Thursday, April 22, 2010

the last station




Last weekend, we went to the Drexel, a little art house theater in Bexley, and saw a matinee showing of The Last Station. I have not read Jay Prini's semi-factual novel about the last year in the life of the great 19th century Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, from which this film was adapted. But, I was completely mesmerized by Leah Bendavid-Val's Song Without Words, The Photographs & Diaries of Countess Sophia Tolstoy, and actually own a copy.

Leo Tolstoy is quite the giant in the literary world, but I must admit, I am more fascinated with his wife, the Countess Sophia Tolstoy, and was very much looking forward to seeing Helen Mirren in the role. The Countess was a deeply religious and traditional wife, but she was also daringly rebellious and remarkably modern. Mirren was perfectly cast as the feisty Sophia, not only because she is a powerful actor, but because she herself was born Ilyena Vasilievna Mironov, her father being of Russian descent. I was, however, a bit disappointed that the Countess, as an artist, was not brought out in the film, since she was a fabulous photograher in her own right, at a time when the art was relatively new.

Christopher Plummer is terrific in the role of Tolstoy. The cast also includes Paul Giamatti as Vladimir Chertkov, Tolstoy's aide and James McAvoy as his new young secretary. Each actor looks amazingly like the actual people they portray. The film focuses on the last few turbulent months of Tolstoy's life, and the struggle between he and the countess over changing his will, to prevent her from receiving the royalties from his books. Although this movie lacks the emotional punch I was hoping for, it is still beautifully put together, along with stellar performances by all. You know how nutty I am for all things Russian. I absolutely devoured every lovely detailed scene.

Sofia Tolstoy, self portrait with Anna Maslova, July 13, 1898

57 comments:

  1. This is an interesting perspective that makes me want to explore it further. I find Russian history intrigues me also. I find the comments at the following site to be very revealing about contemporary life in Russia. This post was a revelation:

    http://www.englishdadinmoscow.com/2010/03/tea-with-tolstoy.html

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  2. Now this, this is a movie that cound drag me away from my current workload. You have me so interested. I had no idea Helen Mirren was of Russian descent. I am also now interested in Countess Sophia and her artwork. You are such a wealth of information! The fact James McAvoy doesn't hurt things either...

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  3. What a fantastic photo of Sofia -- I haven't yet seen the movie but so look forward to it.

    Thanks for the mini-review -- I love your take on films!

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  4. I love it when you tell us about these great movies.
    Can't wait to see it.

    You write very informative posts, I look forward to what you will tell us next.

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  5. It was a good movie and the Drexel was a quaint little theatre. I really connected with Countess Sophia and understood her feelings. She was a very talented and intelligent woman. She gave so much to the marriage and was cast out in the end. Sad.

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  6. SWMBO and I have been looking forward to seeing this movie for months - if only for the "pairing" of Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren. Alas, it doesn't look like it's coming to our little town so we wait for it to hit Netflix.

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  7. will have to check this out willow. have not even heard of it until now..intrigued...

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  8. Great picture. I really like Christopher Plummer. I know you enjoyed the whole experience.

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  9. I do enjoy the films that you suggest. You are such a fountain of information. I did not know any history of Ms. Mirren.

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  10. I will be waiting for this film too. For several reasons, not the least the actors. I love all those you named and Russian history too. I did not know Helen was of Russian ancestry. She is one of my all time favorites.
    QMM

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  11. You know I found this book when I first heard that the movie was going to be made. At the time it was reported to star Meryl Streep and Anthony Hopkins... which I knew I'd have to see.

    I missed the movie in the theatre, but will definitely put it in my Netflix queue! I adore Helen.

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  12. This is one I'm waiting to see, but unfortunately, I'll probably have to wait for Netflix, since these sorts of films rarely come to our theatres.

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  13. It has left our area and we missed it so now we wait for it on Netflix...they say no release date yet. My Russian/Polish husband is looking forward to this movie and so am I...thanks for the real history and a thumbs up too!

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  14. I must watch this and then given your commentary--read more about it--thank you!

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  15. love that picture of the old tree.. and old people for that matter! :) lovely...

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  16. I've got this film on my Netflix list and eagerly await its arrival...one of these days. I always watch any movie with Helen Mirren.

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  17. Two things. After their marriage she copied all his manuscripts. I think it was before their marriage, he made her read all his diaries including vivid accounts of his visits earlier to the establishments where one could procure entertainment by purchase. Ahem.... Poor woman!
    My reading of the man is sparse, but "After the Ball" is, in my view, a masterpiece of short story telling.

