LERMONTOV ON SCREEN:
How cute and winsome can you get?!!
This charming little film is clearly a fan-project: Nikolai Burlyaev wrote, directed and starred as Misha, with his own son playing him as a child. It makes good use of historical locations and the subject's paintings. It's almost too Romantic for words: handsome young officers in braided uniforms, elegant belles, scheming courtiers, sword-fights, pistol duels, court balls, battles in the Kavkaz, and sizeable chunks of Mikhail's writings (especially his declaiming 'The Poet's Death' after Pushkin's demise).
I want that jacket and pelisse!
Burlyaev, despite being 13-14 years older than Misha ever lived to be, looks the part: small and cute, with expressive dark eyes. He's sparky and dashing in the action scenes, and impassioned and sensitive in quieter moments. Being a Soviet-era production, the tone is rather reverential, so we don't see his irritating spoilt brat tendencies in action. However, that has never stopped the real Misha bringing out my h/c complex, so when the wee laddie gets wounded in a duel with a Frenchman (an excellent scene: they start off with swords, then move on to pistols!), yours truly wants to try her "Let me through, I'm a doctor!" routine...
OK, where's my First Aid kit...?
The rest of the cast is good, too. Varvara Lopukhina, who broke the young poet's heart, is played by the exquisite Galina Belyaeva. The former dancer Maris Liepa plays Nikolai I. And it was nice to see Boris Plotnikov (a fine actor, wasted as an unbelievably geeky Alyosha in the ghastly Peter the Great TV series) in a cameo role as Yurii, Misha's father, whom his grandmother banished from his life.
Starry, starry night...
There are some scenes of startling beauty, based on Misha's paintings. On the night before his death, we see him looking up at the stars - a scene which, of course, evokes his poem Alone I Walk Beneath the Stars. Yes, the effect is obviously a painting, but that's the point: it's his vision that surrounds him. It's stunning.
Typically for the Soviet era, the film suggests that court machinations, rather than simply Misha's unbridled sarcasm, lay behind his fatal duel: an 'Unknown Man' is shown lurking around and inciting the dandified Nikolai 'Monkey' Martynov. At least we get the classic exchange:
Martynov: I've told you before not to make your wisecracks, especially when there are ladies present!
Lermontov: Why, what are you going to do about it, challenge me to a duel or something?
- although not the famous last words: "I'm not going to fire at that idiot!" (The moral of the story is surely never to call someone an idiot when he has a loaded pistol.)
More sensible shirt-colour for duelling
But this is a delightful film, and even without subtitles is a pleasing introduction to the life and work of a great Russian Romantic.
Manuscripts don't burn...