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3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
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This is another great Russian film dealing with its early history. Set in 1010 when much of the land is still Pagan, this is the story of the Christian Prince of Rostov, Yaroslav (Aleksandr Ivashkevich). He is expanding the land that pay them tribute in return for protection, The land is ravaged by bandits, who not only nick the tribute, but cart the people off to be sold down the Volga to the Bulgars as slaves.

This then opens with an attack on one of their vassal villages, Yaroslav goes after them; despite being a tad outnumbered they decide to take them on. This is because they have a secret weapon, in the shape of Vikings or Varangians, as they call them. In battle they take certain medicinal aids that make them go berserk (where the word comes from) and become fearsome berserkers. After the fight they discover a woman from the Bear tribe, pagans who worship, you guessed it, a bear. She is hostile, but Yaroslav decides to take her home in the hope of bringing the Bear people into his ever growing principality and we sort of pick up she is fair cracking on the eye,as my Austarlian mate would say.

Well as you can guess things don't go exactly according to plan, there is a traitor in his camp, there is a love tryst, there are power struggles and the melting of hearts. There is also quite a ferocious bear, some ruddy good fighting and heaps of action. Director Dmitri Korobkin has done a spot on job of balancing the action against plot development, and the character development is both subtle, but predictable at times. He gets excellent to good performances from the entire cast and there are much needed comic asides, often when you least expect it.

It is in Russian with good sub titles, except some of the place names are put up in Russian and not reciprocated in English, which is a bit poor. But like 1612 1612 [DVD] this is a ruddy good historically based action film, and I must say if Russia continues in this vain we are in for more future treats, I thoroughly recommend.
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VINE VOICEon 2 October 2012
This film has a bit of everything, though fails to succeed to make it all into a wholly enjoyable experience. There are bandits, Bear People, real bears, flaming arrows, ingenious booby-traps, stout Christian princes, murdered princesses, torture, Pagan rituals, and treacherous Viking mercenaries. In between, we have slavery, the internal politics of 11th Century Russia, and the neatest-trimmed beard and hair ever seen on a Viking warrior. There are some skirmishes, a short night battle, and the prospect of a climactic showdown, that never actually happens. Instead, we see the stale ending of a hand-to-hand sword fight between the two main protagonists, followed by the rejected love of the Pagan Bear Princess.
In truth, the whole thing feels like a bigger budget, extra-long episode, of Robin of Sherwood. Despite the amazing scenery, and a really good effort to portray the way of life in the 11th Century, including the impressive building of a large town in wood, it just doesn't work. It lacks epic feel, and falls into the frequently seen Russian traps of long-winded speeches, comedic characters, a bit of slapstick, and some wooden acting by the leads. Russian cinema can do a lot better than this; 'And Quiet Flows the Don', 'Come and See', '1612', 'Fortress of War' , and 'The Star', to name but a few. There is nothing really wrong with this effort, it just does not hold up against the competition, and that is why it only deserves 3 stars, in my opinion.
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I recently reviewed the excellent Russian historical film "1612", and here is another one which is up to the same high standards. It is refereshing to see the Russians making a very good fist out of costume films. These low budget straight to DVD films seem to have a reasonably healthy market, although saturation of the market may sort out the chaff from the wheat. It is certainly a film that will have a limited appeal, simply by virtue of the fact that it is in the Russian language and is solely concerned with Russian history. Not everyones cup of tea, but certainly mine. Although the film has been described in reviews as low budget, it does not look it. Plenty of Roubles seem to have been spent on lots of actors, decent costumes and even some half decent CGI.

The story is set in 11th century Russia, and follows the efforts of Prince Yaroslav to unite the peoples of Rostov and a powerful tribe known as "The People of the Bear", for reasons that soon become obvious. This is not so easy when the lawless country is infested with brigands, slave traders and mercenaries. He also has to contend with the mysterious mind that orchestrates the movements of the brigands, who is known only as 'The Owl". His identity which is revealed at the end of the film, comes as a complete surprise. Well it was to me anyway! There is lots of healthy action along the way. A few throats get cut, the odd serf gets skewered, and one or two get a good old fashioned torturing. We also get to see lots of heavily bearded men running around in ever decreasing circles. All good fun really. Aleksandr Ivashkevich does a decent job as Yaroslav, although I see one cruel reviewer thought he looked remarkably like Graham Chapman in "The Life of Brian". Very funny I must say! There is certainly a resemblance I have to admit, but Chapman would have struggled to fill Yaroslav's boots in the way that Ivashkevich has done.

