The Twelve Chairs by Ilf and Petrov
Tatiana Peltzer – Madame Petukhova (Vorobyaninov’s mother-in-law) Victor Proskurin – Nicolay Kalachov Mark Prudkin – Bartholomew Korobeinikov Michael Svetin – Engineer Bruns Nicholay Skorobogatov –Tikhon refuse-collector Oleg Tabakov – Alchen “blue thief” Lydia Fedoseeva-Shukshina – Madame Gritsatsuyeva Elena Shanina – Ellochka-cannibal The plot: In the Soviet Union in 1927, a former member of the nobility, Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov, works as a desk clerk. His mother-in-law reveals on her deathbed that her family jewelry had been hidden from the Bolsheviks in one of the twelve chairs from the family’s dining room set.
Those chairs, along with all other personal property, had been expropriated by the government after the Russian Revolution. He becomes a treasure hunter, and after the “smooth operator” and con-man Ostap Bender forces Kisa (“Pussy”, Vorobyaninov’s funny childhood nickname, which Bender prefers) to partner with him, they set off to track down the chairs. This ultimately helps Kisa, who doesn’t possess Bender’s charm and is not as street-smart. The two “comrades” find the chair set which is put up for auction, but fail to buy it and afterwards find out that the set has been split up and sold individually.
They are not alone in their quest. Father Fyodor took advantage of the deathbed confession, and has also set off to recover the fortune. In this search for Mme Petukhova’s treasure, he becomes Vorobyaninov’s main rival. While in this enterprise Ostap is in his element, Vorobyaninov is not so happy. He’s steadily abandoning his principles and losing self-esteem. Through the process of elimination, the two finally discover the location of the 12th and last chair, the one hopefully containing the treasure. To avoid splitting the loot, Vorobyaninov murders Ostap.
He then discovers that the jewels have already been found and that they have been spent on erecting a new public building. The analysis: I was 12 when I had read this book first. It became my favorite novel immediately. Then I interested to watch its screening. To tell the truth, I was sure I would not like this film because usually all the screenings of favorite books seemed miserable. But when I’ve watched 12 chairs I could not say it was good because it was so perfect and so exciting! I could not believe that screening can be as interesting as the book.
In my work I’ll try to discover the secret of film’s popularity. I think, Mark Zakharov raised the direction to a new level bringing to it an element of theatricality (Interesting moment with actor’s peeking in the camera). As for me, a theatre is always more interesting than a cinema, so it’s positive side of such vision of the novel. The director tried to be as close as possible to the text of 12 chairs, that’s why he even have put a role of the author in the filmscript. I appreciate it very much because in such way the film does not lose Ilf and Petrov’s particular style.
The novel is full of deep psychologism and gentle subtle humor. I am amazed the authors’ ability to write so kind and gentle but in the same time to expose the evils of society. The actors’ play even strengthen its effect. Despite the small size of 12 chairs here we can find a lot of vivid characters of that time: a former nobleman, a romantic swindler, a prist keen on the wealth and many others. The director have brought together the most talented actors of Soviet Union such as A. Mironov, A. Papanov, R. Bykov, G. Vitsin, S. Kramarov, L. Fedoseyeva-Shukshina, A. Abdulov, N.
Karachentsov… Even the secondary roles were given to famous actors. Everyone plays perfect, everytime during the watching of film it seems like they play their last roles. I suppose, that’s why we can see outstanding representatives of that period of time as large as life. The star of the film is Ostap Bender, certainly. Bender is a complex character: while displaying the traits that would befit a social parasite in Soviet official terms, he frequently seems to adhere to several Marxist tenets, and is clearly an atheist. To put in simple terms, he is a con artist.
All of this is especially intriguing, as Bender’s ideal in life is to quit the Soviet Union for good. Ostap Bender’s origins are mysterious; he mentions only that his father was “a Turkish subject”and that his full name is Ostap-Sulayman-Berta-Maria-Bender-Bey. In the comments to the Complete Works of Ilf and Petrov by M. Odessky and D. Feldman, this phrase is explained as a hint to his Jewish origin from a port city in Novorossiya, most probably Odessa, where many Jews claimed Turkish citizenship to evade discrimination and conscription for military service.
While some of them indeed held the Turkish citizenship. Ostap Bender dreams of travelling to Rio de Janeiro, “the city of his dreams,” while admitting the futility of that obsession. Bender spawned a number of Russian catch phrases, including: “The ice has broken, ladies and gentlemen of the jury!” , said to declare the onset of a progress in something after a period of deadlock, uncertainty, or stagnation; “I will be commanding the parade! “, semiformally uttered upon taking charge of something); and “Perhaps you’d also like the key to the apartment where the money is stashed? “, in response to unreasonable requests. Andrey Mironov always played good boys but he was very convincing in this role. He’s so charming when he is confident that «stealing is sinful», but in the same time he does it in more sophisticated way than his companion in the swindle. First of all Ostap Bender is an actor who is not understood by the public, he is hamstrung with the Soviet system of philosophy.
He is so “bored with life” that he makes his operations under the code name “the ice is broken” not only to become rich but also to get an excitement of the process. Ostap is the last melancholic romantic swindler of his time because there is no any worthy opponent in talent, intelligence, imagination or flight of ideas. This his feature is implemented excellent by A. Mironov and it is impossible to repeat it. Vorobyaninov is a former marshal of the Nobility. He is not talented, not adapted for independent living, vicious inside. People say about such kind of people «still waters run deep».
He makes fraud with selfish motives because considers money is the measure of everything. He can be younger, more beautiful and more attractive for women with the help of money. Although, in fact, he was “an old man who need to eat good” looking for the recipe for eternal youth. He is offended by the Soviet system because of the rule “Take away and divide. ” Papanov showed us this character so bright, his play was very vivid. Theodore prist is a typical example of an opportunist. An ecclesiastical capacity is only a mask for him. Actually he is mercenary and conscienceless person.
Rolan Bykov was very talented in this role. I remember his songs in Old Slavonic and his altercation with Vorobyaninov, these two are worthy of each other rivals. The qualities of this screening can be listed endlessly. And despite the fact that this film is criticized for an extreme musicianship, theatricality and low budget the staff of very talented actors could make a masterpiece even with a small amount of money. This screening first comes to mind when we hear the phrase «12 chairs». The director really managed to make a good film. I think this film is immortal and even our descendants will be interest to watch it.