Rustam Mosafir is certainly new to anyone not living in Eastern Europe. That said, he’s a man of several facets in film and entertainment, and he’s all but applied himself amply in this aspect per the duration of filming his latest period thriller, The Scythian, which opened in Russia just a few weeks ago.
Arriving with his second feature film to date, Mosafir joins writer Vadim Golovanov to bring an epic action adventure frilm that broods with sweeping, violent and cathartic resolve. Forty-two days of principal photography in 2016 whilst pressing on through heavy environmental pressures lends a small price to pay for a $2.5 million dollar endeavor that undoubtedly endured its ample share of hurdles and challenges.
Produced by Sergey Selyanov and host to a dialogue of four languages, the story is set against the backdrop of the tumultuous milleu of Central Eurasia in the 13th Century, a time when deals are brokered with blind divine faith, or tyrannical bloodshed. Actor Aleksey Vaddeev in his second feature film appearance stars as Luthobor, the most elite of the higher-ranking soldiers in service of Oleg, Prince Of Tymutarakan (Yuriy Tsurilo).
With the Prince looking to advance his rule as assassins lurk in the midst, Luthobor remains steadfast, loyal and ready to give his life at a moment’s notice. His most unforseen trial comes a week after the birth of his son when his village is raided by “Wolves”, a gang of hired assassins who live and exist in the name of Ares, who kidnap his wife, Tatiana (Vasilisa Izmaylova), and their newborn son.
What ensues is a story of treachery, intrigue, spiritual awakening and trepidating self-discovery between two warriors on opposing sides of religious boundaries. A series of diabolical twists of fate set the pace for a week-long life-or-death journey as Luthobor reluctantly pairs up with Kunitsa (Aleksandr Kuznetsov), a member of the “Wolves” who raided the village, in order to rescue his family and find out who wants Oleg dead.
The cast’s dramatic caliber is matched only by the sheer endurance demanded by the pressures of fluctuating weather conditions and rocky terrtain within the forests and steppes of Crimea where the movie was filmed. Cold temperatures cease to hinder the cast to take on shirtless tirades whether in battle or pondering one’s crises post-bloodshed. Vaddeem takes the reigns with gusto in that regard as a soldier whose wife, Tatiana, is as much the center of his world as are his hopes for a son over a daughter.
Luthobor’s close-knit cabinet of loyalists also comprise of Oleg’s son, Vseslav (Aleksandr Patsevich), who is easily the closest thing Luthobor has to a best friend. It’s an air of levity that measures almost the same between Luthobor and Oleg who reveals a much more ambitious, conniving nature in the first half of the movie.
Character development delves into sheer, spell-binding and savage fervor for Luthobor as the film progresses. His partnership with Kunitsa is not one with ease, but the transformation veers gradually into a mutual respect for one another by the end. Life and death situations and moments of transformative revelations set the tone for things midway between the two as we come to understand more about Luthobor and the intrinsic, confounding spiritual dilemma he faces later on following one of the more extreme, brutal and gory fight scenes.
This is more than what can largely be said for the amount of screentime shared between Faddeev and Izmaylova in their respective scenes and with each other. Apart from a welcoming the Prince to their small cliffside town, as well as her respite romantic moments Luthobor, there isn’t much else to her character with exception to guarding her baby during her capture. Her greatest use does attribute to the dramatic fallout of Luthobor’s brutal fight finale with the Wolves in a tribal judgement duel at the behest of Ares which sets the stage for an explosive closer that would even have George R.R. Martin nod with approval.
Kuznetsov’s energizing portrayal of Kunitsa is that of a lightining-fast assassin with gorilla tactics as his angle. A highly-skilled killer with any bladed weapon, he can cut down any man of any size no matter how big the man or the weapon they wield. Similarly, he doesn’t share the same bloodthirsty enthusiasm as his fellow Wolves, but adheres to the very code that keeps him alive, and equally deadly in measure. It also helps embody and convey his philosophy to a troubled Luthobor midway in the film.
Nadezhda Vasileva’s costume design aims high throughout the film from Viktor Solovyov’s Anagast donning tribal decor with a ghoulish gown patched with what appear to be a handful of human faces, to actor Oleg Rudenko-Travin’s haunting emergence as the decrepit, ghoulish underground guardian of a temple of Perun. The Forest People, worshippers of Veles, are comprised of dwarf actors in blue make-up with further detailed design along with rugged cotoure and an intricate forest set affixed with wood fixtures, ladders and bridges, and a pit in which Luthobor and Kunitsa end up fighting to the death with the hulking Berenday, played by former circus strongman-turned-actor Boris Zverev.
Wide-angle lensing is the basis for many of the illustrious shots, notably picking up consistently throughout. Dzmitry Karnachyk’s versatile cinematography stimulates the senses from the remote locales of Crimea to the frenzied and brutal battle scenes. Music duo Potir’s score settles in nicely throughout the narrative with a cultured touch that isn’t afraid to get a little edgy and spice things up when the moment calls for it.
Co-star and fourteen-year stunt professional Fedor Starykh (Hardcore Henry, The Legend Of Kolvorat) applies his craft with great taste in his debut here as stunt coordinator. A more privileged production would have garnered longer than two months of prep while Mosafir’s efforts here had exactly that long before rolling cameras. Suffice it to say, the film accomplishes more than plenty in what one might expect, from fight choreography to performance and overall lensing.
At least two of the action sequences lean much more in visual effects and ornamental editing, feasibly accommodating the evolution of our main character with ferocious results; Bodies are manually disemboweled and faces are ripped halfway off, with the second scene serving as a recapitulaton of what our hero grows to face with his own humanity at stake.
Several of the key principal cast members get their moment to shine in the gruesome and relentless action. Mosafir’s debut her isn’t too long a wait before we meet him as Kumar, the proud son of the Khan, who shares several scenes with Vaddeem that are key to the film’s narrative delivery in both action and drama. Vitaly Kravchenko rivals Kunitsa in the role of Yar who, unlike his fellow Wolf, has ambitions to lead the pack and will undertake whatever skullduggery he needs to achieve his goals in Anagast’s purview.
Mosafir’s vision for The Scythian is backed by great scope and depth captured with breathtaking views and set designs. Solid performances, stunning photography of a robust European landscape and production design, the latter whom would easily be a worthy candidate for a fantastic fight film if called upon. The action promises in nearly all departments, invoking a tactful handling and understanding of what it means to film intense moments of danger, and thrilling fights.
Movie goers, fans of action cinema and enthusiasts of fictional viking lore need not concern themselves with any measure of time wasted for seeing his latest epic achievement. A dark, staunch period thriller with nightmaring allure and marvelous action makes way for Mosafir who is still mostly well known within regional circles but makes a stern case for a wider base. Assuredly, for the stellar sword-and-shield fantasy delight that is Mosafir’s second feature, The Scythian all but proves he can pass muster for today’s fandom.
*You can find Rustam Mosafir’s THE SCYTHIAN on DVD at Amazon.com listed under the title, THE LAST WARRIOR.