Friday, March 11, 2011

Doctor Zhivago

To enjoy Doctor Zhivago (1965) as it deserves to be, you need to have time: 3 hours and 17 minutes is long.

Directed by David Lean, this is the story of Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif), a young doctor and poet, throughout the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, roughly between 1912 and 1923. Although married to Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin), his heart belongs to Lara (Julie Christie), who is herself married to a radical political activist. The story is told by Zhivago’s estranged brother Yevgraf (my very favourite Alec Guinness, Obi-Wan in the original Star Wars trilogy) to the suspected daughter of Lara and Yuri. It is based on the novel of the same name by Boris Pasternak .

Independently of the historical content, this is essentially a love story, with all the makings for the perfect drama: idealistic hero, a beautiful woman, the legitimate wife, the revolution, the villains. Sceneries are incredible, I particularly liked the opening scene in the steppe, near Mongolia – a place close to my heart ; towards the end of the movie, the ice-covered interior of the country house seemed like it came straight out of a fairy tale.

To note, a brief appearance of Klaus Kinsky, actor that I discovered recently, famous for his hate of journalists and numerous public outbursts:

I am the only free man on this train! And the rest of you are CATTLE


The exceptional actors and the beautiful soundtrack by Maurice Jarre make this movie a must. Julie Christie is gorgeous and close to perfection. Omar Sharif is amazing and credible as a young poet and doctor subjected to the revolution and trying to lead a normal life. Geraldine Chaplin is incredible as the loving, brave wife, perfectly aware her husband is in love with someone else, and accepting this is fate.


I found the scene with Lara’s husband, formerly a sweet idealistic turned cold-hearted general quite difficult, because of what it represents:

Pasha: I used to admire your poetry.

Zhivago: Thank you.

Pasha: I shouldn't admire it now. I should find it absurdly personal. Don't you agree? Feelings, insights, affections... it's suddenly trivial now. You don't agree; you're wrong. The personal life is dead in Russia. History has killed it. I can see why you might hate me.


Zhivago: It seems you've burnt the wrong village.

Pasha: They always say that, and what does it matter? A village betrays us, a village is burned. The point's made.

Zhivago: Your point - their village.


Incidentally, Peter O'Toole, star of Lawrence of Arabia, was director David Lean's original choice for Yuri Zhivago, but turned the part down; Max von Sydow (The Exorcist) and Paul Newman (Cool Hand Luke ) were also considered.

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