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Dostoevsky's Travels (1991)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Dostoevsky's Travels (1991)
For Bookmark, BBC2, tx. 9/10/1991
52 mins, colour
DirectorPaul Pawlikowski
Production CompanyBBC
ProducerPaul Pawlikowski
EditorNigel Williams

Subject of film: Dimitri Dostoevsky

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Dmitri Dostoevsky, Leningrad tram driver and great-grandson of Fyodor Dostoevsky, travels to western Europe following the footsteps of his great-grandfather's own journey in 1862. Dmitri hopes his efforts will help him realise his dream of owning a Mercedes.

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In 1862, the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky travelled to Western Europe. In the early 1990s, his great grandson Dimitri (his name taken from one of Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov) makes the same journey, travelling from St Petersburg to Berlin and London to lecture about his great grandfather.

When Pawel Pawlikowski (credited here as Paul) visited the Dostoevsky Museum in St Petersburg, he learned that Dostoevsky's only descendant, Dimitri, was still alive. The director found Dimitri in Germany and, after agreeing to pay him a thousand pounds, began filming. After their first meeting, Pawlikowski thought that Dimitri "had grown a beard to look more like a Dostoevsky and I thought, a great face, great character, he could be a good key to the East/West situation today." Dostoevsky's Travels reflects one of the pivotal moments in modern history: the fall of the Berlin Wall. The film ruminates on the collapse of the Soviet Union and Russia's transition to capitalism: Dimitri's yearning for material goods symbolises Russia's desire for contact with the West and all it can offer.

Dimitri is invited to Germany by the members of the Dostoevsky Society. He is asked to give a series of lectures about his great grandfather. He knows little about his illustrious ancestor, and his only ambition is to earn enough money to buy a Mercedes. The film sugars its message with comic scenes, such as Dimitri sitting on a toilet seat writing a lecture on Fyodor: "Will I get the Mercedes out of it? I decide not to waste time. I dig up a few German language books about Dostoevsky... and compile a lecture. Quite a good one too." Dimitri feels burdened by his relative's status, because everybody expects him to be a 'prophet', just as Fyodor was considered to be. The film blends real events with fictional elements; the meeting of Dimitri Dostoevsky and Count Tolstoy in London is accompanied by a voiceover explaining that Fyodor and Leo never met, suggesting that Dimitri's story might itself be a fiction. In a Baden Baden casino, Dimitri plays roulette. Perhaps, we wonder, the whole film is a trick, and Dimitri nothing more than a conman.

The film ends on a slightly moralistic note: on his way back to Russia Dimitri is attacked by bandits. His lust for a Mercedes brings him only grief - a metaphor, perhaps, for Russia's difficulties in adapting to capitalism.

Kamila Kuc

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Video Clips
1. The West (3:04)
2. The lecture (3:11)
3. An Audi's no good (2:44)
4. The gambler (2:58)
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