12 December 2008

Admiral Strikes Back

Like Hollywood, Russian movie industry has recently adopted to the strategy to capitalize on "a blockbuster for a season" strategy. Before were The Watch (Dozor) Trilogy (with the third part still missing) about vampires and larger-than-life figures dwelling in mud soaked streets of Moscow to save the Earth and the 9th Company (Devyata Rata) about the ill fated company in Soviet-Afghan War and now it is another flick that guarantees full theaters, The Admiral, is the latest "Big Russian Movie" and also features one of the most controversial characters in Russian/Soviet history.

If asked a mere two decades ago, Admiral Kolchak (or Aleksandr Vasiliyevich Kolchak) was the public enemy no:1 to nearly all soviet citizens since he was the supreme commander of the White Forces which were battling hard against the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War (1917-1923). Much hated as Hitler, he is now depicted as a man of honor, man of love and a cunning statesman who was deceived by French and Czechs to lose a winning war against the "evil" Bolsheviks in the movie "Admiral".

Supreme Ruler Kolchak, in his glory days

The movie starts with a shower of CGI graphics of a dog-fight between a Russian and a German war ships in the Baltic Sea in World War 1. Kolchak (a captain of a mine laying shipPogranichnik then) encounters a fleet of German battleships during a mine laying mission in the mists of Baltics falls outnumbered and outgunned and decides to save its ship and crew by trespassing the very mines he laid a scene before. He saves the day by trapping the battleship, destroying it and securing a promotion to Vice-Admiral, a career path that would make every navy man jealous. He, a young sodier married with a kid boy, not only show provess in the battlefield but also in the ball room romances where he lays his eyes on the beautiful wife of a fellow officer, Anna Timireva, destroying both marriages with deadly consequences to follow.

Konstantine Khabensky, the actor of Russian Blockbusters, portrays Kolchak

Marriages and champagne glasses are not the only things shattered through that period where the Russian Revolution takes place. The Tsar who himself promoted him as the commander of Black Sea Fleet (where he was planning an invasion to Istanbul that would fail beacuse of the revolution) abdicates and the army falls into a bloody revolt where officers are slaughtered just for being "officers". The film shows the revolutionaries as savage brutes in direct contradiction to the soviet films where the same men were patriotic communists that saved the country from a doomed end.

Kolchak, now an admiral without a fleet, sends his family to Paris where his wife, Sofia, ekes out a living by sewing and he still keeps an intimate distance relationship with Anna through mail while he is abroad trying to get support. He returns to Russia and leads a band of troops to oppose the Red Army in the vast steppes of Siberia to a battle of death. He is supported by British, American and French governments and even comes to a deadlock against the communists to think of a march to Moscow.

As events roll, Kolchak loses against the endless Red hordes and starts a retreating journey back to Irkutsk (East Siberia) through the Transsiberian railway and hopes to join with the White infantry still loose in Siberia. Anna joins the cause by leaving his husband (the naval officer/friend of Kolchak and now a devoted communist) and she works as a nurse and an accomplice to Kolchak. Although she keeps a distance to him, she later joins the relative luxury and warmth of the commanding wagon and the later scenes are a bit like leeched from a boring Shakepearean act of love making.

Kolchak, before he was shot by the communists

The White Troops make a deadly breakout to Irkutsk on foot (The Siberian Ice March) but fail to keep up with Kolchak and the Czech troops (commanded by a French General) entrusted by Kolchak to guard the railway and keep it open to Irkutsk defect from their cause by the promise of the Tsar's Gold* and hand over Kolchak to the Red Army. They are imprisoned and anxiously await for the doomed White Army for a rescue. Eventually, the evil reds execute Kolchak and push his corpse into a cross-shaped ice opening in the nearby river (logical beause it must have been hard to dig a hole in frozen ground).

Anna is later seen in a scene in the Mosfilm (the Communist Hollywood) studio where the ball room scene is reenacted in a movie where Kolchak would be the arch nemessis.
The film is supported by the Ministry of Culture of Russia and portrays a flood of Russian tri-color flags, priests and a loving figure of a dictator who has lived a not so enviable afterlife in the Soviet Union. He was ,after all, a great leader and a dictator that would rally an army and a lot of supporters against an equally authocratic and cruel regime and has been a prey in the history that is written by the victors. If the Whites had won, we could have seen his statues everywhere (just like Lenin)...vae victis.
There is also a scene in the film where he flirts with Anna and this dialogue takes place:
Kolchak: And why did your grandmother call you a Shelkova cossack?
Anna: Because I am a Shelkova woman.Our Cossacks married Turkish women.
Kolchak: I have Turkish blood too.
Anna: So, let's drink to the Turks!
Kolchak: With pleasure.
I didn't know that Kolchak had Turkish blood...but we have our own Kolchak's

Harun and Esref Kolchak, singer and actor

Maybe they are related...

*Boring Information: The Czech Legion is rumored to have shared the Tsar's Gold Treausure with the Communists as their reward for Kolchak and brought back with them to the newly formed country of Czechoslovakia. You can still see their "bank" Legiobanka in Prague. Check the building closely and you can find the wall art about the heroic deeds of the Legion.


Ulas Ergin said...

I liked the movie very much

Anonymous said...

Kolchak had Crimean Tatar blood in him, his last name comes from kholchak meaning 'glove' in Crimean.

good movie though, I researched that after seeing it ;)