A Russian studio production. On BluRay. In English.
The story takes place in an asylum? Before one can say Caligari or Dr. Tarr and Professor Feather, we innocent viewers are prepared for narrative surprises and reversals. But the show has an entirely different agenda. Shakhnazarov doesn’t pursue a horror thriller or a mystery with a twist plot. In fact, the subject of insanity isn’t essential to the storyline — the two doctors in the story are just caretakers, faced with a curious patient whose behavior doesn’t follow normal patterns.
At a well-run mental asylum around 1990, Dr. Yegorovich (Armen Dzhigarkhanyan) is retiring, and as part of his hand-off to the new chief medico Dr. Smirnov (Oleg Yankovskiy) arranges an interview with the most puzzling patient in the building, Timofeyev (Malcolm McDowell). At first Timofeyev seems a garden variety lunatic — with clear-eyed sincerity, he explains that what he once thought were delusions, like a little girl coming to talk to him, are actually parts of his past life: he assassinated both Tsar Alexander II in 1881 and Tsar Nicolas II in 1918. Timofeyev’s ‘reasonable’ sincerity strikes Smirnov as special — the man may be nuts, but he’s not trying to fool them. Complicating the case are strange phenomena: ligature bruises appear on Timofeyev’s neck, on the anniversary of the death of Nicolai Rysakov, Alexander II’s assassin.