Zvezda plenitelnogo schastya (Captivating Star of Happiness) (1975)
Director: Valdimir Motyl.
Starring: Irina Kupchenko (Trubetskaya), Aleksey Batalov (Trubetskoy), Natalya Bondarchuk (Volkonskaya), Oleg Strizhenov (Volkonsky), Ewa Szykulska (Gebl-Annenkova), Igor Kostolevsky (Ivan Annenkov), Raisa Kurkina (Rayevskaya), Tatyana Pankova (Annenkova), Oleg Yankovsky (Ryleyev), Tatyana Fyodorova (Ryleyeva), Aleksandr Porokhovshchikov (Pestel), Viktor Kostetsky (Kahovsky), Vasili Livanov (Nikolai I), Innokenti Smoktunovsky (Tsejdler), Vladislav Strzhelchik (Laval).
Tsar Nicholas I and rebellion of officers in the Decembrist Revolt, 1825
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
The Plot of the Decembrist Revolt.
A fancy white house is covered in snow. Inside, Pavel Ivanovich Volkonsky at his baby. Then he walks out of the room. Pavel and another man search for documents. Pavel asks: "Is Nikolai Nikolayevich sleeping?" The answer is that he is not at home. He and Sophia Alexeyevna are vacationing at Belaya Tserkov. Pavel starts burning papers in the fireplace. Marie comes in. Pavel apologizes to her for not having arrived sooner. He gives her letters from Pushkin and tells her: ". . . I missed you very much." He goes toward her, but she turns her face away from him. He continues burning papers. He says that the idealist Pestel has been arrested.
Flashback.A meeting of the Southern and Northern Societies. The Northern Society is for the preservation of the monarchy, while the Southern Society intends to abolish it. In the Southern Society Pestel, Ivanovich, Kakhovsky and Muraviev-Apostol are not married, but Ryleyev has a wife and daughter. Prince Trubetskoy is also there. They speak of the assassination of the Tsar, that his death will be a signal to action. Muraviev-Apostol says: "We in the Southern Society want to know if the Northerners agree to regicide."
The Tsar Alexander I tells the Prince Sergey Petrovich Volkonsky that he is pleased with his brigade. But he got too involved in political affairs that were not his responsibility when he was in France.
At the meeting of the Southern and Northern societies, Ryleyev tells the Prince that they can’t but agree with the plan of the Southerners. But the Prince wants to wait to see if the Tsar will carry out his promised constitutional reforms. After all, he had ordered the draft of a constitution.
Back to the Present. Back with Pavel Ivanovich and Marie. He says perhaps he deserves to be condemned. Marie is scared of what is happening. Pavel leaves via a horse drawn sleigh. Pavel Ivanovich thinks back about Marie at a concert. She sings and they dance. Her dress catches on fire and she runs out of the house into the snow. An army fellow, her father, retrieves her. She is shaking and fearful. Her father tells her to calm down.
A horseman yells to Pavel: "Turn back! They put a guard at your house. Don’t go to Uman." The Tsar has ordered Pavel’s arrest. Turn back. Pavel responds: "It’s too late to turn back."
Written note. By the winter of 1825-1826, the Russian gentry was deeply divided. The accession of Nicholas I to replace the dead Emperor Alexander was marked by a revolt.
A wounded rebel Captain has been brought in. An officer tries to let him go saying that he was not active in the revolt. But the Captain boldly says: "I was a member of the secret society, and I must share their fate." Interrogator Nikolai Pavlovich, the Tsar, questions the Captain. The Captain refers to the interrogator as a pig. Nikolai tells his staff to put the Captain in irons.
Two men arrive at the house of Prince Sergey Petrovich Volkonsky and his wife Catherine. Catherine is afraid for her husband. Ambassador Ludwig goes downstairs to greet the Russian officials. The Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs tells the Ambassador: "Your relative Prince Trubetskoy spent the night at your house." The Prince himself comes down. He is told that the Emperor wants to see him. Catherine has a tear run down her face.
Catherine arrives at the government buildings looking for Serge. Her father rushes to her to tell her that the Prince is not here. Rebel soldiers run up on them. Dad warns her about them and tells her: "Get out of here!"
