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The Idiot

At the Brattle through Saturday

What happened to Dostoevsky's four part masterpiece shouldn't happen to an idiot. First Director Ivan Pyriev and his collaborators at Mosfilm Studios decided to cut the last three-fourths of the novel. Next they relieved Prince Myshkin of his epilepsy, replacing it with a halo. To complete the transformation they added an exaggeratedly romantic, musical score, and put grease on the actors' faces (to make them look involved), and used a color technique that turned flesh into the inside of an orange peel.

With little of Dostoevsky left but the bitter attack on the aristocracy and the melodramatic plot, the film becomes an educational experience, if one happens to be curious about the kind of aristocracy that provokes revolutions.

Nonetheless, the melodrama is great. In rapid succession come plotting, secret messages, angry confrontations, unruly mobs, public confessions, and sledge rides through the Petersburg snow. Through all this, Prince Myshkin appears as a bewildered innocent whose honesty creates more difficulties than it resolves. With the balance tipped so heavily in favor of overdone lavishness the potentially moving utterances of Dostoevsky's Christ sound bizarre and ungenuine.

In several scenes, bottles of Hennessey's three-star appear as props; this should come as no surprise, for the Hollywood (sans slickness) quality of The Idiot is evidently its most salient feature. The Soviets have imitated American bombs in the past; hopefully The Idiot will prove the last to be dropped on Cambridge.

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