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Under the direction of celebrated filmmaker Elem Klimov (Come and See), Aleksei Petrenko delivers a ferociously over-the-top performance as Grigory Rasputin, the wandering Siberian monk whose messianic influence upon Russia's monarch led its people, like lambs to the slaughter, blind and headlong into World War I, setting the stage for revolution.
Anything but a standard bio-pic, Agony is an unrestrained assault on the ruling class in Russia, whose religious hedonism and political ignorance nearly destroyed the country. Influenced in part by such latter 20th Century phenomena as Charles Manson and The Exorcist, Klimov restages world history with jolting doses of sexual avarice, drunkenness, violence and insanity in startling contrast to staid historical accounts of Rasputin's life and most peculiar death.
At the same time that it was criticized for its harsh depiction of royal decadence, Agony was deemed politically blasphemous for its almost sympathetic treatment of Nicholas II (Anatoli Romashin) -- a pathetic, weak-willed Czar who is dominated not only by the mad monk, but by his own wife and child. As a result, Agony, which was made in 1975, was banned for ten years in its native land until, in the era of Glasnost, Klimov's radical political fable was properly recognized and triumphantly set loose upon the screens of the world.
"Mesmerizing...highly sensual! Shares an intoxicating headiness with the surreal works of Andrei Tarkovsky." - Kevin Thomas, The Los Angeles Times
"Establishes the outer limits of Soviet Expressionism...Better than entertaining!" - J. Hoberman, The Village Voice