Russia, 2014
Color, 123 minutes
In Russian with English subtitles
Director: Aleksandr Vartanov and Kirill Mikhanovsky
Screenplay: Konstantin Chernozatonskii, Mikhail Brashinskii
Camera: Vsevolod Kaptur, Anastasiia Mikhailova
Music: Aleksei Aigi
Cast: Danila Kozlovskii, Igor’ Gordin, Klavdia Korshunova, Iurii Tsurilo
Producer: Evgenii Gindilis
Production: Avangard media

Dubrovsky, a modern adaptation of Pushkin’s unfinished novel, does more than transplant the struggles that accompany class difference present in the original text. It amplifies the hardships of poor villagers and connects the original story with present day issues of corruption and exploitation.

A disagreement among friends turns into a war after Kirill Troekurov mistreats a soldier and insults his fellow veteran and friend Andrei Dubrovsky.  The drama rises as Troekurov uses his connections to completely, and legally, level not only Dubrovsky’s farm, but the entire village of Kistenevka.  Dubrovsky dies and his son, Vladimir returns home.  Violence and deception ensue as the villagers take up weapons and Dubrovsky poses as an American consultant for Troekurov.  Romance arises between Dubrovsky and Troekurov’s daughter in the midst of a plot to bankrupt the oligarch to punish him for his disregard for the villagers.  Both the plot and the aesthetic of the film accentuate class difference, effectively depicting the same dynamic present in Pushkin’s novel and the modern world.

The plot of the film easily connects with Pushkin’s original through the focus on class, but the film magnifies this issue and projects it in contemporary society. The film makes a connection between feudal society and modern capitalism’s effect on the relationships between people who call themselves friends.

Troekurov manipulates the system to punish Dubrovsky for the disagreement between them.  He uses his influence to his advantage in the justice system, rendering any resistance futile.  More than just a punishment, Troekurov and his associates plan to demolish the homes and livelihoods of the people of Kistenevka and build luxurious homes for the rich.

To Troekurov, none of what he does is of consequence.  He continued to poke fun at Dubrovsky up to his death, and thereafter treats the subsequent violence as a minor obstacle to building a beautiful resort town, while still calling Andrei Dubrovsky his old friend.  Troekurov is not concerned and is apathetic toward the struggle of the villagers, continuing with his luxurious life and fancy plans for the leveled town.  In a capitalistic society, benefits are only for those who can afford them.  The villagers resort to violence and living in the woods to survive after losing their entire lives.

Troekurov’s treatment of various people throughout the film reveals the value placed on status.  Regardless of the type of person, what factors into their relationship with Troekurov is their class, social value, and utility to him in his financial pursuits.  In this case, not only the villagers, but also Ukrainian soldiers are dehumanized, referred to as beasts and cattle.  These people are considered disposable and are only useful for their labor.  This extends to Troekurov’s daughter, whom he forces into a marriage for the sake of his assets.  Yet despite Troekurov’s temper and frustration with his associates, he never dehumanizes them or forces their hand.  Because of their status and work with him, he treats these people with more respect.

The division between these different classes of people is emphasized through the camerawork and aesthetics of the film, intensifying the conditions present in Pushkin’s novel.  The camerawork has distinct styles for the people in each scene, reflecting not only their emotions or the intensity of the situation, but also their standing.

When focused on Troekurov, the shots are frequently low-angle shots, setting Troekurov above other characters and even the audience, which creates a visual power dynamic.  This angle is used immediately after the quarrel between Troekurov and Dubrovsky, and continues throughout the rest of the film.  Troekurov is always placed above other characters, especially those with lesser status than him. Troekurov dominates the screen when he is talking to others with lots of over the shoulder shots depicting the character looking down on others.  Most of the camera movements, when focused on Troekurov, are stable and appear very deliberate.

In contrast, the shots that deal with the villagers are less stable, with much more camera movement.  The villagers behave reactively, using violence and crime to get what they need.  The camerawork heightens the emotions surrounding these scenes with a lot of movement that sometimes is confusing or dizzying.

In addition to the plot and the camerawork, the general colors of the film reflect the same distinction between the classes.  Troekurov and his peers always appear in decadent settings with rich colors—at parties, Troekurov’s estate, and even outdoors.  Doused in golds, warm yellows, reds, and oranges, Troekurov’s home and the people that enter it are living luxuriously.  The villagers and soldiers throughout the film are always in muted and cool colors among the snow and the village with browns, grays, blacks, and muted blues. The villagers do not get to feast and party by the fireplace, but are stuck in the snowy forest, trying to survive and find their way after losing everything.

Vladimir Dubrovsky is the only outlier, as he pretends to be a consultant for Troekurov.  He is treated as a peer and not a pest like the villagers.  Throughout his time on the Troekurov estate, he gets to enjoy the luxuries of the high life while periodically returning to the villagers.  Dubrovsky acts like a Robin Hood, who wants to redistribute all of Troekurov’s money to the homeless villagers.

The film may appear at times to be about romance, violence, or drama, but it manages to capture the class struggle and creates a bridge between Pushkin’s world of the 19th century and the modern world.

Sera Passerini

Aleksandr Vartanov was born in Moscow in 1977. He studied journalism, film directing, and dramaturgy then went on to work in theater and film.

2016    Blueberry Fields Forever
2014    Dubrovsky
2011    Bullet Collector

Kirill Mikhanovsky grew up in Moscow before moving to Milwaukee.  He graduated from New York University’s Film School and produced his first film Sonhos De Peixe (2006).

2019    Give Me Liberty
2014    Dubrovsky
2006    Sonhos de Peixe

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