The film starts on 27.01.1874 in the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, at a premiere of the opera. Mussorgsky is there, anxious and excited. Żuławski shows the tsarist Russia of the late 19th century before a spectacle about a part of its history. Borders of the stage disappear, you may say - they break. And there we see a reconstruction of tsarist Russia of 1598-1605 in an "open" space. (...)
The film is set in extraordinary scenery of the old Russia, re-constructed in a studio in Belgrade, in blues, reds, and gold, in illuminated icons, in contrasting lights and fogs with rebelling people, dirty and grey, hustled by a whip. It is a rupture of images, screams, blows, political murders, violent intrigues, which shake Boris, the tsar, struck by fear of God and people, tormented with bad conscience about madness and crimes of power.
Jacques Siclier, Le Monde
Four and a half hours of grim, Russian tedium, the tsar, and his soul, repenting for sins, a Polish intriguer and holy simpletons... Doesn't this admiration for the genius of Mussorgsky and Pushkin resemble a play of mirrors and reverse reflections? Borges-style game? It is a very difficult task to film an opera. The director is like a dog with a leash - not his own, with his mouth free. Able to lick and able to bite. But also to lie humbly down and admire the talent of the late artists, and only slightly, slightly wag its tail to the music.
I have taken all the three attitudes, while working on Boris. The monotony was cut by half, "the grim atmosphere gained colours" and the viewpoint - I hope - is a little lighter. It is an ever-attractive goal: to illuminate the lighthouse of an opera with a cinema flashlight.
Andrzej Żuławski (born in 1940) is one of the most controversial Polish directors. For years, he has been a creator of emotional, passionate, obsessive cinema on the edge of image hysteria. Even in his debut, the visionary Third Part of the Night / Trzecia część nocy (Poland 1971), Żuławski was visibly different from the communist Poland’s film style, which he never actually got adapted to. After the censors blocked his eccentric projects – The Devil / Diabeł (Poland 1972), referring to the events of March 1968 and the apocalyptic sci-fi film The Silver Globe / Na srebrnym globie (Poland 1976-87) – he resolved to move to France and to chain his artistic way to the European cinema. His subsequent films: The Important Thing Is To Love / L' Important c'est d'aimer (France / Italy / Germany 1975), Possession (Germany 1981), The Public Woman / La femme publique (France 1984) or Mad Love / L’amour braque (France 1985) were still shocking, both due to their new-wave form and the expressive, almost hysteric style. As he admits himself, he makes films about things that torture him, which are expressed the best through women. For many actresses – Małgorzata Braunek, Romy Schneider, Izabelle Adjani or Sophie Marceau – the roles proposed by Żuławski were the boldest and the most important ones of their artistic lives.