Sunday, January 16, 2011

Doctor Zhivago (David Lean)

Omar Sharif and Julie Christie in David Lean's epic "Doctor Zhivago".

Film Review Archive (date seen: November 28, 2010)

I'm never much aware of Russian history especially the time of Lenin, so I watched "Dr. Zhivago" partly so I may get some immediate knowledge about the Bolsheviks and the Communist wave in Russia. But David Lean, always the master of substantial scale, treated the revolution and turbulence not as important political details but merely circumstantial forces of nature to cloud and test the real center of the film: That of Yuri Zhivago's (Omar Sharif) life and love.

Unlike Lean's previous protagonists which were enclosed with moral and personal ambiguities (Col. Nicholson and T.E. Lawrence), Zhivago is a fairly straightforward man. A principled doctor who's always ready to help within his ability, and though not invulnerable to hardships, always carries them with a teary-eyed smile. "Doctor Zhivago", aside from a strong lead by Omar Shairf, is also littered with heavyweight performances by Klaus Kinski, Alec Guinness and especially Rod Steiger as Komarovsky.

"Doctor Zhivago" was trashed and denounced by critics upon its first release (which of course learned from their mistakes). But through the years, it has since been hailed as a cinematic "treasure" and of significant importance to the art of films. It may just be a playful coincidence, but the film's initial critical reception was a great parallel to Yuri Zhivago's life: Once invaded, halted and violated by the turmoil inflicted by the sudden revolution, but went on and able to create love and leave a lasting mark to those who knew him.

"Doctor Zhivago" is littered with sequences of immense magnitude, but they're merely treated as backdrops, as Lean, armed with Boris Pasternak's strong material and his firm belief that individual human emotions must never take the backseat for the sake of pure pageantry, created another picture that strengthened the fact that if a filmmaker wants to know the blueprints of a fine epic film, there's no other place to look further into than David Lean's body of work.


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