A man on horseback tells His Majesty that the artillery swore their allegiance to him. The artillery is ready. Another man warns His Majesty of the presence of rebel grenadiers. The grenadiers make their appearance before the Tsar. They stop before him and he speaks to them. At this point a company of the First Preobrazhensky Regiment arrives to support the Tsar. (But through some misunderstanding their rifles are not loaded.) The mutineers run past the Tsar shouting "Hurray for the constitution!" Alexander I sees Trubestskoy on his horse.
Catherine does not leave. She stops the carriage and gets out. The driver standing next to her mentions about the soldiers: "They probably don’t understand to whom they should swear their oath." General Miloralovich, an older officer and the father of Catherine, tells the mutineers that he fought with them at Kulm and Leipzig. He also fought at Amstetten, Brienna, Prechampenoise, Krems, Bucharest, Obelesti, Lake Oberalt, Tarutino, Vilna and Borodino. He then shouts: "You are a disgrace to Russia! On your knees before the lawful sovereign Nikolai Pavlovich." All of a sudden someone shoots the General. The shout goes up: "The General is wounded!" Catherine saw everything. The General dies.
A soldier, Eugene, goes to see Prince Sergey Petrovich Volkonsky. He says: "While sharing your views, we remain loyal to the crown and our Tsar, who we despise as a deceiver!" Then he leaves. Others march into the room. They ask the Prince if he is familiar with these sheets (part of a manifesto). The manifesto calls for the abolition of the former rule; abolition of slavery (in the form of serfdom); and the acceptance of the equality of all classes before the law. Tsar Nikolai Pavlovich listens into the conversation. The visitors want to know if the Prince wrote the Manifesto. Pavlovich says that the hand writing is that of the Prince.
Flashback. General Miloralovich says: "A revolution in Russia is as preposterous as a woman grenadier." An announcement is made: "His Imperial Majesty the Tsar Alexander Pavlovich!" The Tsar is not so certain as the General. He says these are very hard economic times and such times always affect families in many different negative ways. Members of the Northern and Southern Societies are also very aware of the economic and social problems. The Emperor is described as being the foremost enemy of the state.
Back to the present. Is that your handwriting? asks Pavlovich of the Prince, who replies: "Yes, mine." Pavlovich says: "Your fate is going to be horrible. . . . Horrible!" And you have ruined your beautiful wife’s life. The Prince drops to his knees and prays. Pavlovich says he could have the Prince shot immediately. The Prince responds with: "Shoot me."
Mademoiselle Pauline and Lt. Annenkov.
A man rows Mademoiselle Pauline, who only speaks French, up the river. The woman is detained. She has a pistol with her. Her questioner asks her: "And all this because of Lieutenant Annenkov?" The questioner says that she has just come in time because Annenkov was just released from the noose. The woman jumps up and tries to find Annenkov. The questioner tells her: "Calm down, the towel had gone loose, he was brought to his senses." She says she has been traveling from Moscow for two days. Pauline criticizes Russia for being cruel and not providing defendant's with lawyers. The guard says that one has to have permission to visit a prisoner. She offers him a bribe to let her visit Annenkov.
Flashback. Pauline has a flashback to when she met Annenkov. She goes to a room to stay for the night. A little later she sees Annenkov laying on a sofa in the room. He tells her this is his mother's estate. While Annenkov is distracted, Pauline leaves the room and walks outside. She sits down with her dog under a tree. In the morning she wakes up with the cows in the field. Annenkov sleeps in a carved-out section of a nearby giant haystack. She comes over to investigate and he sits up, grabs her and pulls her into the little cave.
They visit a little cemetery in the area. Annenkov tells her this was a battlefield back in 1812 with the Russians fighting the French. Pauline says her father hated Napoleon.
Back to the Present. Pauline kisses Annenkov. She tells him she will arrange for his escape. But Annenkov says no. "I can't, I must share the fate of my comrades." This upsets Pauline who says that he's insane.
Flashback. Annenkov takes Pauline to a chapel to get married. When she realizes what's happening she quickly leaves the chapel. She drives away in a buggy asking him did he really think she would marry just some bag of money. Annenkov chases after her and asks" You don't like me?" She answers: "At last you thought of such a trifle!" She says he's too arrogant. She despises him. He jumps from the horse into the buggy, but Pauline manages to push him out and he tumbles down a long hill.
