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Doctor Zhivago
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by Slyder

"An epic classic"
5 stars

Ever since his classic Bridge on the River Kwai, David Lean had been constantly trying to one-up himself, he did with the masterful Lawrence of Arabia, where in my opinion his perfectionist vision was at its most complete. But he tried to one-up himself again with Boris Pasternak’s 592 page classic. The result, Doctor Zhivago is a huge film of epic proportions, even if shows a few signs of overindulgence and unevenness.

Describing the plot of an epic movie such as this one is very difficult since it’s so overwhelming to me when it comes to epic films like this one. Let’s just lay the bare-bones: On one hand you have Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif) who is a practicing doctor in czarist Russia, and is in love with his longtime friend Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin) ever since her parents (one of them being Ralph Richardson) took him under their wing when his mother died a long time ago. On the other hand you have Lara (Julie Christie) a young school girl who is in love with wannabe Bolshevik Pasha Antivop (Tom Courtenay) but gets involved in a disastrous fling with protégé Victor Komarovsky (Rod Steiger) that nearly ends the relationship. But then World War I arrives, and with it also comes the Russian Revolution, and while Pasha is lost during the war (only to come back with another name as the ruthless commander Strelnikov), Lara and Zhivago meet at the front, and from then on they would fall in love. The rest, I leave it to you.

Lean’s epic vision is in full throttle even though he kind of forgot to fasten his seatbelt. The film contains everything an epic, or should I say romantic epic should have. Epic landscapes of the snow-covered Russian ground courtesy of Freddie Young; an increasingly complex love triangle set during one of the most important and bloody events in the past century. Since the USSR was unavailable for filming for obvious reasons, production was staged in Spain and Finland and made quite an impressive imaging for Russia. Maurice Jarre once again gives us quite a memorable score, especially for the already mentioned “Lara’s Theme.” Every aspect of the film is meticulously crafted, even the screenplay that it’s quite a movie to watch. Every single scene is full of information both in the foreground and in the background; it’s like watching a big moving richly colored tapestry. That’s why epic films like this are so unique.

There are a couple of flaws since some of the decorations in the Varykino ice palace don’t come off as good as one would like and it looks more like wax rather than snow and Lean at times overdoes it with those yellow sunflowers (If I ever see something fucking yellow again…!). The second bitch is that the screenplay written by Robert Bolt is at times very uneven. Pasternak’s novel was more of a critique of the communist society with Zhivago’s story guiding us along the entire issues that Pasternak criticizes (one of the reasons why the novel was banned in the USSR). Lean and Bolt decided though, to focus on the love story rather than the political background, and that causes several scenes which are highly political to end up very rushed, with almost no political background of why they happened. Two key characters, Komarovsky who represents the whole glamour and excess of Czarist Russia and Antipov/Srelnikov who represents the extremism and blind fanaticism and patriotism of Soviet Russia add much needed political weight into their respective fields yet they don’t successfully fill the gray areas which lie between both mentalities. I assume that the character of Yevgraf Zhivago (Alec Guinness) is there to try and fill the gray areas which involve a lot of the political movements which were unraveling at that time during the Russian Revolution (not to mention he plays an important role in the whole story). He achieves in explaining several aspects but other facts are left in question with no explanation whatsoever. Despite the flaws though, the film manages to soldier on, and the goods outweigh the bads by a boat length since it takes little away from its dramatic impact; overall, a very impressive piece of work by Lean.

The acting is great, though at times their performances seem overwhelmed by the huge immensity of the story and production values themselves. Omar Sharif is surprisingly great as Zhivago considering the fact that Sharif is Egyptian and is impersonating a Russian! Julie Christie is also great as Lara though at times she’s somewhat stiff. Geraldine Chaplin does also great job as Tonya not to mention she’s pretty hot. Rod Steiger and Tom Courtenay though, they mop the floor with these people, and nearly walk away with the whole movie, especially Courtenay who is absolute dynamite and steals every scene he’s in; a performance which earned him a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. Ralph Richardson is also memorable in my view since his performance symbolizes the heyday of classical acting which by then had now been pretty much overrun by the innovative “method” acting.

In the end, this immense and immensely overwhelming epic has to be seen. Despite a couple of patches, it deserves to be amongst the greatest films ever made. It’s simply a true work of art from a master director who at that time was at the peak of its powers. Unfortunately, it also signified an end of an era for Lean since he would fall gently into self-indulgence and unevenness with his next film, Ryan’s Daughter; a fall from grace which caused Lean to retire for 14 years until his next (and ultimately last) film. 5-5

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=6842&reviewer=235
originally posted: 10/16/04 14:23:24
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User Comments

9/12/15 Anne I struggled thru 1 1/2 hours and I love drama, romance, just bored with it 2 stars
1/06/13 Martel732 Romance epic about the dawn of Totalitarian Communist Russia.25 million murdered.FUCK YOU 1 stars
8/08/10 Mark Overrated but pretty 3 stars
5/12/09 Old guy We (if you were a real man)all fell in love with Julie Christie in 1965. She stole my heart 5 stars
1/03/08 smadger Without historical background knowledge, the film becomes just another love story. 3 stars
11/13/07 Jack Sommersby Too stagey and emotionally hollow. 2 stars
10/18/07 Booker Muy buena Pelicula 5 stars
2/20/07 action movie fan the good films of 1965 were thunderball,mister moses, who kiled teddy bear not this 1 stars
11/18/05 Michael Very real sense of the times ... but low, low morals. 2 stars
10/22/04 Denise great 5 stars
10/18/04 Al Guy A part of our culture. Should be required viewing. 5 stars
8/10/04 Nikolai Not Russian music and if Lena is Russian I am Tatar. Western film 4 stars
11/28/03 john best love story ever - brilliantly directed and try not to hum the theme for a week 5 stars
5/22/03 Biff Boffo Not the most A.D.D.-friendly films ever created, but amongst the best cinematography ! 4 stars
5/05/03 Dave More streamlined and focused than the recent ITV version. Lean's very best film. 5 stars
3/19/03 Hi there One of Lean's best movies. 5 stars
3/02/03 R.W. Welch Grand scale Russian epic; good but paced a shade slow. 4 stars
1/16/03 rotten s. milk Another David Lean masterpiece. 5 stars
1/13/03 Charles Tatum Lean was so good 5 stars
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  22-Dec-1965 (PG-13)
  DVD: 04-May-2010



Directed by
  David Lean

Written by
  Robert Bolt

  Omar Sharif
  Julie Christie
  Geraldine Chaplin
  Rod Steiger
  Alec Guinness
  Tom Courtenay

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