Based on the novel by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a tribute to the inherent dignity of man and his ability to maintain his humanity under seemingly impossible conditions. Though faithful to the novel, the film emerges as strangely unmoving.
Life chronicles a ‘good’ day for Ivan Denisovich, a prisoner in the eighth year of a 10-year sentence at a Siberian labor camp. The day is filled with small victories over the system. He does not fall ill, he manages to cop some extra food and tobacco, finds a hacksaw blade, builds a cinderblock wall and retires without incurring the wrath of his keepers.
Sincerity (and austerity) of the production, lensed expertly under fierce conditions in Norway by Sven Nykvist, cannot compensate for Caspar Wrede’s lackluster direction and a script so sparse it almost seems nonexistent. Considering what they have to work with, the performers are fine, especially Courtenay who captures a mix of wiliness and childlike enthusiasm that is consistently convincing.