The Captivating Star of Happiness (1975)

“It’s too late to turn back.”

The film The Captivating Star of Happiness is the background story of the Decembrists–the mainly military conspirators who plotted to overthrow Czar Nikolai I in December 1825. The plot failed miserably, and the Czar rounded up the conspirators for either execution or exile. The film–which states that it’s dedicated to the “women of Russia” chooses to focus on the relationships between the conspirators and the women in their lives. Some of the wives did not accompany their exiled husbands to the frozen Siberia tundra–while others made tremendous sacrifices to be with their husbands.

The film is episodic, and the identity of many of the characters is vague, so it helps if you know a little bit of the background to this particular period in history. The film begins with Volkonsky (Oleg Strizhenov) burning letters after the plot’s failure, aware that arrest is imminent and that he may be executed for his actions. The film then goes back in time to show several of the conspirators as they plot the assassination of the Tsar, and the men are seen with the various women in their lives.  The idea of the Northern and Southern Societies is mentioned, and the assassination of Count Mikhail Miloradovich in the Senate Square is also depicted. Even so, it’s still confusing in parts as some characters are not identified, and the film goes back and forth in time so it’s best to come to the film with some information about the story beforehand.

Most of the story concentrates on Volkonsky and his wife, but another large slice of the film is devoted to a young army officer and his French lover, Pauline. While their match would have been impossible before his arrest and exile, the fact that he’s stripped of his rank and shipped out to exile makes marriage possible yet a tremendous hardship for the frivolous Frenchwoman who’s ready to sacrifice all to be with the man she loves. Some scenes depict the utterly ridiculous decadence of the gentry when Pauline attempts to persuade her captured lover’s mother to help him escape. The mother is a member of the nobility and quite potty–dressing up her servants and making them enact plays for her amusement.

The scenery is gorgeous (reminds me of parts of The Russian Ark)–snow covered landscapes, and splendid mansions with glowing lights. Russophiles should seek the film out, and it’s certainly interesting for anyone interested in 19th century Russian history. Directed by Vladimir Motyl, The Captivating Star of Happiness is in Russian with English subtitles.

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Filed under Period Piece, Soviet

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