Based on a satirical novel by Mikhail Bulgakov, this Russian television film deserves a wider audience. How to explain it? Well, to say that it is a bizarre variation on the Frankenstein theme hardly begins to do it justice. The film begins with a narration by a stray dog living on the streets of Moscow in the post revolutionary Russia of 1924. Scavenging for food, the dog is befriended by a kindly old professor who takes him back to his apartment/surgery where he feeds him and tends his wounds. The dog feels he has fallen on good times at last and is thrilled when he is given a collar. One day the corpse of a freshly murdered man is bought to the surgery and the doctor and his assistant chloroform the dog and insert the dead man's pituitary gland into the dog's brain and attach the man's testicles to the pooch. Slowly the dog begins to transform into an ape like creature and eventually into a man (albeit a rather Mr.Hyde type specimen) with a passion for playing the balalaika and chasing cats. He becomes a scientific sensation but his bad manners and habits make him unpopular with his creators. He embraces the revolution and is befriended by the local Bolsheviks who put him in charge of pest control - where he happily spends his days strangling stray cats. This takes us about two thirds of the way through the film and it is really unfair to give away more. While the film is very, very funny and takes satirical swipes at everything in site it gives a real feeling of what life in post revolutionary Russia must have been like (much fun is had at the expense of the Bolshevik housing committee who are determined to take of the professor's large flat) and this element caused the original novel to be banned for many years - like most of Bulgarkov's work - only being published the year before the film was made. That it was made under the Soviet reign shows that the revolution had found its sense of humour. That the dog/man is the "new soviet man" is pretty obvious but this in no way lessens both the political message of the movie or, indeed, the fun that can be had watching it. It hits all targets. Technical credits are superb (knowing nothing about the film when I saw it I was convinced for a few minutes that I was watching a 1920's Russian film). All the acting is outstanding with veteran Evgeni Eustigneev very funny as the kindly professor at odds with the revolution and Vladimir Tololonnikov (his first film) brilliant as the dog man (both actors are shown above). The dog himself is excellent and dog lovers everywhere will love the ending. Rating *****
Courtesy of the Polish Film Collective of South Tottenham.