Back to the Present. Pauline now tells Annenkov that she wants to be his wife. The guard comes back and Annenkov has to return to his cell. He tells Pauline that he is not worthy of her love and that she will meet someone she will love and she will be happy. "Forget about me!"
Pauline waits all night to see Annenkov's mother who lives in a huge mansion. The next morning she is allowed in to see her. She tells her that her son, Ivan Alexandrovich Annenkov, is imprisoned in a fortress. And he's in danger! The mother tells Pauline that she has heard of her. She says sarcastically: So, my son wants to marry a French woman!
Flashback. Alexandrovich tells his mother that he wants to marry a woman who works in the French fashion house in Moscow. Mom replies: "It was only I who knew you're a fool, now the whole of Moscow will know." She tells him to "Get out!" He leaves. Alexandrovich says at least he is no longer a bag of money.
Back to the Present. Feeling insulted by Annenkov's mother Pauline decides to leave the mansion. She marches out. The mother shouts to her servants to stop her. She yells to them: "Come on, catch her!" Pauline fights against being grabbed. She even bites one of the servants. Mother has Pauline dressed up in a beautiful gown complete with lots of expensive jewelry. Mom tells Pauline that she will stay here and marry a general. Then she will forget about her stupid son. Pauline takes off some of the jewelry and throws it to the floor. She then demands that mother give her back her own dress.
Prince Sergey Petrovich and the Other Conspirators.
Pavlovich tells the Prince that it is not his intention to find him guilty. He is giving him an opportunity to justify himself. He says there were some general reasons for indignation. After all, a lot of people are involved. "It's more important for me to know that, than whether some one person is guilty." You have a wife, the daughter of Rayevsky, and a son. "If you promise to be loyal to the crown, I'll be able to forgive you." The Prince thinks about the time his wife was sick and she asked him not to leave her alone for long periods of time.
Pavlovich shouts for Levashov to take down what is dictated. The Prince tells him that the position of Tsar is too exalted of a post. It is above the law and it shouldn't be. Stunned by this remark, Pavlovich tells Levahov to put the Prince in irons.
Back at the Prince's home his wife Catherine is mad at her brother Alexander Nikolayevich for hiding the mail from her. She complains that she has to learn about the winter troubles from hearsay. "Not a single letter from Sergey. And now this house arrest!" She says she has been depressed and now she is very tired. She threatens to go to St. Petersburg if he does not tell her where Sergey is. Alexander gives in and tells her that he has been sent to St. Petersburg. He took part in the anti-government conspiracy. Catherine thanks Alexander.
Flashback. Colonel Pestel arrives. With him is Prince Yablonovsky and Mr. Grodetsky. They have to go to Warsaw immediately. The Polish Society is waiting for their answer. The Prince has to go to Uman to meet them.
Back to the present. Marie says the worst is behind them. Now her husband, Pavel Ivanovich, will need her.
The night of July 12-13, 1826. By a roaring fire a soldier says that the following political criminals are condemned to death. Lt. Annenkov starts nervously laughing. The charges are read off for the Prince: he proposed to deprive the Emperor and his Imperial family of freedom when seizing the palace; directed the Northern secret society which plotted mutiny; and he agreed to be named the head and ringleader of the army revolt (even though he did not participate in it personally). His wife remembers the happier days with him.
On the lawn a group of the five condemned conspirators talk with each other. There is a delay in the construction of the gallows. When the gallows are ready sheet like bags cover the entire bodies of the condemned. But the ropes are too short! The sheets are removed from the men. Ryleyev says: "What a miserable empire! They can't even hang people properly."
Flashback. Ryleyev says to the Prince: "If we don't act, we'll deserve to be called scoundrels." But the Prince says: "In the present circumstances, an uprising means death!" Ryleyev says yes they will die, but it will set a good example for others.
Back to the present. The hangman is ready now. The names of the condemned are read off: Pavel Pestel, Kondraty Ryleyev, Sergey Muraviev-Apostol, Mikhail Bestuzhev-Ryumin and Pyotr Kakhovsky. Back into the sheet bags go the condemned.
Flashback. Ryleyev's wife cries to him telling him to give her husband back to her.
