The Captain’s Daughter

[Русский бунт]

Captain's Daughter film still

Russia (NTV-Profit, Globus Film Studio, Orenburg Regional Adminstration) and France (Le Studio Canal+, Production Le Pont, Roissy Films), 2000, 128 minutes, Color
In Russian with English subtitles
Director: Aleksandr Proshkin
Screenplay: Galina Arbuzova, Stanislav Govorukhin, Vladimir Zheleznikov,
Camera: Sergei Iurizditskii
Music: Vladimir Martynov
Art Direction: Aleksandr Tolkachev, Vladimir Ermakov
Sound: Aleksandr Khasin, Iurii Reinbakh
With: Mateusz Dameiscki, Karolina Gruszka, Vladimir Mashkov, Sergei Makovetskii, Vladimir Il'in, Iurii Beliaev

Aleksandr Proshkin's The Captain's Daughter is many things: a literary adaptation, an historical epic, and a costume drama. But it is foremost a tribute to Russia's national poet Aleksandr Pushkin. The film uses two of Pushkin's historical works as the basis of the script: the novella The Captain's Daughter, in which Pugachev makes only occasional appearances, and the novel The History of the Pugachev Rebellion of 1773. Coming together in one film, the two works pay homage to Pushkin and endeavor to present Pugachev's rebellion as it affected a provincial family. This approach to one of Russia's bloodiest historical events avoids the dry descriptions of textbooks in favor of the point of view of individuals involved.

The audience is immediately drawn into the film—into the world of eighteenth century Russia. The actors, costumed with meticulous care, were carefully chosen to convey the image of this era of Russian history. Proshkin opens The Captain's Daughter on an ominous note with a sequence of events that establishes the historical context and provides a background against which the plot unfolds: Catherine receives news of her husband's death as Petersburg grows restless with concern about the implications of his death for Catherine's rule. The film then jumps more than a decade as Petr Grinev (Mateusz Dameiscki) prepares to join the army. Though he dreams of the excitement of Petersburg, he finds that he will serve in the Siberian provinces. His journey to join his unit is ill-fated: he becomes trapped in a blizzard and must take shelter with peasants. Wishing to express his gratitude, Petr tells his servant to offer their guide enough kopecks for vodka; when he refuses, Petr demands that his hare-skin coat be given instead. Immediately, Petr's strong-will becomes apparent and it is clear that he will always act in accord with his own sense of morality. The peasant-guide promises never to forget Petr's kindness, a promise that will save Petr's life when they meet again.

Once settled in his regiment, Petr makes the acquaintance of Captain Mironov's daughter, Masha (Karolina Gruszka). At their home he meets the men he will serve with and takes an immediate dislike to Shvabrin (Sergei Makovetskii), who insults Masha's honor. Scenes of gaiety among the officers are juxtaposed with images of two other modes of life: the peasants fishing and devouring their catch with animalistic fervor and Pugachev's men advancing toward them. Emel'ian Pugachev (Vladimir Mashkov) appears in Petr's hare-skin coat with the Cossacks, to whom he has promised freedom, claiming to be the true Tsar Petr III. As they move through the region it is clear that they are traveling executioners, with officers and members of the gentry mercilessly hanged from make-shift gallows. When the rebels capture Mironov's fortress, both he and his wife are murdered by the rebels, and the soldiers begin to swear allegiance to Pugachev in fear of their lives. Shvabrin is among the first to side with the rebels. Petr, too, is asked to swear his allegiance or be hanged. His life is spared when Pugachev recognizes him as the young man who gave him his hare-skin coat.

Although the film is based on Pushkin's works, the film also works on the level of contemporary politics in Russia. Proshkin has commented in interviews that Russia is still plagued with "Pugachevs" and has suggested many of Russia's contemporary politicians fit the role. While the realism of the actors' manners and the authenticity of the costume design grant the film believability in its eighteenth century setting, the human interactions and relationships may just as easily be applied to contemporary Russia. The film repeatedly suggests that necessity sometimes challenge one's belief system. Petr chooses to risk his life by refusing to swear allegiance to Pugachev, but he is not willing to risk Masha's life, and appeals to Pugachev's mercy for her safe return. The bond between the two men is unique: Petr never swears allegiance to Pugachev and Pugachev is aware of Petr's attitude toward him, yet the two continue to aid one another in the name of love and happiness, momentarily overlooking the immediate problems of the peasants' revolt.

The motif of the raven looms throughout the film. Often the camera focuses on a single raven flying across the gray sky, a predator seeking its prey. As the rebels' defeat becomes apparent, a flock of ravens flies overhead. And when Pugachev is sentenced to death, he draws on the metaphor of the raven, assuring his executioner that he is only a fledging, and that the raven still preys. Relevant to the political and economic situation of eighteenth century Russia—consider Petr and his rival demolishing watermelons in the middle of winter in order to win a kiss from the captain's daughter while the peasants struggle for a single fish and Pugachev's men advance—this comment also remains relevant to contemporary politics.

Proshkin succeeds in retelling the rebellion of Pugachev in a manner that does not immediately demonize the pretender and his supporters. Through the inclusion of Pushkin's love story, Proshkin shows how common people became involved in the revolt and the sacrifices they chose to make in order to continue living. This approach also presents a more humane side of Pugachev, a figure often portrayed as merely a blood- and power- thirsty villain. Petr makes no attempt to hide his feelings about Pugachev's actions, yet Pugachev feels a bond connecting them and repeatedly saves Petr's life, despite his continuous allegiance to Catherine.

Aleksandr Proshkin

Aleksandr Proshkin photo

Aleksandr Proshkin was born in Leningrad in 1940. In 1961 he graduated from the acting department at Leningrad Institute for Theatre, Music, and Filmmaking; and in 1968 he completed the Advanced Courses for Filmmakers at Gosteleradio. He started work as a director of television shows, directing more than thirty, including The Pickwick Club and Doctor of Philosophy. He first attracted international attention with his 1988 film, The Cold Summer of 1953, which received a special screening for the U.S. Congress.

2003 Trio
2000 The Captain's Daughter
1995 The Black Veil
1993 To See Paris and Die
1990 Nikolai Vavilov (TV series)
1988 The Cold Summer of 1953
1984-6 Mikhailo Lomonosov (TV series)
1981 A Dangerous Age (TV)
1980 A Private Individual (TV series)
1979 Inspector Gull (TV)
1978 Strategy of Risk (TV series)
2004: Prophets and Gains Debut Films at Pittsburgh Filmmakers STW [СТВ] Film Company Pygmalion Productions NTV-Profit Film Company

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