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  18. Hello Willow,

    Christopher Plummer is such a good actor and yet I never seem to hear of him in films (says he who's rarely at the cinema!). This ought to be good, simply for fine acting.

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  19. Dirty Girl Gardening, haha! Yes, old people. Actually, the countess is my age in this picture of her in the tree!

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  20. Marc, she fell madly in love with Tolstoy as a girl of 18. In her book, Bendavid-Val calls her a "worthy Lioness" who merits our gratitude. I don't think Toltoy deserved her.

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  21. Helen Mirren, is aging so beautifully and gracefully... -J

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  22. Me too! I love the Russian history! So fascinating! More should have been done to promote the plight of women in The Way Station movie. What a strong woman (like most Russian women). Can you imagine ignoring this woman who basically transcribed War and Peace seven times. She should be lauded as a saint. I am particularly interested in her life as a photographer (where did she find time) of the thousands of Tsarist Russia photographs. Must be difficult living in the shadow of the epic prosiac Tolstoy who influenced the modern ages' greats such as Ghandi and MLK. A doctor's daughter, with 13 children, 8 survived to adulthood, both Tolstoys were Virgos. That's probably why they got along. Odd way their relationship worked out at the end. Ottawa to release works of this divine woman 15 May 10. Cannot wait! Thanks for this beautiful study! Now I get the Dr. Zhivago hat! Czarina Willow sounds good! Love your new pic; reminds me of Russian constructivism; what exactly is that geometric "thingy"? Artful!

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  23. oops meant The Last Station! Got to see this one. For sure!

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  24. Chiccoreal, I did happen to wonder what the Tolstoys zodiac signs might be as I was watching the film. Both Virgos, huh? That explains a lot.

    Czarina Willow. I could get used to that!

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  25. The Last Station sounds wonderful. My wife and I saw Christopher Plumber in Stratford, Ontario several years ago in Anthony and Cleopatra. An interesting match up between an elderly Caesar and a young, nubile Cleopatra.

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  26. I can't wait to see this film. I adore Helen Mirren. How interesting about her Russian ancestry! I had no idea. Countess Sofia is an interesting woman, and you're right, Tolstoy didn't deserve her. I wonder if there's a book of her photography available?

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  27. I've heard it's a really great film. Thanks for the review.

    Love the pic of you on the sidebar. Are you gazing at an old camera? It's very glamorous.

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  28. cannot WAIT to see this. my favorite kind of movie & book genre...historical bios.

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  29. Hi Willow... I saw this movie a few months back and liked it a lot. I did wish for a "bit more punch" to it and more info about the Countess' own talent.... but, Helen Mirren delivered another remarkable performance. (And how lovely of her to age gracefully - no Botox etc. ) Christopher Plummer was also excellent. The score (always importrant to Moi) was good......I do wish they had filmed in Russia though...

    But, all in all, a good film!

    Love and Blinis,

    ♥ Robin ♥

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  30. Nana Jo, yes! It's the book I mention in this post, Leah Bendavid-Val's "Song Without Words". It's a fabulous compilation of her photos and excerpts from her diaries.

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  31. Reya, hee, thanks, actually it's my current little Canon in a mirror.

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  32. Willow,
    Your critic is perfectly stated. I too enjoyed the movie too. I am espcially happy the film industry still caters to people such as we!
    :) The Bach

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  33. Thank you for the review! I've been wanting to see this film for a while. I have loved Christopher Plummer for ages and it's so nice to see him in a leading role. As for the historical Leo Tolstoy, I'm inclined to agree with what you've said here in the comments - he didn't deserve Sophia!

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  34. I'm a bit of a Tolstoy fanatic, but didn't know much about his wife. Very interesting, and thanks for the review!

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  35. wonderful review....i so enjoyed the film - the acting was absolutely perfect and the cast was so good.

    after seeing plummer in the role of tolstoy (and how he looked!), I thought wouldn't it be nice if someone also cast him as walt whitman.... plummer's resemblance to our great walt struck me.

    i absolutely adore mirren - she could play a stalk of celery and make it interesting.

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  36. I used to love going to afternoon films when I lived in London. It was just so weird to come out of the fantasy and into bright daylight though.

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  37. Oh, I know I'd like that. I'll have to try to find time to see it if I can. I'm a huge Helen Mirren fan, and I don't know that much about the Countess, so I'd enjoy that. I have read lots of Tolstoy, and my mom and I were always enamoured of anything Russian, too. Thanks, Willow!

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  38. I await the DVD since no movie theatres nearby I did hear Jay P. on radio, he lives/teaches in the area too. He wrote this bk 20 or so yrs ago and the whole story of trying to get it made into a movie through those yrs is also interesting.

