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Devil to pay over film of Bulgakov's novel

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    2004.11.03 Guardian: Devil to pay over film of Bulgakov s novel Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow Wednesday November 3, 2004 The Guardian Russia s Orthodox church has
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      2004.11.03 Guardian:
      Devil to pay over film of Bulgakov's novel

      Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow
      Wednesday November 3, 2004

      The Guardian

      Russia's Orthodox church has reacted with dismay to a film of the seminal
      novel The Master and Margarita, saying it offers a version of the Gospel
      that is "nothing but negative" and fearing it will offend or confuse many
      believers.

      Last month a Russian director began filming a version of the novel
      Mikhail Bulgakov wrote in the 1930s. The result, the first Russian version
      of the widely praised masterpiece, will be shown nationwide on Russian TV
      as a 10-part series.

      The novel is a satire on the Revolution, and in its form pioneered the
      "magic realism" genre. It contains passages in which a character called
      Professor Woland - a variant of the name of Satan, who appears in Goethe's
      Faust, and a thinly disguised pseudonym for the devil - narrates the life,
      trial and crucifixion of character called Yeshua - a pseudonym for Jesus
      Christ.

      A senior Orthodox official told the Guardian that cinema was "not an
      adequate means of interpreting the Gospel" - icons were more appropriate.
      Father Mikhail Dudko, head of the secretariat for church and society, said:
      "We Christians know four gospels, and in Bulgakov's book we see a kind of
      fifth: a gospel narrated by Satan, [who is called] Woland in the book. And
      the interpretation is in Satan's favour. Our reaction to such an
      interpretation can be nothing but negative."

      In the novel Woland is portrayed as a superior intellect to Yeshua, and
      "the real figure of Christ is substituted by some helpless philosopher".

      At one point, Yeshua remarks that the apostles following him keep making
      errors in their notes, suggesting that the gospels are inaccurate. This is
      thought to be a reference to the criticism which the Russian social
      democrats, launched at the Bolsheviks, that they were misinterpreting Marx
      and launching a false revolution.

      Father Dudko said that if someone "dared to shoot a film, you have to do
      it very cautiously in order not to offend believers and to avoid the
      indignation and protest of ordinary people". Bulgakov was a "genius", son
      of a theology professor, and could not himself be considered
      "anti-Christian". But the priest was "afraid the ideas of the novel will be
      lost or made primitive" and "the text of Bulgakov is full of points which
      contemporary people, especially non-believers, will find very difficult to
      understand".

      The director is Vladimir Bortko, whose film of another Bulgakov novel,
      Heart of the Dog, received critical acclaim. He dismissed the idea that the
      film would be a "fifth gospel".

      "I don't agree that the story is narrated on behalf of Satan. It is
      narrated on behalf of Bulgakov, and we keep close to his text.

      "As Bulgakov did, we speak about Yeshua, not Jesus; about Ershalaim, not
      Jerusalem; and so on. The film has nothing to do with a religious subject."

      Some 1.5 million people were executed by crucifixion, and he could not
      "see any basis to associate the crucifixion of Yeshua with Christ's passion".

      Yet Father Dudko said: "I can't imagine how one can tell the story of
      Jesus Christ trying to keep away from the religious points, even if you
      make that a priority."

      The newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reported that the film was being shot
      in secret in Crimea, with local policemen as soldiers dressed in Roman
      uniforms from an American remake of Spartacus in nearby Bulgaria. The paper
      also reported that computer images of Jerusalem were being used in the film.

      Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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