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Hamlet

Director: Grigori Kozintsev

U.S.S.R.| 1964. SUBTITLED. BLACK AND WHITE. 149 MIN.


That director Grigori Kozintsev is not as widely recognised today as the other Soviet giants of the 1920s may be due to his having worked for most of his career with Leonid Trauberg, and also to their being founders of the ‘other’ Soviet cinema based in what was long and proudly known as Leningrad. Yet, with or without Trauberg, Kozintsev was one of the true originals who constantly redefined Soviet cinema across four decades, as well as belonging to the generation of extraordinary Ukrainians who had such an impact on 20th century culture.

During the post-war period, Kozintsev and Trauberg went their separate ways. However, the fruit of this last phase of Kozintsev’s career was a remarkable series of literary adaptations that gave new meaning to this often mediocre genre. After a version of ‘Don Quixote’, Kozintsev turned to Boris Pasternak’s translations of Shakespeare to create a brooding ‘Hamlet’ and an elemental ‘Lear’ which attracted wide admiration, even among eminent Shakespeareans. New approaches to Shakespeare were already in the air when Kozintsev’s masterly ‘Hamlet’ caused an international sensation. With dramatic Estonian locations and a recognisably modern disaffected student prince, the fact that this was heard in Russian with summary subtitles helped rescue it from traditional veneration—and, perhaps inevitably, suggested a highly political reading. This bustling Elizabethan court, awash with intrigue, is the natural element of Polonius and Claudius, while pushing Innokenti Smoktunovsky’s neurotic Hamlet further into protective fantasy.—Ian Christie.

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