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  39. Yep, those pigs on Perry Street are what made the little village tick. The Yokohama restaurant was a fine place to use as a base to see the area around the docks in Yokohama. That is where we went after lunch. There we saw some ships and submarine traps and things of war but no girls. LOL I guess it was the wrong place and the wrong time.

    I like to watch some of the movies of Russia that made it to these shores in English. I no longer remember the name but the young lady was married, as I recall, and her new husband carted her off to somewhere like Siberia and left there there. She spent most of her time looking out the window through one more snow storm to see if he was coming back.

    I don't even remember if he came back or if she froze to death at the window.

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  40. FF, it was the brightest day when we saw this matinee. It's a tiny theater and was showing it only once that day, so we didn't have much choice. It is, indeed, very much like coming out from a dark fantasy world into the bright sunlight.

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  41. I, too, loved this film. I'm 61 yo, yet somehow missed Leo Tolstoy and his significance in world history/literature. Maybe it was due to my focus on science and science professional background - dunno. Anyway, Helen Mirren, and Christopher Plummer are so brilliant in this film, I was effortlessly transported to Tolstoy's time and place in history. Wow - so much to learn and be aware of.

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  42. I'm new to your site, and love it. I'm also taking notes on your site format, to perhaps replicate on my own. My own blog site is very topical-for parents of heroin addicts. So, unfortunately, lots of your more interesting listings ("netflix queue, what I'm watching, listening to . . . " may not fit on my blog. However, I love learning more about you, the blog writer, and finding areas of connection. So - who know? Maybe I'll incorporate some of your categories.
    I'm a libra too, so we're in the same club. Peggy

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  43. Ah! Helen Mirren is my cousin! She's so beautiful... I have yet to see this film though! Can't wait!

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  44. Another one to watch out for. Who needs a film critic when I have you to recommend films for me Willow.

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  45. I'm just as nutty as you about everything Russian too. I guess it started in childhood when my dad went to St. Petersburg and came back laden with gifts.
    Just finished reading The Last Station. Can't wait to see the movie!

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  46. It's Interesting how The Tolstoy(s) World Holds such lasting interest to us now.Ive not seen this film (& i didnt know those things about Helen Mirren).thanks Willow for drawing my attention.

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  47. Well, I would have loved to see this. I could get so deep into that..
    You know I was in Russia, that is a whole day of stories..It was the most fasinating place I have ever
    been. Glad I was with a group of American Lawyers.
    Two great actors in it. Have to see it.

    yvonne

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  48. Peglud, welcome! And thank you! :) Hope to see you again soon at the manor.

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  49. Lily Jane, Helen Mirren is your cousin?! How fascinating! It's certainly obvious the beautiful gene runs in your family. Thanks for stopping by Willow Manor.

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  50. Yvonne, I would love to sit down to tea and a whole day of your Russia stories.

    Angie, I, too, became besotted with Russia, years ago, when WT came home laden with gifts from St. Petersburg, just like your father.

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  51. You are always a great resource for movies that I must see. About 18 years ago, I spent one day in St. Petersburg, Russia during a cruise. It was such an incredible experiencce - of course, not nearly long enough, though, thankfully, we were there from 7AM until midnight. I, at least, got to go to the Hermitage, do a city tour and attend an evening folkloric show. How I would love to return someday for at least a week's visit.

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  52. Since our art house theater closed a few years ago, I had to put this movie in my Netflix queue as soon as I heard about it. I'm looking forward to seeing. Sadly, the release date is still unknown.

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  53. aahhhh..a kary glass...i love it!

    looks like this kary needs to hit the thrift shops...last night i turned with my glasses in my hand and off it went...CRASH !
    :-{
    darn..i LOVED that glass....

    thanks for welcoming my sweet little lamb of love, teddy

    we adore him...

    sending love, my friend
    kary and teddy

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  54. Now that is an amazing cast. I love Paul Giamatti. I love.... Well, they are all fantastic. I'm off to Netflix.

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  55. Christopher Plummer (a Canadian) is now performing at Stratford in the role of Prospero in "The Tempest" (just a half-hour down the road from us). No matter how old he gets and which roles he plays, I still see him as the dashing Captain Von Trapp, don't you?

    Apparently, my mother-in-law was in school with him at one time.

    Kat

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  56. http://itistimetothinkformyself.blogspot.com/2010/04/awards-are-given-to-jingle-by-kathy.html

    Happy Monday!

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  57. i came across here, searching for pics of my great-great-grandmother mother sophia....i love that one...and her anyway!!best regards from kjoto

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Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)