Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Den første kreds / The First Circle

Der erste Kreis der Hölle / [Ensimmäinen piiri] / Den första kretsen. DK/DE © 1972 Paramount Pictures Corporation. Year of release: 1973 [New York release: 12 January 1973]. PC: Lanterna AB / Tele-Cine. EX: Zvi Kolitz. P: Mogens Skot-Hansen. D+SC: Aleksander Ford – based on the novel  V pervom krugu (1968, translated into Finnish by Esa Adrian / Tammi, 1970) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. DP: Wladyslaw Forbert. AD: Anatol-Razinowicz-Radson, Viggo Bentzon. Cost: Birthe Madsen, Inga Hedal. Makeup: Ruth Mahler. M: Roman Palester – perf. The Royal Orchestra of Copenhagen. Electronical music and sound: Roman Palester, Knud Kristensen. S: Knud Kristensen.  ED: Carl Lerner. C: Gunther Malzacher (Gleb Nerzhin), Elzbieta Czyzewska (Simotshka / Simochka), Peter Steen (Volodin), Vera Chekova (Clara), Ole Ernst (Ruska Doronin), Ingolf David (Rubin), Preben Neergaard (Bobynin), Preben Lerdorff Rye (prof. Tshelnov), Per Bentzon Goldschmidt (Bulatov), Ole Ishøy (Siromaha). Shot in Denmark. Language: English. Not released in Finland. 2735 m / 100 min. A vintage SFI print with Swedish subtitles by Torsten Manns viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (The Gulag Archipelago), 21 August 2012.

The film adaptation of The First Circle was made soon after Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had won the Nobel Prize (in 1970) and just before he was expelled from the Soviet Union (in 1974). Aleksander Ford, the great director and teacher (of Wajda and Polanski, for starters), had been expelled from his native Poland in 1968 during its antisemitic persecutions. There were two projects to make a film of The First Circle, but the other producer, who had Fred Zinnemann in mind to direct, withdrew.

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions" was a remark by Judith Crist (1922-2012) on this movie. A lot of top critics saw it, and their verdicts were mostly crushing, although not unanimously so. The quality of the English dubbing seems to have been found particularly offensive and not worthy of the Nobel laureate.

I read the huge novel as soon as it was published in Finnish in 1970 and have not reread it, so I cannot fairly compare the novel with the movie, but I find the structure of the screenplay successful in its own right.

The story takes place in 1949 in the Soviet Union, and there is a double storyline. In the framing story there is an eager young diplomat, Volodin, with bright career prospects. He warns a family friend about persecution, but his call from a phone booth is recorded and his voice is identified. The protagonist of the main story is Gleb Nerzhin, a superb mathematician and a war hero, who has made a remark about Stalin and spent time in Siberian labour camps, but now he has come to a scientific research center working for the state security police. His task is to develop a tap-free phone for Stalin. Gleb Nerzhin is happily married, but he is ambivalent about his wife having to wait for the 25 years of his sentence and miss the opportunity to have children. There is a tender relationship between Gleb and Simotchka, an intelligent policewoman. The movie is about the strengthening of Gleb's spirit.

The screenplay pays justice to Solzhenitsyn's main themes. The prison camp is a metaphor for the entire totalitarian society. And paradoxically, the prisoner Gleb is freer than the prison guards. Gleb solves the task of the tap-free phone but he burns the designs and terminates his love relationship with Simotchka. "You need me, I don't need you". "You can't give me freedom, you don't have it yourself". "A person you've taken everything from is not afraid anymore".

We see Volodin in constant fear of the sound of every car, every footstep in the corridor, every ringing of the doorbell, every knock at the door. In contrast, Gleb is never afraid anymore. In a totalitarian society, the prisoner is the freest of them all.

The screenplay does also justice to Solzhenitsyn's wit. "For nothing you get five years". "The end justifies the means? The means destroy the end." "What do you mean not guilty?"

Dante's line "Abandon all hope ye who enter here" is quoted, but The First Circle is really about a fighting spirit that can never be crushed. "Now we go to the real hell". "Don't be afraid. They are frightened themselves".

Aleksander Ford had been born in Czarist Russia, and after Hitler invaded Poland, Ford joined the Polish division on the Soviet side, and witnessed Stalinist rule in the USSR and in Poland. Although filmed in Denmark with non-Russian actors, there are aspects in the atmosphere of The First Circle which ring true and personally felt. It's a memorable movie.

The print is ok, clean, perhaps with a slightly duped look.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

where do you have watching this movie? I'm looking for him a lot of years