Combustible Celluloid
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With: Innokenti Smoktunovsky, Mikhail Nazvanov, Elsa Radzina-Szolkonis, Yuri Yarvet, Elza Radzina, Galina Volchek
Written by: Grigori Kozintsev, Boris Pasternak (translator), based on plays by William Shakespeare
Directed by: Grigori Kozintsev
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Russian with English subtitles
Running Time: 272
Date: 03/19/2013

The Kozintsev Collection: Hamlet & King Lear (2010)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Kings & Danes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Facets Video has released a two-disc box set of both Grigori Kozintsev's Shakespeare adaptations. Both are presented in gorgeous, black-and-white, widescreen transfers (though they are unfortunately not 16x9 enhanced). There are no extras on Hamlet, except for a very detailed, 24-page liner notes booklet. The King Lear disc comes with an interview with Peter Sellars, and a 16-page liner notes booklet.

Grigori Kozintsev's Russian production is sometimes said to be the essential screen adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet. I've seen four others (Laurence Olivier's 1948 version, Mel Gibson's 1990 version, Kenneth Branagh's 1996 version and Michael Almereyda's 2000 version) and I like all of them for various reasons. Each has its own unique high points and shortcomings, but Kozintsev's film is probably the most cohesive of the five. Its amazing, widescreen, black-and-white photography emphasizes deep, sharply-focused, cavernous backgrounds. Kozintsev uses his massive frame to impressive effect, such as during the "play" sequence; he places Hamlet, the king and the players in very specific physical relation to one another. And the impressive "to be or not to be" sequence is delivered by Hamlet in interior monologue while walking on the beach. In the lead role, Innokenti Smoktunovsky is certainly good at brooding, but he sometimes comes across as a bit sharp and impenetrable, instead of raging and sorrowful. He's probably the film's biggest drawback, but otherwise, it's very highly recommended. Since the film is in Russian with English subtitles, it helps if you're already slightly familiar with the play.

Kozintsev's final film, King Lear, is just as gorgeous as Hamlet, but I was at a slight disadvantage. I knew Hamlet well, but King Lear hardly at all, and it's tough for this particular film -- with constant subtitles -- to be an introduction to it.

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