Stark, spare, sparce. All the unsettling "S" words apply to Caspar Wrede's "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," a faithful adaptation of Alexandre Solzhenitsyn's roman à clef of the same title - a work of fiction inspired by his own experiences as a prisoner in Stalin's Gulag.
Tom Courtenay is mesmerizing in a performance of detailed miminalism as Ivan, branded a political prisoner while serving in the Russian army during World War II. Ivan is caprtured twice - first by the Nazis who place him in a P.O.W. camp, from which he escapes, and then by a suspicious Stalinist government which incarcerates him in a gulag for 10 years as a spy. That's 3650 days. As its title says, the film is about just one day.
Wrede's accomplishment here - a risky one - is that, for 100 unrelentling minutes, the viewer experiences the boredom and tedium and, vicariously, the pain of Ivan's deadening, grueling daily routines.
And so, not surprisingly, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" is an acquired taste. But the film's demands are definitely worth the effort.
Ronald Harwood - scenarist of "The Pianist" and "The Dresser" (which also starred Courtenay), among others - did the fly-on-the-wall adaptation, working from a translation of the original by Gillon Aitkin.