Saw the film ‘Last Station’ yesterday. It was the biopic of Leo Tolstoy, the final year of his life. On 7 November, Tolstoy died at the railway station at Astapovo, 10 days after he finally left his wife and their family estate, Yasnaya Polyana.
In China, Tolstoy was seemed as an iconic literature figure, a celebrated writer who was favoured by many intellectuals. Even after the relationship between China and USSR turned cold, Tolstoy was still highly regarded. In China, if you claim that you love literature, you are expected to read War and Peace and Anna Kareninas. It was on my list, a long list of books I read, which impressed my new literature teacher many years ago. I was 15.
I read his books, watched his plays and films. They were translated into Chinese. But I hardly knew that Tolstoy’s mid-life crisis, which began 30 year before he died. Tolstoy shifted his literature interest to denouncing fictions and sex, even within marriage.
How interesting…is that one of the reasons that the Chinese communists party did not ban his books after they fell out of the good terms with the Russians? Sex and sex related talks were very much a taboo back then. It was not encouraged to discuss in the public. It was seen as an act of capitalism.
I wouldn’t call the film was a success. Helen Mirren’s Countess Sophia threw those tantrums in the name of love – they looked just so comical. Christopher Plummber’s Leo lack of depth and dimension. But it was hardly their fault. Although the film claimed to be a true account of his final year, it failed to present Michael Hofmman’s ideas – his film is a film ‘about the challenges of love’. The love story between the young secretary and his love interest Marsha did not add much weight as the director intended. I thought it was unreal, childish and shallow. Again, this is probably a common problem when it comes to such a genre. Adding some spices to change the flatness if only they could play such magic.
Having some scenes shot in Germany is also disappointing. Surley you can find birch trees too in Germany. I have been to Russia, it wouldn’t be the same thing.
Watching the cast to play those famous Russians gave me an illusion like I was watching a merchant ivory production. The whole film now seriously lack the flair that makes it very Russian. However, the film did provide me an insight into Tolstoyan’s movement which was led by villainous Chertkov – something that most Chinese did not know much about. I also read Chertkov’s novels, but knew very little about his role in that movement.