The Master and Margareth - Aleksandar Petrovic
How can you compress a variegated novel like The Master and Margarita in a movie picture of 98 minutes? Director Aleksander Petrovic dealt with this question in a very pragmatic way. He filmed a rather univocate story about a Soviet writer and playwright who's play about Pontius Pilate is banned while it is being rehearsed. But his girlfriend Margarita and the devil Wodan support him in his fight against the censors. As a result the play is been given a billing... and it's preceded by professor Woland's black magic show. Some famouse scenes or characters from the book do not appear in the movie. And some scenes, characters or ideas playing an important role in the book, are condensed in just one act and with less characters. In Petrovic's movie we can't find a trace of Ivan Bezdomny, George Bengalsky or Sokov. They have no role. Annushka, the woman who spilt the sunflower oil, is at the same time the driver of the tram which decapitates Berlioz. The characters being punished by Woland in this film are all direct opponents of the Master. It's not barman Sokov to whom is been told that he will die in five months from liver cancer, but the critic Lavrovitch. The incident with the dollars happens during Woland's show and it happens to the critic Latunsky. The show itself is not presented by George Bengalsky, but by theatre director Rimsky, and in loge number 2 it is not Sempleyarov who's being hit by his wife, but the critic Ariman. And further: no Satan's ball, no apartment number 50, no flight for Margarita, no biblical intrigues, no scene on Sparrow Hills…
In itself, all this should not be too much of a problem for those who did not read the book before seeing the movie picture. An uninformed viewer can watch, at least until the seventieth minute, a rather well constructed story with, however, a rather abrupt dénouement in an unsactisfavorily elaborated end.
Those who did read the book before, however, will have real bad moments. The Master of the movie is an already appreciated, succesful, and quite assertive author. So his Pontius Pilate is not, like in the novel, his first work. It's no novel, by the way, but a theatre play, and it is on the bill in good company, between famous plays like Hamlet and King Lear by William Shakespeare, Мещане or Petit-Bourgeois by Gorky and Philoktetes by Sophokles. Pilate's story as such is not part of the movie. It is just brought up as an illustration of the Master's "subversive language", but the content of Pilate's story is of no importance, and neither are the biblical characters. So no trace of Aphranius, Ratslayer, Kaifa, Matthew Levi or Judas of Kiriath.
The characters in the movie are, in general, poorly explored. Especially the blonde Margarita, played by the American actress Mimsy Farmer who emigrated to Italy and later to France, only seems to be in it because they needed a (blonde) woman on the poster - following good Hollywood traditions. She's not really playing badly, but yet... the rebellious Margarita with her delightful self-willing personality from the novel became, in this movie, a sweet and obedient beauty with no profundity, bringing colour but no life. The Master is interpreted by the Italian actor Ugo Tognazi (La Cage Aux Folles, La Grande Bouffe) as a mature, good looking fashionable Italian, whoes hair isn't even tousled when they try to put him into a straitjacket by force. It's true, he isn't playing badly neither, but identification is almost impossible and it's difficult not to point to the shortcomings. The soundtrack written and conducted by Ennio Morricone is professional, of course, but it doesn't always create the atrmosphere you may expect when having the novel in mind. Some positive notes: Alain Cuny (Emanuelle, Camille Claudel) is convincing as Woland, and the Serbian actor Velimir 'Bata' Zivoyinovic is a funny and entertaining Koroviev.
After all the main curse for the true fan is probably not the peroxide-blonde Margarita or the missing scenes from the book, but the fact that in this movie, believe it or not, the Master has got a name! In the novel he says: "У меня нет больше фамилии. я отказался от нее. Забудем о ней" or "I no longer have a name. I renounced it . Let's forget it". And indeed, we never get to know it. But in this movie his name is… hm... no, reader, I'm a fan of the book, I just can't put it on your screen. If you really want to know, look at it yourself. I just want to say that his patronymic - or father's name - is Afanashevich, just like Bulgakov's, and his surname is the same as the name of the main character of Bulgakov's Theatral novel.
In 1972, director Aleksandar Petrović was a Yugoslav, and he has made this film originally in Serbian. The difference with the more famous Italian version is not only the language, but also the fact that in the Serbian version you can't hear the music composed by Ennio Morricone. You can hear many Russian songs, which also can be heard in the Italian version, but only sporadicly and fragmentarily, as they are often pushed away by the Morricone's soundtrack. In the Serbian version, they come into full play.
Here you can listen to The Encounter, the soundtrack theme for this film composed by Ennio Morricone.
Click here to listen to the music from the Serbian version of this film.