11 January 2009 | rsoonsa
Idealistic Goals Pose A Danger Of Harsh Treatment By The Russian Communist Government Against A Prominent Dissident.
A familiar episode to those who recall events within the Soviet Union during the final stages of the Cold War was a hunger strike undertaken by dissident Russian physicist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient (1975) Andrei Sakharov and his wife Elena Bonner in 1984, as an attempt at compelling the U.S.S.R. government to allow Bonner's egress for the purpose of having critical surgery that could save her eyesight. The premiere of this film, completed during late 1983, was advanced three months for its debut showing on cable television, to harmonize with the drastic undertaking of the couple, although its first screening, intended to make widely known repressive practices by the U.S.S.R. to audiences of Western nations, was upon a Dutch television network. This work, then, becomes an eristic document of sorts that depicts a cause célèbre, with a script by David Rintels that precisely reproduces segments from Sakharov's recorded speeches, during a span when both he and his wife were codified as non-persons and exiled to Gorky, an embowered city that was off-limits to non-Russians and where they resided for the best part of two years. Rintels and others of the production team collected a great deal of information from Bonner's children as well as from their friends, associates, and Bonner's mother in addition to Western journalists who were assigned to Moscow, thereby serving to corroborate the publicly stated beliefs of Sakharov that were only strengthened after the Soviet state won the opening rounds of the ideological struggle between the Politburo and the physicist. Sakharov, of course, eventually K.O.ed his opposition from within the Soviet Union, his strength of will earning for him widespread global adulation owed mainly to his published writings that were circulated only through Samizdat, being additionally smuggled from the nation to be published abroad, where they were employed to obfuscate his earlier achievement as principal architect of the hydrogen bomb. He is ably impersonated in this piece by Jason Robards, with English actress Glenda Jackson scoring effectively as Bonner, while most others of the international cast play ably, although more creative exposition might have been added to a screenplay that requires a greater degree of clarity toward solving the puzzle of why Sakharov would make grievous sacrifices for what originally appeared to be merely visionary aims. When childless Sakharov is completely alone in the city of Moscow following the death of his first wife, played here by Anna Massey, he eagerly develops a relationship with Bonner and her children from her first marriage, thus intrinsically helping to solve the mystery of his seemingly quixotic behaviour, as he finally has a family around him, for the first time in his adult life, and his cardinal contribution towards the formulation of the hydrogen bomb that exacerbated the Cold war becomes for Sakharov an achievement for which he must expect to do penance. Additionally, his distaste for the death penalty in effect at the time, and his scorn for the tussle between the U.S.S.R. and the United States to realize nuclear superiority, made it possible for him to quite completely shrug off cautionary advice given by the State prosecutor, this warning reproduced in the script verbatim from his writings that, when conjoined to his participation in anti-government protests, could bring him naught but ill fortune. Despite the omnipresence of the dreaded KGB, the film portrays the Nobel Peace Prize winner and his companions outwitting the secret police for a short while; however, as Bonner's mother states: the Communist leaders of the day are no different from those in authority during the time of Stalin, "only smarter". Copies of the proscribed Sakharov writings continue to be circulated outside of Russia, their popularity due in large part to his simple and direct prose style, his ideals moving him, through Robards, to claim from frustration that KGB efficacy seems to be exponential "and then one is completely in the dark in a hopeless blind alley". The film chronicles events from the later years of Sakharov's life, during which he was accused by the Politburo of crimes against the State, and is accordingly after being a true story, yet the production's aim of extolling his merits, intended to help in persuading the U.S.S.R. to release him and his wife from their internal exile, makes of the work a form of polemic. As a consequence, a temptation to paint differing ideological factions without shades of gray is very strong. The film was produced, utilizing separate endemic crews, in Austria and in England, and offers those above standard characteristics that can only be attained through a substantial budget.