The film actually covers a period of Russian history that interests me, especially the settling of the Norse Vikings along the trade route of the Volga River, using it to travel as far away as Constantinople where some served on the emperors Varangian guard. In this film the Norse are represented as the mercenaries that they sometimes were, although many later integrated with the local populace. The film unusually has a Christian message which shows the openness of todays Russian cinema. This film is not to be confused with the similarly titled "Ironclad" which has a British cast. The running time of just over the hour and a half mark is just right, allowing the film to sustain the interest for the entire duration. It is a long time since I watched "Sergei Eisenstein's "Alexander Nevsky" for film studies, and was impressed by what the Russians could achieve. This is admittedly not of that epic scale or quality, but it shows decent historical films are still being made in the new Russia. High on my want list is the Penguin classics book "Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far North", not available until November unfortunately. Fadlan was an Arab traveller amongst the Rus peoples on the Volga, who gives the only eye witness account of a Viking boat funeral. His adventures inspired Michael Crichton to write his cracking short story "Eaters of the Dead" based around the Beowulf poem, and made into that entertaining film "The Seventh Warrior" starring Antonio Banderas as Fadlan himself. The Fadlan book has to be worth a shout even though it is set a little before the time of this film. This is a bare bones DVD with no extras. Well done the Russians, keep them coming.
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This is one of the best Russian films I have seen in a long time the Russians are good at making these films the film is about a prince who is trying to expand his kingdom to raise more taxes and to heal a hurting country also to spread the word of Christianity he is then betrayed by one of his closest friend and warrior who is a viking he wishes to cause a war between his prince and other noble men hen the prince finds out his friend kidnaps the prince's son as bait. This is a highly recommended film it has passion heart and a lot of twists to keep it going to the end you also have the opportunity of seeing the beautiful Russian countryside.
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on 8 September 2011
It's good. Well acted, with nicely staged action scenes, good costumes and special effects. The script moves along at a fair pace and at 90 odd minutes it's not overly long. Ideally I would have wanted a bigger budget, to show more of the world in which the story takes place, and more folk in the battle scenes. But we are no longer in the days of the massive budgets enjoyed by Bondarchuck and Eisenstein, and I am grateful that even a medium budget was available to support this film. Buy it and let's hope they make some more!
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on 17 March 2013
This was not as satisfying as I had hoped. Whether it was the story line or presentation, I am not quite certain. Some Russian films can be oustanding, like for example, Admiral and The Island. I went to Russia in 2007 to Yaroslav, named after the hero of this story, and saw the image of a bear in one of the parks, reminding us of the legend of the pagans letting a bear loose and Yaroslav and he killed with an axe. I bought this hoping it might be more of a documentatry about the life and times of Yaroslav, one of the founders of Russia as a nation. Although the film is described as a brutal and brilliant blood-fest, it does not compare with some gory movies out there. It is certainly not a blood fest. The 15 rating perhaps is a good guide. I was not looking for fantastic battle scenes, I was hoping for a great story with a good script and acting. I have to rate this as a pass the time movie, hence 3 stars.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 March 2014
I liked this 2010 Russian historical film. Below, more of my impressions, with some SPOILERS.

This film was made to mark the 1000 anniversary of foundation of city of Yaroslavl, but also to tell the story of early years of its founder, prince Yaroslav of Rostov who was later to become Yaroslav the Wise, Grand Prince of Kiev.

Prince Yaroslav was born in 978 in Kiev as second son of Vladimir the Great, Grand Prince of Kiev (980-1015) and his wife Rogneda of Polotsk. Vladimir was already then the ruler of a very large state, but with time he increased its size significantly. In 1001 his oldest son Izyaslav died and therefore Yaroslav became the heir to the throne. Soon after his father gave him an inportant assignement by sending him to the province of Rostov, a large but still scarcely populated north-eastern march of huge Kiev state. Yaroslav had to rule, protect and if possible expand this territory - and by doing this he was to learn the art of government and warfare, for the time when he would have to succeed his father.

Going there beyond the events described in the film, it is useful to know that prince Yaroslav would ultimately become the Grand Prince of Kiev, but only in 1019, after four years of brutal civil war against his half-brother Sviatopolk who had the support of king Boleslav the Valiant of Poland and also of Pecheneg nomad tribes. Yaroslav's rule was long (1019-1054) and highly succesful and as in his times the state of Kiev grew powerful and wealthy, he was to be remembered by future generations as Yaroslav the Wise.

