THE KARAMAZOVS (Petr Zelenka, 2008)

Sigmund Freud, no less, considered Dostoievski’s The Brothers Karamazov (1880) the greatest novel ever written; and, while numerous books and essays of his refer to it, it is a focus of his 1928 article “Dostoievski and Parricide,” and his speculative masterpiece about the origin of culture, Totem and Taboo (1913), reeks of it. Modeled on Dostoievski’s own father, the novel’s Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov is more than a monstrous father; rather, he is Father-as-Monster, implicating various forms of patriarchal tyranny. In Kamarazovi, the initially striking film adaptation from the Czech Republic, the four sons, by defining themselves in reaction to their father, express filmmaker Petr Zelenka’s disenchantment with democracy, a political system whose myth opposes patriarchal tyranny but whose reality reconfigures this and is all the worse for hiding its patriarchal roots. The three “democratized” countries involved—Russia, the Czech Republic, Poland—suggest the scope of the living stage of Zelenka’s political disillusionment despite all absence of nostalgia for Communist rule. A theatrical troupe from Prague has traveled to Krakow to rehearse Evald Schorm’s updated stage version of the novel inside a steel factory. (If we count Germany, which once owned and operated the factory, we have as many democratized countries implicated in the setting and action as Fyodor Pavlovich has sons.) Throughout rehearsals, the tensions among actors and the director reflect the turbulence of the novel and the play, and life and art spill over into each other. Finally, the sound of an actual discharged bullet rips through the factory; outside, a bloody corpse lies on the rain-puddled ground. The film concludes with a grim, gray long-shot in which troupe members are scattered within the frame. They are walking away from the factory; but where are they headed? Democracy has delivered no future for anyone.

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