Tue, Sep 12, 2017 - Page 7 News List

FEATURE: Film turns author into sexy supersleuth

AFP, MOSCOW

A new Russian film aimed at a youth audience reinvents classic novelist Nikolai Gogol as a gothic-style detective who battles dark supernatural forces to solve a series of ritual murders.

Critics have queried the lashings of eyeliner, plumped-up lips and lack of historical rigor, while the makers say the film will breathe new life into the 19th-century writer’s works for today’s students.

Mist swirls, black horses gallop through dark forests and naked witches leap over bonfires in the first film in a planned series of four, called Gogol. The Start, which opened in cinemas on Aug. 31 and is also to be shown in an eight-episode TV version.

The film is based partly on the author’s real life, with references to his epileptic fits and a brief job as a clerk for the tsarist political police — as well as to his fear of being buried alive.

In the film, Gogol works alongside a famed tsarist investigator, who is sent to rural Ukraine to probe a series of murders of young women.

The plot references Gogol’s works, especially the spooky tales of peasant life collected in Evenings on a Farm Near Dykanka.

Gogol — whose most famous work was the novel Dead Souls published in 1842 — grew up in today’s Ukraine and was inspired by its folk traditions.

“We made up the possible circumstances in which Gogol wrote Evenings on a Farm Near Dykanka,” producer Alexander Tsekalo said.

“We linked up all the scary incidents into a sequence and gave them a single perpetrator, a serial killer, you could say,” Tsekalo told a news conference. “Gogol, as he awaits a new investigator, is forced to investigate these crimes himself.”

“All the rest is Gogol, and even the fact that he worked as a scribe in the Third Department [political police], and came to Dykanka in this job — all that happened in real life,” he said.

Gogol’s works are compulsory reading in Russian schools.

One of the film’s scenarists, Natalya Merkulova, praised the film as “a giant step forward” for giving Gogol “new life.”

He and other classic writers “hang in classrooms in big dusty portraits — and everyone is sick to the back teeth of them,” she said.

The film is being released in two versions, one with a “16+” certificate and another more graphic one with an “18+” age limit.

Played in the film by 28-year-old actor Alexander Petrov, Gogol is pale and brooding with dark-rimmed eyes. He periodically falls into epileptic fits, waking up with the latest clue to the murders.

“You see what other people can’t see,” says one of the characters.

He also enjoys lusty encounters with beautiful young women, some of whom have suspiciously plumped-up lips.

“I don’t think they brought silicone to Dykanka in Gogol’s day. I also don’t think Gogol wore eye makeup,” a reviewer in Vokrug TV entertainment Web site said.

Interfax news agency in turn slammed the dialogue as lacking in historic accuracy, saying characters “talk like salespeople in a mobile phone store.”

However, the makers said the film is not meant to be taken too seriously.

At a presentation of the film in Moscow, they wore T-shirts with the slogan: “Sorry Gogol.”

A promotional clip for the film shows an actor playing a flustered school teacher, who laments: “I never in my life expected to see Nikolai Vasilyevich Gogol without his trousers on.”

“The slight trashiness is intentional,” director Yegor Baranov told Momenty, a regional entertainment site.

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