THE RIDER NAMED DEATH (Karen Shakhnazarov, 2004)

“Terrorism is the triumph of the individual over the State.”
     Karen Shakhnazarov’s The Rider Named Death (Vsadnik po imeni Smert), from the novel that Boris Savinkov (Andrei Panin, excellent) based on his own experiences as the leader of a Socialist Revolutionary Party activist cell in 1905 Russia, concerns their terrorist activities in anticipation of the Bolshevik Revolution. What a bewitching film this is—one to whose assassination scenes the most agonizing slow motion I have seen is applied.
     One of the film’s finest aspects is its unearthing of a variety of motives for individuals to participate in a terrorist organization. But, above all, its fascination lies in the members’ interior conflicts—ambivalences of which even some of those racked by them aren’t conscious.
     The first half of this film proceeds by scenes; the second half, by shots. If you have had trouble explaining the difference to someone, this is the film you can use in order to experience a pedagogical breakthrough.
     Shakhnazarov has been making films for thirty years. This is the first one I have seen, however. His ability to project the fog of violence by creating a space pitched halfway between dream and reality is yet another of his accomplishments here.

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