Modern Russian novels are rather like intricate tapestries: each position has effect and meaning only when one considers the development of the total work. Dostoyevsky's Idiot is no exception. An amalgam of theology, philosophy and realism, it is complex and ponderous. Any attempt to bring it to the screen is ambitious, and though the interpretation at the Brattle may not retain all of the profundity of the prose, it represents a moderate artistic success of its own.
In the novel Dostoyevsky's character is wise and good, but his frequent epileptic fits seem paradoxical to his moral eloquence. In the film, the Idiot is more a character of insight and candor. His fits have a mystical quality and come on him when he is confronted by someone seeking a solution to life in evil. Amidst the cunning Russian aristocracy he is an unconscious link with the metaphysical, and Gerard Philipe's performance falters only when he lends more melancholy to his lines than poetic innocence. Edwige Feuillere portrays the bold yet sensitive women who first seeks happiness in the coarseness of materialism and then realizes that her only contentment is in the love of the one man who understands her, the Idiot. Her flashing eyes and dominating manner make her convincing in the role; however toward the end her part calls for compassion and Miss Feuillere fails to step from the path of cold bitterness.
Though the film manages to grasp and convey the current of Dostoyevsky's ideas, it sometimes becomes tedious as entertainment. The book is episodic and disjointed and the French producers have not done enough to remedy this in their screen adaptation. Also much of the force of several scenes is diminished when the histrionics of the participants seem more like adolescent temper than mature emotionalism.
With The Idiot the Brattle is showing George K. Arthur's The Stranger Left No Card. Winner of the 1953 Cannes Film Festival's Grand Prize, this vignette tells the story of an eccentric prestidigitator who commits an almost perfect crime. It provides a pleasant balance to the program.