Taras Bulba

Taras Bulba (Тарас Бульба) is a 2009 Russian historical drama based on the Gogol story of the same name. The story, first published in the 1830s, is about a Zaporozhian Cossack (a Ukrainian self-governing military tribe) colonel, Taras Bulba—loosely based on some historical figures—and his sons, who join the war against Poland. Much of the novella is about Cossack ethnic pride, but there are also conflicts when one of the sons falls in love with a Polish girl and must decide whether his heritage or his love is more important. The novella has some anti-Polish and anti-Semitic sentiments, but if you’re able to overlook that, it has literary merit. Gogol himself was born in a Cossack village in what is now Ukraine.

The 2009 film follows the original story closely. Bulba’s Cossack pride is represented in full force, as is his son Andrey’s love affair with the Polish noblewoman Elzhbeta. The film did omit many of the more offensive lines from the book, decreasing the anti-Semitism and anti-Polish sentiment. The Ukrainian Ministry of Culture and Tourism still found political problems with the film, stressing its apparent anti-Ukrainian and anti-Polish character.

Looking at the film simply as a film, though, it’s clearer where its strengths lie. The film won Best Art Direction and Best Costumes from the Golden Eagles, Russia’s foremost film prize, and Best Male Role for Bogdan Stupka, who played Taras Bulba. The director, Vladimir Bortko, also won a prize from the Communist Party of Ukraine for his artistic depiction of friendship between the Ukrainian and Russian nations. The film wasn’t as highly lauded by critics or audiences, but it did decently among both.

Director: Vladimir Bortko (Владимир Бортко)
Stars: Bogdan Stupka (Богдан Ступка), Igor Petrenko (Игорь Петренко), Vladimir Vdovichenkov (Владимир Вдовиченков), Magdalena Meltsazh (Магдалена Мельцаж), Ada Rogovtseva (Ада Роговцева)
Production company: ARK Film, Central Partnership, Kanal Rossiya
Box office take: $17 million

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Official trailer:

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Taras Bulba

Julie is currently studying Russian as a Second Language in Irkutsk (and before that, Bishkek) with SRAS's Home and Abroad Scholarship program, with the goal of someday having some sort of Russia/Eurasia-related career. She recently got her master’s degree from the University of Glasgow and the University of Tartu, where she studied women’s dissent in Soviet Russia. She also has a bachelor’s degree in literature from Yale. Some of her favorite Russian authors are Sorokin, Shishkin, Il’f and Petrov, and Akhmatova. In her spare time Julie cautiously practices martial arts, reads feminist websites, and taste-tests instant coffee for her blog.