Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Honourable Mention: The Master and Margarita (2005)

Regular readers will know that I only recently discovered the marvellous novel the Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov. Since then I have looked out for the visual adaptations. I have watched the 1972 Yugoslavian adaptation – a marvellous film, though it did change the narrative structure and made some idiosyncratic changes. It did not, however, keep the character of Hella in the film.

This was a Russian mini-series directed by Vladimir Bortko and it does, indeed, keep the Hella character intact within the story – though she is renamed as Gella (Tanya Yu). The character loses the scar to her neck but is most definitely a vampire as we will see. A couple of other vampires are mentioned in passing.

Oleg Basilashvili as Woland
The mini-series is incredibly faithful to the book – though there are changes such as new police characters added – so suffice it to say that it follows the chaos and misfortunes meted out on the citizens of Stalin’s Moscow when the devil – under the name Woland (Oleg Basilashvili) – visits. His purpose is to throw his annual ball and due to quirks of fate, and her name, Margarita (Anna Kovalchuk) becomes Queen of the ball. She is a melancholy woman as her lover, an author referred to only as the Master (Aleksandr Galibin), is missing. He, in turn, is in a psychiatric unit – ill due to the attacks on him, by the art establishment, because of his novel about the life of Pontius Pilate (Kirill Lavrov).

Anna Kovalchuk as Margarita
The story flips between Pilate’s story – and the trial and execution of Ieshua Ha-Notsri (Sergey Bezrukov) – told both by Woland and through the Master’s story, and the events in Moscow. The series uses the technique of being primarily in a washed through black and white (which allows footage contemporary to the series to be added in) moving into colour at opportune times in the story (all of the Jerusalem scenes are in colour and much of the more supernatural moments in Moscow).

kissing Varenukha
So to Gella. Gella is an often naked vampire and part of Woland’s entourage. We see her in vampiric action when  Woland and company arrange to give a black magic demonstration at a theatre and subsequently confound, confuse and terrorise the theatre management. Having been warned not to go to the authorities, she attacks the disobedient Varenukha (Andrey Sharkov). In the book it says she offers him a kiss. In this it is confirmed that the kiss is a bite, when we see her at his neck.

When we next see Varenukha, he is a vampire and he and Gella are threatening theatre manager Rimsky (Ilya Oleynikov). The sfx do not stretch far enough to include her elongating rotten arm or her rotting breast in this scene but Varenukha does have fangs. The pair are foiled by a cockcrow and have to flee with Rimsky unharmed. I mentioned other vampires and there are two very fleetingly. Woland’s primary Lieutenant Koroviev (Aleksandr Abdulov) is introducing the guests at Satan’s Ball to Margarita. The final two are a pair of drunken vampires. The book's scene with Margarita showering in reviving blood is one of the few elements that the series actually missed.

Woland and his entourage
The series seems to have divided folks online but I really enjoyed it. There was a quality that made it feel more like a 1970s production than 2005 and thus some of the more clunky sfx were entirely forgivable. I have seen criticism of the region 1 subtitles – ranging from them being literal translations (I wouldn’t say they were quite that, but they were obviously not done by someone whose first language was English) to them being completely unintelligible. The latter is not true at all, they made sense but were somewhat verbose at times (with multiple lines on the screen) and were a heartbeat out of sync. Nothing that can’t be lived with, however.

Tanya Yu as Gella
So, our vampires make a fleeting visitation. Like the novel’s Hella, Gella is forgotten about following Varenukha pleading with Woland to make him human again and the reuniting of the two lovers. As such she doesn’t leave our mortal realm when Woland’s entourage goes. However this is a great adaptation, in my view, and worth watching. Perhaps not as slick as a US series but worth your time.

The imdb page is here.

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