Back to the present. This time the hanging ropes break. They have to get the new ropes, stronger ropes. Ryleyev says to the General: ". .. I'm happy that I'm dying twice for my Fatherland." One of the wives prays on the other side of the river from the fortress. Then we hear the timber fall out from underneath the condemned men.
A messenger races to inform the Tsar. It is done. Back in the castle, the Tsar has the Prince's portrait taken off the wall of portraits.
Flashback. The father of Marie tells the exiled Pavel Ivanovich, who is in irons, that he must write to Marie to tell her that he rejects her sacrifice. She'll lose hope and will eventually calm down.
The exiled Prince writes his third letter in less than 100 miles of his journey to his wife Princess Yekaterina Trobetskaya (Catherine).
The father says to Pavel Ivanovich that he has already ruined Marie's life, don't be her murderer too. The Prince agrees to do as the father wishes. He writes the letter. He is then transported to his place of exile.
Princess Catherine leaves the family mansion. Her parents watch her leave. She sees one of the other wives affected by the Decembrist Revolt.
Mademoiselle Pauline runs up to give the Tsar something. She asks that she please be allowed to join Lt. Annenkov in his exile. The Tsar says that she is not even Russian. Pauline says that she will renounce her country. The Tsar asks one of his staff to take her petition. When he starts to leave she runs after the Tsar again. He tells her he will give her his answer in three days.
Annenkov is on his way to exile. He sits in one of the wagons trying to avoid the heavy rain.
Flashback. Annenkov has flashbacks to his early days with the Society. And he thinks of how he interacted with his servants. For punishment he boots Fedya in the keyster and he falls down, saying: "Thank you very much, sir." Annenkov remembers first seeing Pauline. Another flashback is of his mother. She was very angry with him. She noted that the last time he got in trouble he had killed someone in a duel and now he has lost 60 thousand. He will be going to St. Petersburg, but she will not give him any cash. Fedka will feed him on the way. And he is not to dare to come to see her in Moscow without her permission. He leaves.
Annenkov says hello to Pauline. She leaves in a sleigh and a little later he gets on his horse to chase her sleigh. He says: "Only inequality stood between me and her." He says his arrest even made him happy. It removed a barrier between him and his union with Pauline. The Tsar decides to throw him in prison to rot there.
Back to the present. Annenkov is in the wagon in the rain. He decides to commit suicide but then decides against it. Pauline follows after Annenkov, but just misses him as his wagon train pulls away.
Princess Yekatserina Ivanovna (Catherine) is also following one of the exiles: her husband the Prince. She takes part of the journey via the river.
Marie's mother and father read Pavel Ivanovich's letter. He writes that he is always under surveillance. She takes a walk thinking about her darling Pavel. Marie tells her family: "I know I will be able to endure anything being beside Pavel." She loves her husband and wants a little compassion from her family. But dad thinks she's a bit delusional. Her ardor will abate. He says: "Coming to your senses in Siberia would be a tragedy for you." He could stop her from going, but he wants her to stop herself. (The family calls her Masha.)
Princess Yekaterina Ivanovna arrives in a small town. Governor Tsejdler greets her at his house. She asks him why she wasn't given horses. He says there must not be any. If she wishes she can proceed to Nerchinsk. He tells her of the rules from here. She can take nothing of value with her, including money. Her right to own serfs will be revoked as soon as she moves beyond Irkutsk. So her servants cannot go with her. He tells her that she has no idea what her life will be like at the mines. You will live there like the poorest peasant, he tells her. She will only be able to visit her husband once a week. And then she will have to deal with thousands of the most hardened convicts. Yekaterina says to herself: "God will help me." To the governor she pleads to make them give her horses. He finally agrees. She has to sign a document saying she was informed of all the dangers and that she will abide by the rules. She signs. It will be at least three months before the document can get to the Tsar and for him to look it over and send it back. Will you wait or go back? She will wait. The servant laughs while he just sticks her document in a series of huge piles of similar documents.
Pauline is back at Annenkov's mother's place. She tells the mother that she is going to Siberia, but she wants to give mother one last chance to redeem herself in the eyes of her son. Mom sends everyone out, except Pauline. She then hugs Pauline and begs her not to go. It is hard for a foreign woman to journey to Siberia. She will buy her a house in Moscow if she stays. She says that her son is young and can take it. But she, the mother, needs Pauline more. Pauline says: "It's impossible." Both women cry. They both go downstairs.
