Dikaya okhota korolya Stakha [The Savage Hunt of King Stakh] (1980)

Dikaya okhota korolya Stakha
Director: Valeri Rubinchik
Writer: Valeri Rubinchik
Based on: Vladimir Korotkevich‘s (also spelled as Uladzimir Karatkievich) novel
Cast: Boris Plotnikov, Elena Dimitrova, Albert Filozov, Roman Filippov, Boris Khmelnitskiy, Valentina Shendrikova, Aleksandr Kharitonov, Igor Klass, Vladimir Fyodorov
Part of: SLASH Film Festival
Seen on: 30.9.2021

Content Note: ableism

Andrey Beloretskiy (Boris Plotnikov) is a young student who travels the country, collecting and studying folklore. One night he gets caught in the rain and finds shelter in the estate of Marsh Firs. The estate has obviously seen better days and there is only one member of the formerly grand Yanovsky family that owns it left – Nadezhda (Elena Dimitrova). Nadezhda is young and a little strange, dreaming of the big cities, but also convinced that the family curse will soon be the death of her. The first signs of it are already there: the Little Man, the Lady in Blue and the Savage Hunt of King Stakh have all been stalking the estate. Beloretskiy is intent on finding the truth behind the curse and legend.

The Savage Hunt of King Stakh is a visually intriguing film with a very Soviet message, I thought. I really enjoyed it.

The film poster showing Nadezhda Yanovskaya (Elena Dimitrova) and behind her a blindfolded man holding two guns. Above the two figures we can see a group of horse riders.

The Savage Hunt of King Stakh creates a fascinating atmosphere that pulls you in, starting with the castle itself that is both ramshackle, appearing to fall apart already, and still very grand, recalling the Janowski heydays and giving you a taste of it. The set design, the costumes are really well chosen to create that effect, and they are wonderfully captured by cinematographer Tatyana Loginova. At the festival, we were also lucky enough to see one of the few remaining 35mm prints of the film with really excellent image quality. I don’t know how well restored it is otherwise.

I also found the story development really interesting that seemed so quintessentially Soviet to me in its resolution: ultimately, nobility has to fall for modernity to come to the people. Or rather, the people have to make the nobility fall. It’s certainly a different ending from what you’d expect and get in a Hollywood film.

Nadezhda Yanovskaya (Elena Dimitrova) dressed up for dinner.

Beloretskiy himself is a rather boring character – the attempt to make him into the Soviet Everyman left him rather bland. But he is surrounded by so many good characters that it hardly matters. I have to say that I found Nadezhda particularly intriguing – which I wouldn’t have thought. On paper, she seems like nothing more than an object for Beloretskiy’s chivalry, but Dimitrova manages to make so much more out of her.

I was really quite taken with the film overall, despite a couple of things that didn’t age so well (like the reveal behind the Little Man that I found rather tropey and ableist). But still, it’s a film worth seeing – and if you can, do yourself the favor and watch it on a big screen.

Beloretskiy (Boris Plotnikov) looking at an old book.

Summarizing: enchanting.

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