This film tells about a half-legendary episode from Yaroslav life which happened in 1010, towards the end of his service as ruler of Rostov province. This territory was very exposed to raids of slavers who would attack either by navigating on Volga or arriving on horse back by land and then abduct men, women and children who could be sold on great slave markets in Arab-Muslim world, especially in Bagdad. In Middle Ages the Arabo-Muslim world was always hungry for slaves and as Muslims in principle couldn't be reduced into slavery, it was necessary to bring them from Christian and pagan areas. In the eastern part of Europe it was Kiev Russia and its successor states who were the principal target of slavers and from VIII to XIII century countless hundreds of thousands of people were abducted and sold into slavery - from which there was virtually no escape...

In order to protect his eastern border but also to block the slavers from navigating further north, Yaroslav build in 1010 a strongly fortified settlement, which was to serve as a military fort and also a trading post, in a well protected place where the huge Volga river is joined by a smaller one, the Kotorosl. He called this new settlement simply Yaroslavl, which means literally "Yaroslav's" like in "Yaroslav's place". Those events are very real. However, according to the traditional legends, in order to make certain that this place will serve its purpose and thrive he had to make a deal with local inhabitants, the Bear Tribe. Those people were not Russians, but most probably one of many indigenous Finno-Ugrian tribes who lived there since thousands of years - and could be quite dangerous when fighting in their familiar forest wilderness... Those people were also still pagans and the symbol (and holy animal) of their main deity, Veles, was a bear. There probably was such a pact made between Yaroslav and locals, because from the oldest times the coat of arms of city of Yaroslavl was indeed a ferocious bear...

This film describes Yaroslav's (Aleksandr Ivashkevich) fight against slavers and his dealings with the Bear Tribe, but also some sinister plots - almost never absent from any place of power... It also shows a heart-breaking love triangle situation. Yaroslav is in this film married to beautiful young noble woman Zhelana (Elena Plaksina) - a fictitious character by the way - who was forced into this marriage by her ambitious father. Zhelana is an obedient daughter, she tries hard to be a good wife and she already bore Yaroslav a son - but she doesn't love her husband as, since like always, her heart belongs to... well, somebody else.

This is an interesting film showing, I believe, quite well the realities of XI century Russia. The wooden-build city of Rostov and the fortified forest fortress of Bear Tribe are very well made. The multi-ethnic character of Kiev state is very well shown, as in this film we can see Russians, Finno-Ugrians and Varangians (Norsemen), many of whom served as elite warriors to the princes of Kiev (who themselves were of Scandinavian descent). The weapons and armor reconstructions are very honest. We also can see at least one historical character other than Yaroslav himself - it is his chief retainer Vyshata (Vladimir Antonik). Many years later, in 1043, this man was going to lead a huge (but ultimately unsuccesful) Russian naval raid against Constantinople!

On another hand, if the plot is not bad, it still disappoints a little, especially towards the end. I can not go into details to avoid spoilers, but this film ends with a whisper rather than with a bang. This is the reason why I give it four stars instead of five.

That being said, this is an interesting, well made historical film telling a story about times and places virtually unknown in the West and doing it quite well indeed. This is the reason why I am going to keep this DVD for a possible future viewing and why I recommend it to all amateurs of historical films and medieval adventures. Enjoy!
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on 12 September 2013
It's Ok & passed an evening & worth the £5 I paid. Good battle scenes without overdoing the gore & no sex to speak of so ok for younger audiences. Not the happy romantic ending one wanted & don't know why 'cos it quite easily could have been flowers & drifting downriver in the sunset without spoiling the film.

Like most Russian films, the 'river' takes on a mystical significance - in this case explaining why folk (& leaves)are different.

However, some double crosses got a bit complex for a 63 year old watching a foreign film with subtitles & the bottle of ASDA plonk didn't make it any clearer. I might need to watch it again in the afternoon completely sober. I can imagine struggling to explain what's happening to a 12 year old watching it with me & having to make some of the reasoning up.
But, I've seen much worse so don't let me put you off buying it - but don't pay a lot!!!

AND, don't let this put you off Russian films - most are excellent!!!
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on 11 January 2016
This was quite a good story, fairly typical of this genre of film, a few small scenes reminiscent of the film Outlander. However, whoever did the subtitles needed their work checked, we found it very odd to "hear" an 11th Century horseman saying "Giddy up" and worse, several instances of "Way to go" dreadful.
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on 16 June 2014
Amusing tale of Russia in the year 1010, fighting slave traders and conquering new territories. It is an odd concoction of elements: pagans, Christians, Vikings, bears, fighting, treachery and comedy. It is entertaining but was obviously too much going on for the budget available, yet I liked it anyway. Like a big budget fantasy/historical TV drama series squashed into one big bosh.
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