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photography and film – facts, ideas, values

FILM and BOOK The Master and Margarita {Master i Margarita – Director: Vladimir Bortko [2005] }



A pleasing, chance find in an Oxfam bookshop: a hardback copy in good condition, with flyleaf only slightly torn, of Michael Glenny’s 1967 English translation* of The Master and Margarita. Read about Mikhael Bulgakov many years ago. Settling down to read it, chuckling pretty soon, I was surprised what it was: not at all as heavy going as imagined.

Also watching the 2005 10 part Russian TV Mini-series which is currently on YouTube in 50 parts, making sure – of course! – not to get past the book in the film. Fascinating how Bortko has managed to translate the book into film, though many have pointed out how much easier it is when you have 10 hours to play with.

In the scene in the film where Ivan is questioned by Prof. Stravinsky, the psychiatrist says “Sic transit gloria mundi”, which in the Glenny chapter (8) is:

‘They’ve got it all sewn up,’ thought Ivan. The man in charge ran a practiced eye over the sheet of paper, muttered ‘Mm’hh’ and exchanged a few words with his colleagues in a strange language. ‘And he speaks Latin too – like Pilate.’ mused Ivan sadly.

In the film he says “Sic….”, turning to four minions standing behind him arranged along the wall, who nod to each other knowingly. What puzzles me is why of all the Latin they could have used they chose that for the script – because no actual Latin is quoted in the scene in the book. Maybe not so much puzzled as amused by the minds of scriptwriters and directors…. I’ll not spoil your enjoyment of the book by going into chapter and verse. Buy the book and read it. Try not to read around it too much before settling down to enjoy it. There is a lot online about the story. Better to read first and study after, I think.

If you have decided against reading the book, or that it is not in your Must Read List 2010, by all means try Jan Vanhelleont’s website Master and Margaita, which will answer all possible questions on the subject without having to turn a single page of the book. But more fun and a more lasting impression can be had by reading the book first, and answering the questions afterwards. Chose your translation carefully. It appears from reading the wiki entry on the novel, that there are translations and there are translations.

The M and M website links to two English translations in e-book:

[1] 1967 Glenny translation
* According to Olga Gurevich, this translation is based on a censored version of the novel.
[2] A 1997 translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, with extensive notes by Pevear.

There are a few typos in the online version of the latter.


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December 24, 2009 Posted by | film [its techniques], Master and Margarita, Mikhael Bulgakov, Richard Pevear, Vladimir Bortko | Leave a comment