Poor Poor Pavel (2003)

 “Everyone to hard labour in Siberia!”

poor-poor-pavelRussia had its share of despotic rulers, and the film Poor Poor Pavel examines the brief rule of Tsar Pavel I, son of Catherine the Great. In 1796, Catherine died, and at the age of 42, Pavel (Viktor Sukhorukov) became Tsar. Pavel ruled for a brief five years.

When the film begins, Pavel receives news that he’s now ascended to the throne, and it isn’t long before the volatile Pavel manages to rack up enemies. He immediately exiles the powerful Zubov family and all other “favourites and sycophants.” But the paranoid Pavel doesn’t stop there–he constantly suspects that his sons covet the throne, and even periodically places them under house arrest. Pavel unravels under the responsibilities of the state, but finds consolation in a private room that contains his cardboard models. While the Tsar’s family and most of the court frantically try to placate Pavel’s childish and explosive whims, Pavel discovers two favourites: Baron von Pahlen (Oleg Iankovskii) and a pert young girl who is the only other person capable of soothing Pavel’s fractured psyche.

While Pavel throws himself into the construction of the fantastic Mikhailovsky Castle, Baron (soon promoted to Count) von Pahlen becomes Pavel’s most trusted and intimate advisor, and the wily statesman discovers that such a trusted position puts him in the perfect place to plan a coup ….

The film’s splendid cinematography matches that of Russian Ark, and the film’s interior scenes place an emphasis on yellows and golds. Exterior scenes, naturally, depict the frozen harsh landscape, and whirling snow. While it’s tragic to conceive that a nation is under the thumb (yet again) of a despotic madman, the film also utilizes slices of black humour to emphasize the absurd. In one favourite scene, a man who’s been branded with the word ‘thief’ on his forehead confronts Pavel. A loyal manservant tries to comfort the hysterical Pavel by explaining that the case of a man who was branded but then found innocent was solved by simply branding the words ‘not a’ above the word ‘thief.’ This brief moment between the deranged monarch–and his loyal servant encapsulates Pavel’s rule. In the film’s enigmatic final scene, von Pahlen stresses that the end of the 18th century heralds in a change for Russia. This excellent film will particularly intrigue Russophiles. Directed by Vitali Melnikov Poor Poor Pavel is in Russian with English subtitles.

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Filed under Period Piece, Russian

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