Combustible Celluloid
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With: Innokenti Smoktunovsky, Mikhail Nazvanov, Elsa Radzina-Szolkonis, Yuri Tolubeyev, Anastasiya Vertinskaya, Vadim Medvedev, Vladimir Erenberg, Stepan Oleksenko, Igor Dmitriyev
Written by: Grigori Kozintsev, Boris Pasternak (translator), based on a play by William Shakespeare
Directed by: Grigori Kozintsev
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Russian with English subtitles
Running Time: 140
Date: 06/24/1964

Hamlet (1964)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

No Pain, No Dane

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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.

DVD Details: Facets Video has released the film on a 2006 DVD and it's one of their finest transfers yet. There are no extras, except for a very detailed, 24-page liner notes booklet. They have also released Kozintsev's King Lear, which was his final film. (He died in1973.)

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