequence of Teutonic Knights killing men and young boys including children in front of the women as one of the young maidens in Vasilisa (Aleksandra Danilova) to join other peasants in the fight against the Teutonic Knights.
The compositions that Eisenstein and Vasilyev create are striking in the way they create scenes of large processions including what the Teutonic Knights do during a religious meeting. It would establish what these knights want to do and how to instill their ideals into foreign territory which only upsets Nevsky who feel that they’re just asking for trouble. There are some political context into what Eisenstein and Vasilyev is displaying as it relates to some of the religious symbolism between the Russians and the Teutonic Knights with the latter wanting the former to rule under this ideal. The film’s climatic battle sequence which lasts for nearly 30 minutes is among some of the most dazzling images that Eisenstein and Vasilyev would create where its usage of wide shots and depth of field add to the scope as well as what is at stake. The battle aftermath is about Nevsky’s need for Russia to fight for their land and their traditions but also allow foreigners to come in unless they bring trouble. Overall, Eisenstein and Vasilyev craft an exhilarating and rapturous film about a Russian prince leading his people into battle against the Teutonic Knights of the Roman Empire.
Cinematographer Eduard Tisse does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography as it is filled with rich imagery for many of its exterior scenes and ceremonies along with some amazing coverage of the locations and lighting for some of the scenes in the snow. Editors Sergei Eisenstein and Esfir Tobak do excellent work with the editing as its usage of rhythmic cuts help play into the impact of the action and fighting in the battle sequence along with some straightforward edits for some of the dramatic moments in the film. Production designers Isaac Shipnel and Nikolai Solovyov do amazing work with the look of the hut that Nevsky lived in at the film’s opening scene as well as the design of the Teutonic Knights’ tents and the buildings at the villages.
Costume designer K. Yeliseev is fantastic for the design of the robes that the Teutonic Knights wear with small attention to details in the symbols they sport along with the more ragged look of the Russian peasants. The sound work of Vladimir Popov and Boris Volsky is superb for the sound effects that is created as well as its approach to natural sounds that is captured on actual locations. The film’s music by Sergei Prokofiev with lyrics by Vladimir Lugovski is incredible for its sweeping and bombastic orchestral score with songs that are sung by a large choir that play into the dramatic elements of the film as it is a major highlight of the film.
The film’s wonderful cast feature some notable small roles from Naum Rogozhim as a black-hooded monk for the knights, Lev Fenin as an archbishop for the knights, Sergei Blinnikov as a traitor in Tverdilo, Vladimir Yershov as the Teutonic Knights Grand Master Hermann von Balk, Varvara Massalitinova as Buslaev’s mother, Dmitri Orlov as the master armor Ignat who also joins in the fight, Nikolai Arsky as a boyar for the town that was attacked and Vasili Novikov as Pavsha as a military commander for the fallen town of Pskov who joins Nevsky in the fight against the knights. Valentina Ivashova and Aleksandra Danilova are fantastic in their respective roles as the maids Olga and Vasilisa with the former being the object of affection for two peasants who would fight to win her love while the latter is a young woman who loses her father as she joins the fight to get revenge as she would help succeed.
Nikolai Okhlopkov and Andrei Abrikosov are excellent in their respective roles as the peasants Vasili Buslaev and Gavrilo Oleksich as two men trying to win over the affections of a young maiden as they provide some comic relief to the film while managing to prove themselves in battle. Finally, there’s Nikolai Cherkasov in a phenomenal performance as the titular character as the Russian prince who leads his people to fight against the Teutonic Knights as a man that is wary of those wanting to control Russia who aren’t Russian as Cherkasov displays that air of leadership and grandeur into his performance.
Alexander Nevsky is a spectacular film from Sergei Eisenstein and Dmitri Vasilyev that features a grand performance from Nikolai Cherkasov in the titular role. Along with its sweeping visuals, sprawling set designs, exhilarating action and battle scenes, and Sergei Prokofiev’s soaring music score. The film is definitely an epic that lives up to its description as well as being a political allegory into what the Soviet Union is dealing with in the late 1930s just before the start of World War II. In the end, Alexander Nevsky is a tremendous film from Sergei Eistenstein and Dmitri Vasilyev.
Sergei Eisenstein Films: (Glumov’s Diary) – Strike (1925 film) - Battleship Potemkin - (October: Ten Days That Shook the World) – (The General Line) – (Que Viva Mexico) – (Bezhin Meadow) – Ivan the Terrible
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