At the white house where the whole film. Marie reads a letter saying that her son cannot be permitted to go. She cries. Her father comes home. He sits alone thinking about Masha when she was a child. He remembers telling Marie that at one time Prince Sergey Grigorievich Volkonsky asked for her hand in marriage. Back to the present. Marie comes to the room and says that her son is happy, but her husband is unhappy. Her place is beside her husband. Marie prepares to go. Her father says to her: "I will curse you if you do not come back within a year." She leaves in a carriage.
Catherine remembers her past with her husband at the time she was having her picture painted. She tells her cousin that if the doctor is right, she will have a child within a year's time. Serge arrives on horseback. She comes back to the reality of the present. The governor is not feeling well. He tells her that the Emperor's answer has not arrived. She just stands and glares at him. He believes this is her tenth visit, but his servant says it's her eleventh. She softly says that she did not want to bother the Empress. When she leaves the governor tells his servant to get her document and send it next week.
Marie rides through the snow in a sleigh. Everything is covered up but her eyes. She remembers her brother telling her that Prince Volkonsky is one of the best of the eligible bachelors in all of Russia. She says that maybe she'd rather run away than become the wife of a "dandy". In the sleigh she says several times that hope is grief's constant companion. The sleigh is stopped to remove a tree from the road. A messenger brings her a letter. It's a message from St. Petersburg. "The wife of a state criminal is not to leave the place of exile before her husband dies." And even then the state is not obliged to let the widow return to Russia. She decides to continue on her journey.
Catherine visits the governor yet again. She tells him that she knows he received her letter last week. "Stop your evasions!" He says that he hasn't read it yet. He didn't have the time. The governor tells her to come back in a week. She says that he has kept her waiting for almost six months. He gives in. The servant brings the letter. Without reading it, she prepares to sign it. The governor is shocked but she tells him that he knows that she doesn't care what the letter says one way or the other. The governor takes the letter and reads: "A wife, following her husband, will share his fate and lose her former title of any rank . . ." Any children born in Siberia will become " . . . factory peasants with no right of inheriting either the property or name of their father, for they will be registered as serfs.". Catherine's eyes well up and a tear falls down her left cheek. The governor says that if she had listened to him in the first place, she would be at home now. She signs. "Can I go to my husband now?" She wants the horses. But the governor has not finished lecturing her. Now she is just a convict's wife and he can treat her as rudely as he wants. "You yourself will be sent to Nerchinsk as a convict." In irons. Out of 500 men they sent to Siberia, two-thirds of them die along the way. She answers him: "I don't care, I just want to go. Tell them to bring irons." Now the governor really gives in. He apologizes to her for the way he treated her. He says he had been pressured to dissuade her by all possible means. He will give her the horses "and may God save you."
Catherine runs out into the snow. Marie sees her run out. They run to each other and embrace. Catherine cries.
The winter of 1826-1827 dragged on and on at the Blagodatsk mine. Catherine arrives. She looks through the slots between the huge logs forming the palisade. She sees her husband sick and being berated by the commandant. In a small cabin Catherine lies in bed while a woman takes care of her child. Marie arrives. She says: "At last we're in the Promised Land."
Marie is in the mine. She asks if Volkonsky is there. She has traveled 7,000 versts to see her husband. The guard lets her pass. She stands in front of her husband. On her knees she kisses his chains.
A year later, spring 1828. Jean Praskovya marries Mademoiselle Pauline Gebl. Catherine and Marie are there. Pauline's husband is placed in chains. Pauline runs to him and the guards force her back. Jean becomes angry and attacks the guards. The guards subdue him and rough him up. The women get the General to stop his men. The General relays her message to Jean that she is very happy. The wagon with the prisoners pulls out. The women watch as the wagon goes into the palisaded mining area.
