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1812 Lancers Ballad

Original title: 1812 Ulanskaya ballada

aka 1812: Ballad of the Uhlans

D: Oleg Fesenko / 98m

Cast: Anton Sokolov, Anna Chipovskaya, Sergey Bezrukov, Valeriy Nikolaev, Pawel Delag, Gediminas Adomaitis, Anatoliy Belyy, Olga Kabo, Eric Fraticelli, Sergei Zhuravel

Napoleon Bonaparte (Fraticelli) is planning to do battle with the Russians at Borodino. An unscrupulous nobleman, De Vitte (Nikolaev) steals the details of the Russian positions and presents them to the French leader. The treachery is overheard by young Russian Aleksey (Sokolov), who has come to assassinate Bonaparte but finds himself chased back to the Russian lines. There he informs Field Marshal Kutuzov (Zhuravel) of the diminutive invader’s plans. Kutuzov rewards Aleksey with a commission in the Lancers, where he meets Gorzhevskiy (Bezrukov), de Kolenkur (Adomaitis) and Kiknadze (Belyy). Together, the quartet are sent behind enemy lines to retrieve the Empress’s crown which has been appropriated by Napoleon. They discover De Vitte has stolen the crown for himself, and determine to retrieve it. All the while they are being chased by Polish officer Ledokhovskiy (Delag).

1812 Lancers Ballad - scene

With a love interest for Aleksey provided by Beata (Chipovskaya), a maid of the Countess Walewska, and fight sequences/explosions galore, 1812: Lancers Ballad is a lunatic reworking of the Three Musketeers with De Vitte in the Milady de Winter role, and any pretense of originality or logic dispensed with within the first few minutes. The script by Gleb Shprigov is amateurish, with dreadful dialogue (even worse probably when subtitled), implausible motivations, lifeless characters, shoddy plotting, and the sense that whole pages were torn out just prior to filming. Scenes stumble and collide with each other, and Arunas Baraznauskas’ photography comes complete with arbitrary angles and desultory, washed-out lighting so bad the cast all look ill. The movie gives a home to a jumble of poorly choreographed and edited action scenes – Fesenkov loves his slo-mo – while the cast drown under a welter of unconvincing good intentions, and subsequently, no turn should be left unstoned. Sokolov, in particular, serves up a prime slice of ham pie, while everyone else does their best not to look too embarrassed (and fail).

Fesenkov directs proceedings with all the flair and accuracy of a blind man at a firing range, leaving the plot to hang out to dry in favour of one more underwhelming explosion. He leaves the cast to find their own way, shows no interest in constructing a coherent visual narrative, and fails to grasp the fact that even the most ridiculous of action movies has to have action sequences that are exciting. Here they’re a reminder that it’s all been done before and better, even in Paul W.S. Anderson’s laughable The Three Musketeers (2011). (Hang on, does that count as an achievement?) And let’s not even mention the glaring historical errors and inconsistencies.

As an historical drama, the movie makes for a decent comedy, and if you’re a connoisseur of bad movies then this will be right up your стреэт. Inept, nonsensical, incoherent, witless, 1812: Lancers Ballad is such a misfire that it really has to be seen to be believed.

Rating: 3/10 – car crash movie making from the country that gave us Battleship Potemkin (1925) and War and Peace (1967-8), 1812: Lancers Ballad, complete with stirring songs played – oddly – over the action scenes, deserves some kind of place in movie history as the one time an exploding dirigible is more a cause for yawning than excitement.

NOTE: The trailer below is in Russian without English subtitles but they’re not really needed as the focus is mainly on the movie’s action scenes.