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  • Benjamin May

Ivan Vasilievich Changes His Profession (1973) Review

In early 1970's Moscow, scientist Shurik toils in his apartment trying to create a working time-machine. He is dedicated to the task, so dedicated he barely registers it when his wife leaves him. One day, Shurik successfully transports himself back to the time of Ivan The Terrible, taking with him a burglar and the superintendent of his building. While Shurik makes it back to the present, there is one problem: the other two are left in the 1500's and Ivan the Terrible has come home with him. So begins a raucous tale combining science-fiction, comedy and history: Leonid Gaidai 's 'Ivan Vasilievich Changes His Profession.'

Based on the play 'Ivan Vasilievich' by Mikhail Bulgakov, the film tells a wild tale that is sure to entertain. A successful combination of science fiction with comedy, it contains much broad humour, as well as many witty moments and acerbic set pieces. The Tsar's reactions to the contemporary world and its' trappings makes for fantastic satire, highlighting the cultural juxtaposition between the Russia of the past and (that which was then) the present. One also may learn a little about the country's history from the film- though to rely on it as a teaching aide for that purpose would be folly. While the ending is a little underwhelming, the film is a crazy, funny trip through time that is full of delights.

'Ivan Vasilievich Changes His Profession' is also a visually striking movie, with Vitali Abramov and Sergei Poluyanov's naturalistic cinematography being strong, though slightly traditionalist in terms of composition and framing. The production design- overseen by Yu. Fomichov and Yevgeni Kumankov- is stylish, making everything on screen seem deeply textured and intricate. The set and location design and decoration is of an especially high, rich quality, bringing life and realism to the picture; which works as a counterbalance to the fantasy of the narrative.

Nadezhda Buzina's costume design brings additional authenticity to the film, with her detailed work lingering in the mind long after the credits have ceased to roll. Her outfits for the Tsar are particularly impressive, not to mention appearing reasonably period accurate. Aleksandr Zatsepin's musical score also impresses, being highly atmospheric and stirring. He makes good use of traditional- and not so traditional- numbers throughout- with the film's version of 'Marusya' being most memorable. Additionally, Klavdiya Aleyeva's editing should be mentioned, as it is effective, keeping the somewhat chaotic proceedings coherent and moving at a steady pace.

All in the cast are fantastic, clearly having a ball with the movie. Yury Yakovlev plays a dual role as the Tsar and the Superintendent, delineating both characters as individuals through the depth of his physicality. He is terrific as both men, and will really make you laugh. Leonid Kuravlyov plays the burglar, and is equal parts charming and deceitful. Kuravlyov brings a lot of good-natured humour to the role, and is immensely likable. Aleksandr Demyanenko has less to do as Shurik, but does it well, and the supporting cast can't be faulted. Of particular note is Natalya Seleznyova, playing Shurik's wife. She has impeccable comic timing, and steals the few scenes she's in completely.

Leonid Gaidai's 'Ivan Vasilievich Changes His Profession' is a wacky comedy with science-fiction elements that has a lot going for it. The story and screenplay is full of witty dialogue and wild scenarios, as well as being satirical, featuring much irony and social commentary, about (what was then) contemporary Russia and its' past. The cast perform admirably, the visual style is distinct- if sometimes orthodox- and the score is rousing. While the film may lose steam near the end, 'Ivan Vasilievich Changes His Profession' is a terrific tale of time travel that is an awful lot of fun.


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