Good movie but at times a little hard to follow because of the difficulties with the Russian names. The same person has many different names and different ones can be used at different times. I tried as hard as I could to figure out who was Prince Trubetskoy and who was Volkonsky, Prince or not. Maybe someone can write and tell me. But you'll get a good idea of what the film is all about by reading the summary. The first section on the Decembrist plot and its plotters itself was a bit confusing. They could have spent a little more time on the backgrounds and activities of the plotters. And they don't call the Tsar, the Tsar. He's Nikolai Pavlovich. What a mess. The second part of the movie is much easier to follow. The wives of the exiled men make tremendous sacrifices to travel to Siberia on their own and to accept their now completely different lives in the new land. The heroism of women is often not dealt with in films, so I was happy to see the focus on the wives in the second part.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
1803-1815 – the Napoleonic Wars.
The Wars made the Russian officers realize the terrible fate of the peasant soldier. So-called Decembrist officers rejected court lifestyle. Instead they would wear their cavalry swords at balls (indicating their unwillingness to dance), and committed themselves to academic study. They embraced the Russian peasant and Russian way of life as well as reformative movements abroad..
1816 --several officers of the Imperial Russian guard found the society Union of Salvation or Union of the Faithful and True Sons of the Fatherland. It becomes more revolutionary in sprit when the idealist Pavel Pestel joins.
1818 – the Tsar asks Novosiltsev to draw up a constitution. This was later abandoned.
1820 – a mutiny in the Semyenov regiment.
1821 – after the Semyenov mutiny the society created in 1816 suspended activity.
A Southern Society is established at Tulchin (a small garrison town in the Ukraine) in which Pestel was the moving figure. The goal of the society was a radical one. They wanted to abolish the Russian monarchy for a republic and also wanted land redistribution (with half the land in state ownership and half divided among the peasants).
A Northern Society is established in St. Petersburg. It was led by Guard officers Nikita Muraviev, Prince S. P. Trubetskoy and Prince Eugene Obolensky. They wanted a constitutional monarchy; the abolishment of serfdom; and equality before the law.
1825 (December 1) – Tsar Alexendar I dies. The royal guards swear allegiance to the presumed heir, Alexander's brother Constantine. But Constantine renounced the position of Tsar, so Tsar Nicholas I assumed the throne.
The Revolt in the North
The Northern Society scrambles to convince regimental leaders not to swear allegiance to Nicholas. The leaders of the Northern Society (many of whom belonged to the high aristocracy) elected Prince Sergei Trubetskoy as interim director.
1825 (December 14) – a group of officers with about 3,000 men assembled in Senate Square, where they refused to swear allegiance to Tsar Nicholas I.. Instead they proclaim their loyalty to the idea of a Russian constitution. They expected that the rest of the troops in Saint Petersburg would join them, but they did not. Moreover, Prince Trubetskoy failed to turn up at the square.
Nicholas sends military hero Count Mikhail Miloradovich to pacify the rebels. He makes a speech before the rebels but is shot dead by officer Peter Kakhovsky. A rebelling grenadier squad led by lieutenant Nikolay Panov enters the Winter Palace, but they fail to seize it and then retreat.
Nicholas gathers his military and attacks the rebels with artillery. This finished the end of the revolt in the north.
The Revolt in the South
1825 (December 13) – the police arrest Pavel Pestel, leader of the Southern Society. This was followed by the arrest of other Southern Society leaders.
The United Slavs (allied to the Southern Society) free the arrested men by force. The revolt was on. Sergey Muravyov-Apostol assumed leadership. His forces easily captured the city of Tulchin.
Orders were given to use the artillery loaded with grapeshot to destroy the rebels.
1826 (January 3) – the rebels are defeated; their leaders are sent to St. Petersburg to stand trial with the northern leaders.
The Decembrists were tried and convicted.
The following leaders are hanged: Kakhovsky; Pavel Pestel; the poet Kondraty Ryleyev; Sergey Muravyov-Apostol; and Mikhail Bestuzhev-Ryumin. Other Decembrists were exiled, such as Sergei Volkonsky.
The hanging ropes split before any of the leaders actually died. Nicholas I orders new ropes and the prisoners are hanged for good. This was the last public execution in Russian imperial history.
Suspicion fell on several eminent persons who were on friendly terms with the Decembrist leaders: Aleksandr Pushkin, Alexander Griboedov and Aleksey Yermolov.
1860s and 1870s – the Decembrists become the idols for the populist movement of these years. One admirer was writer Leo Tolstoy, the grandson of Sergei Volkonsky.
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