AGONY: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF RASPUTIN (aka: Agoniya) (director: Elem Klimov; screenwriters: Semyon Lungin/Ilya Nusinov; cinematographer: Leonid Kalashnikov; editor: Valeriya Belova; music: Alfred Shnitke; cast: Aleksei Petrenko (Grigori Rasputin), Velta Line (Aleksandra Fyodorovna), Anatoli Romashin (Nicholas II), Alisa Frejndlikh (Vyrubova), A. Romantsov (Yusupov), Sergei Muchenikov (Dmitri Pavlovich), Yuri Katin-Yartsev (Purishkevich), Leonid Bronevoy (Manasevich-Manuilov), Pavel Pankov (Manus), Aleksandr Kalyagin (Narrator); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Semion Kutikov; Kino; 1981-Russia-in Russian with English subtitles)

"Hysterical and overly melodramatic biopic on the madman charlatan monk Rasputin."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Elem Klimov ("Farewell"/"Come and See") directs an hysterical and overly melodramatic biopic on the madman charlatan monk Rasputin (Aleksei Petrenko). It took nine years to make, but was not released after completed in 1975 for six years because the Soviet authorities balked at showing how corrupt were the Russian politicos and how sympathetic a figure was the Czar. In reality, the Czar was viewed as someone out of touch with his peasant population and a ruler who made horrible decisions. The script by Semyon Lungin and Ilya Nusinov tells of the final days of Rasputin and the Romanov monarchy he helped bring down. It shows the tremendous power the Siberian born peasant wielded in the court of Nicholas II (Anatoli Romashin) after treating his hemophiliac son, Tsarevich Alexei, and gaining favor with the Czarina (Velta Line), a fanatically religious woman who looked upon the fraud as a holy man. Rasputin is viewed as a prophet-of-doom, who through his cunning and dark inner urges helped lead the monarchy down a bloody road of corruption it couldn't get out of without losing its power and changing the history of Russia forever.

Though Petrenko gives an over-the-top forceful performance, it seemed like a lot of hooey. The film mixes in a narration and newsreels with its fictional dramatization, but never allows the historical times to seem anything but a ridiculous and disjointed string of events that led to the mad monk's assassination by patriotic army officers. 

Rasputin was not his birth name, but a name that literally means a person of loose morals. It was given to him because he was an imprisoned thief, a drunkard, womanizer and later on was defrocked by an order of monks. 

The film was barely watchable with all its cuts and maddening antics, and though well-intentioned gives a bad history lesson. 

REVIEWED ON 2/6/2008        GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"