Doctor Zhivago (1965)

I’M BACK!

It has been a hell period for the past 2 weeks. I basically went back to school everyday, even during the weekends to rush projects. And we stayed till pretty late a couple of times too, like past midnight once. Of course, the school term isn’t over and I still have my finals, and yet the exams seem so trivial in comparison to all these major presentations and group reports submissions. I basically cleared 3 major presentations this week and submitted 2 reports, and yeah, lost a lot of sleep. It wasn’t so much of rushing to meet deadlines since I’m not someone who do things last minute, but the constant anxiety about whether our presentation is going to be fine, and the need to memorise 3 different scripts for 3 different presentations that just kept me tossing and turning in bed. I’ve been having pretty bad headaches too. Yeah. Well, I still have a minor presentation next week and another group report 2 weeks later but things have definitely eased up. A lot. I’m just so happy because I don’t need to GO BACK TO SCHOOL TOMORROW (and this weekend)! Just one day of not needing to smell the SMU corridors makes me so happy.

I know school is supposed to be important, but this right now...is the face of EVIL.

I know school is supposed to be important, but this right now…is the face of evil.

I was contemplating whether to do a reflection post about school, but I’ve decided to do that when this semester is really over. like with finals over and results released etc. It feels so strange to be talking about life and all after doing all these movie posts. Then again, this blog has always been intended to be an outlet for my insights on life, and since I’m a movie fanatic…well, it basically revolves around that.

Let’s talk about something fun, shall we?

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Please understand that I watched this 3 weeks ago so I’m really writing based on what I can recall.

Doctor Zhivago (1965) tells the love story of a russian doctor (played by Omar Sharif) and the wife of a political activist (played by Julie Christie) during the Bolshevik Revolution.

I’ve read some pretty negative reviews for the movie, and also some genuinely positive ones, who even say that this movie should have won the best picture Oscar over The Sound of Music. On a whole, I really loved the film, but I wouldn’t say that it’s on a masterpiece level and hence “robbed” of that award (The Sound of Music is guilty pleasure). I loved the technical aspects the most actually. I know this sounds silly, but it really made the film such a magnificent and romantic experience (which is understandably what some people hate about it). The score is easily my favourite part. Haha, I never knew that “Somewhere My Love” actually came from this movie! I mean, it’s such an iconic tune that’s frequently used in commercials and yet I never wondered where it came from. Of course, the cinematography is breathtaking as well, especially the shots of Yuri trudging through the snow, which were both harrowing and beautiful at the same time. I think David Lean’s direction was pretty great, although I think his work is Lawrence of Arabia was better. While the overall tone of the film is skewed towards romantic, he really constructed an intense and claustrophobic atmosphere in some scenes, such as when Yuri and his family were cramped into the train, and when he was being interrogated by “Stelnikov”.

The acting was also top-notch. Omar Sharif’s casting is a bit strange since I wouldn’t have considered him “russian looking”, but his acting was really great. Unlike Peter O’ Toole  in Lawrence of Arabia, Sharif’s performance is one that mostly reacts to his characer’s circumstances, and yet he managed to say so much about his character with his eyes. It’s a quiet performance, yet everything comes so naturally and subtly from him, pretty much like how his character subtly expresses his views in the poems he wrote. I thought he portrayed the character’s flaws very convincingly as well, like how his infidelity towards his wife was something that happened “naturally” instead of a conscious choice. Julie Christie was also great (a compensation for my not so kind review of her performance in Shampoo). She actually won the Oscar for her performance in Darling the same year, but I thought this performance was equally strong. Her beauty really helped in bringing out the mysterious and alluring qualities of the character, but she also effectively used her emotions to portray Lara’s confusion and self-doubt about how “naive” and “innocent” she really is. (Her expression after the “rape” scene says a lot). The 2 supporting performances that really stood out for me were by Rod Steiger and Tom Courtenay. Tom Courtenay was (deservedly) nominated for his chilling performance as Stelnikov, and I thought he did a fantastic job in showing how the character  naturally changed from being a passionate man driven by his ideals to a cold-hearted monster despite his brief screen time.  However, it was really Rod Steiger who stuck out as the initially charming Komarovsky who seemed so intelligent and in control of the situation at first, but turned out to be a slimy bastard and loser in the end. I really loved his performance, it was brilliant.

The problem I had with the film is actually pretty much consistent with the criticisms, but I must add that it didn’t bother me as much. I just didn’t find the love story between Yuri and Lara extremely convincing, even though I know it constitutes the second half of the entire film. I believed that the writing played a part…the earlier scenes where they were working today seem to portray them more of as “close friends” rather than lovers, so it made the reunification later seem so strange because they immediately slept together. Yes, I praised their acting but I didn’t find the chemistry between the 2 actors very strong. In fact, I thought the love story between Yuri and his wife Tonya (played excellently by Geraldine Chaplin) was even more subtle, heartbreaking and beautiful.

So overall, Doctor Zhivago is a really grand epic that I wouldn’t mind re-watching despite its long screen time. I think Lawrence of Arabia was still Lean’s better film, but this one was pretty magnificent in its own right. 4.5/5.

**

Performance of the week: Beatrice Straight in Network (1976)

This is something that I’m going to try out. Every week, I’m going to try scouring for some performances (not necessarily Oscar nominated/winners) that were considered iconic and fantastic, but somewhat forgotten. I don’t know how disciplined I will be in maintaining this, but I think it will be fun. 🙂

So today, I will be talking about Beatrice Straight’s Oscar winning performance in the movie Network. Network is a very iconic, and I would even say relevant film in today’s context. It’s damn crazy sometimes, and the dialogue can really go over the top, like the very famous and iconic “I’m mad as hell…!” scene (which some consider off-putting), but I actually think that’s the point of it. It’s meant to be a satire that provides a highly exaggerated and critical portrayal of the power and influence of television. Some of the performances are really brilliant, such as the 2 leading ones by Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch (both Oscar Winning).

At 5 minutes 40 seconds, Straight’s performance is easily the shortest winner of the supporting actress category. I’m not going to go into whether she truly deserved the Oscar or not over  Piper Laurie and Jodie Foster, but let me just say that this performance is a true acting master class. She only has one scene of dialogue, but the range of emotions she conveys here is just mind-blowing. The initial disbelief, to the angry outburst (“Then GET OUT!” “I’m your WIFE damn it!”), to the overwhelming pain and sadness (“I hurt, don’t you understand that? I hurt badly!”), and finally when she calms down (“I won’t give you up easily Max”). Just…oh my goodness. All so naturally too, I might add. It was like watching a real human being instead of a scripted character, and the pain unfolding in front of you is so palpable that I’m just blown away. I’ve re-watched this clip many times (it’s basically the bulk of her performance) but it never grows old for me.

Easily one of my favourite winner in this category.

 

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