Deaf Crocodile, in association with partner Seagull Films, announced today that it’s releasing director Karen Shakhnazarov’s time-traveling historical mystery THE ASSASSIN OF THE TSAR from 1991 in a stunning 2K restoration from Mosfilm. Malcolm McDowell (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, TIME AFTER TIME) delivers one of his finest performances as Timofeyev, a patient in a Soviet mental hospital who’s convinced he’s the killer of two Tsars: Alexander II in 1881 and Nicholas II in 1918. The film was shot simultaneously in English and Russian-language versions on separate 35mm negatives, and the company will release restorations of both versions on Blu-ray and digital for the first time in North America in Spring, 2023.
“It was an amazing experience, really, and something I will never forget. It stands out of all the movies I’ve done as one of the most interesting,” says Malcolm McDowell. “I knew by meeting Shakhnazarov I was going to work with him. He was a substantial artist and very passionate about his work … I just knew instantly I was going to work with him.”
Following ZEROGRAD, Shakhnazarov’s surreal 1988 satire which Deaf Crocodile released for the first time on Blu-ray this past October, Shakhnazarov was approached to direct an adaptation of the 1892 novella Ward No. 6 by Anton Chekhov. That project ultimately fell through, but the research he did in Soviet mental hospitals inspired him and co-writer Aleksandr Borodyanskiy to craft their own story of a patient in a Russian asylum haunted by ghosts from the past. “The subject of the assassination of the Tsar was banned absolutely, and we knew very little about it. Any materials concerning this matter only began to appear only at the end of the perestroika period,” recalls director and co-writer Shakhnazarov. “When I read those materials, articles, books, I was fascinated by the story. The formerly closed archives were open and accessible … Of course, the story of the assassination of the royal family is very dramatic, it’s a tragedy, and a very complex subject.”
“The peculiar thing is that while working on the script, we visualized Malcolm McDowell as Timofeyev,” continues Shakhnazarov. “I liked him very much, I liked his acting – A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, IF…., CALIGULA. But I could never imagine that he would be cast in my film, because at that time he was one of the most famous stars of the American cinema!”
“I’ve been a great admirer of THE ASSASSIN OF THE TSAR since I screened it during a retrospective of Malcolm McDowell’s films in Los Angeles many years ago that he attended,” says Deaf Crocodile Films’ Co-Founder and Head of Distribution Dennis Bartok. “It’s such a fascinating approach to one of the most famous and tragic events of the 20th century, the assassination of Tsar Nicholas II and his family. Instead of taking an objective, historical approach to the tragedy, Shakhnazarov looks at it through the fractured prism of McDowell’s character Timofeyev, and eventually we’re drawn into his warped reality. McDowell’s performance is utterly brilliant and has always been one of my favorites of his roles.”
Says Craig Rogers, Deaf Crocodile’s Co-Founder and Head of Post-Production and Restoration: “Dennis’ depth of knowledge of fascinating but forgotten foreign cinema is seemingly endless. He’s once again plucked a spectacular film out of obscurity for us to bring to new audiences. THE ASSASSIN OF THE TSAR is a gem.”
THE ASSASSIN OF THE TSAR (TSAREUBIYTSA), 1991, Mosfilm, 104 min./102 min. From Karen Shakhnazarov, director of ZEROGRAD, ASSASSIN OF THE TSAR is a mysterious and labyrinthine psychological drama in which the tormented chambers of a patient’s mind come to warp everything around him, even the folds of history itself. In one of his finest latter-day performances, Malcolm McDowell (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, TIME AFTER TIME) stars as Timofeyev, a severe schizophrenic in a dreary Soviet mental hospital who is convinced that, impossibly, he’s the killer of two Tsars: Alexander II in 1881 and Nicholas II in 1918. The sympathetic head of the hospital, Dr. Smirnov (the great Russian actor Oleg Yankovskiy) is determined to cure Timofeyev of his madness – but instead finds himself literally pulled back through time, inhabiting the ghosts of the past as they march towards their tragic destiny. A Deaf Crocodile and Seagull Films release.
Shakhnazarov, who has also served as Director General of Mosfilm since 1998, further comments, “For us today restoration is more of a cultural action than a commercial matter. But I think that it is very important that the masterpieces of world cinema, the classics, are now in good quality – this in itself is very important for the preservation of this heritage.”