Customer Review

20 of 35 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Bad, can't be worse, August 27, 2007
This review is from: The Master and Margarita / Master i Margarita (3 DVD SET, ENGLISH SUBTITLES) (DVD)
First and foremost, the director (Bortko) misinterpreted Bulgakov. And I don't buy this matter-of-interpretation argument here. If a composer wrote his piece to be played forte, you can't play it piano. If a writer wrote his novel with humor, you should not be crying over it. Before the film, I have never suspected that Bulgakov's novels can be interpreted as "sad." His humor and satire were legendary. When you read his contemporaries, you see something like, "Bulgakov read from his new novel. Everyone laughed." It applies to most of his novels (his first novel, "The White Guard" is the only exception). One's supposed to laugh while reading Bulgakov. Bortko did the opposite in both his "Heart of a Dog" and "Master and Margarita" - both films are depressing.

Furthermore, his selection of actors is horrible. Woland must be a man "a little over forty," not 71 (Basilashvili). Kirill Lavrov (80 at the time) who plays Pontius Pilate, sure looks like an 80-year old. "...with the shuffling gait of a cavalryman... there came out ... the procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate." Note, not the shuffling gait of a social security recipient, but a cavalryman, a big difference. Koroviev is horrible. Instead of a young, dynamic, energetic jester, Abdulov, 52, plays a stupid, grandiloquent jerk.

The costumes and the set are cheap and bad. Just look at Margarita's attire at the ball - a hybrid of a chastity belt and Amazon's armor. And the Cat!!! An actor wearing a cat's mask! That's 21st century cinema alright!

Lots of scenes omotted. And lots of director's own (to compensate for the omitted ones?) The most ridiculous is the lecture at the end. Just wondering where did this strange military man resembling Beria come from? Besides, too much of NKVD (the forerunner of the KGB) officers in full uniform. Bulgakov never even uses this acronym in his novel; it's always a hint, always implied. Here - "At around four o'clock on that hot day, a big company of men in civilian clothes got out of three cars a short distance from no.502-bis on Sadovaya Street."

So is it really "respectful, thoughtful and as close to the spirit of the greatest Russian novel of the last century as possible?"

Those are just a few blunders to mention. I don't remember all the lapses, and I don't want to watch it again just for that purpose.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 13, 2009 6:55:43 PM PDT
JFW says:
This review shows how people can hold wildly divergent opinions. I loved the film and thought it was true to the spirit of the book. It's funny that I seem to have loved exactly those things that this reviewer found lacking.

I don't think it would have been possible to re-create, for today's viewers, the atmosphere of absolute terror that permeated Moscow during those years. That would have to be another series, with at least as many episodes as this. Further, the novel's satire that was directed against Stalinism and the NKVD and those dark years -- that satire had to be subtly semi-concealed in the subtext of the manuscript, for the most part (as it was in many works created during those dark years). I doubt that a young Russian reader today would be able to catch it all, and there would be little chance that a non-Russian would catch any of it.

I am reminded of Woody Allen. His early films used to be extremely funny for us Americans; yet, people in other countries just "didn't get it." I saw that film with Joseph Brodsky. Not one smile even. The humor was for Americans, not foreigners, not even Russians (even though it was about Russian literature).

I found the role of Woland to be absolutely compelling even though, yes, it differed from the book, but what movie can portray all the nuances and all the details of a book? The fact that the actor was a sex symbol for decades adds to his appeal as Woland. Koroviev (rest his soul!), I thought, was perfect. I enjoyed Behemoth the cat -- I thought it was a great, funny rendering of the character.

I felt that the special effects were amazing, without getting in the way of the story, as often happens in American films. The Variety Theater scenes were perfectly portrayed, in my opinion.

Yes, the English subtitles were downright embarrassing at times. In no way did they measure up to the quality of the series. Too bad.

I've read the book at least 24 times. I taught it at last a dozen times. I was lucky to see a stage rendering of the novel at Moscow's Taganka Theater in the early 1980s. I never would have imagined that any movie or TV series could capture the spirit of this absolutely complex, multi-layered book. I say "Bravo!" I tip my proverbial hat to all those who worked in the creation of this masterpiece.

Posted on Sep 9, 2009 7:48:33 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 9, 2009 7:55:38 PM PDT
I read the novel three times. In early teens I found it humorous. The second time it seemed sad. The third time it seemed calm and wise. So I cannot complain about the director misinterpreting the overall tone of the novel. I actually found it very well balanced.

This review is correct at pointing out specific deviations from the book. I agree that it is not an entirely faithful re-telling of the original story. I do not think the deviations were accepted lightly by the director. Where they work, they will uncover some new nuances. Where they do not, they are indeed irritating. Talking to my friends, it seems, almost everybody had something to praise and something to complain about. I personally did not mind the cat, Woland (I thought he was great) or Pontius Pilate. I saw some scenes with KGB offices as illustrations of what *perhaps* Bulgakov may have wanted to describe, but could not. My main personal dislikes are Korovyev in his jester incarnation and Margarita.

I think, most harsh critics fail to grasp the reality, the enormousity of director's task in every single aspect of it: the play, casting, translating things void of physical manifestations into something visible (Margarita at the ball), and making it all work for a diverse audience, with each viewer having their own idea of what the original novel and characters therein are about. I do not like at all the portrayal of Margarita. I wish they casted someone super-talented, who would be the right age, the right appearance, who would feel comfortable being filmed naked a lot and whose naked appearance would fit the overall visual setup... How long would the list candidates be?

This miniseries is not great, but I think it is close to the best humanly possible to produce.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 10, 2009 3:15:25 PM PDT
JFW says:
It is interesting how much people's opinions can vary.

I thought the character of Margarita was perfectly done, for a most difficult role. She had to appear coquettish at times, a love-sick woman at other times, and a witch too. I liked all the actress did with that. I regret that some of her scenes in the book were deleted, such as right after she wrecks Latunsky's apartment, when she stops to comfort a little boy.

Re the cat, one Bulgakov museum ( I don't recall which) has a representation of a cat at its entrance. I don't recall whether it's a sculpture or a mosaic or a painting, but the cat very much resembles the Behemoth in the film.

I would call it a great, great film that does the impossible and brings the novel to life. This does not mean there are no flaws. Yet, the film catches an unbelievable number of the book's many nuances -- humor, satire, sadness, philosophical contemplation, and it conveys a subtle, often indirect portrayal of the terror of the times (as was done in the book, no doubt because of the author's "internal censorship").

Thanks for reading.

Posted on Nov 29, 2014 10:19:11 AM PST
Sarai says:
Are you a russian speaker? I am and I've read the original twice in my life. I've seen the movie in original language as well and can assure you the movie matches the book. It would be difficult to film it better.
At the same time I've read the english version of the book and it was misinterpreted. I did not enjoy the reading at all.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 29, 2014 1:10:17 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 29, 2014 1:16:16 PM PST
JFW says:
I speak Russian but my first language is English. Poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko said that translations are like mistresses: Beautiful and unfaithful, or ugly and faithful. (Pardon the sexism). I agree with what Sarai wrote about the English translations. None is perfect. There are too many nuances and subtle references that cannot be translated. This film caught as many as it could, but a few were missed there as well. I've never seen a movie based on a book that is as beautiful and faithful as this one.
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