Heart of a Dog (Собачье сердце / Sobachye syerdtsye) is a Soviet film directed by Vladimir Bortko in 1988. The film immediately achieved international acclaim and within a few years came to be recognized as a masterpiece back home too. The movie is an adaption of Mikhail Bulgakov’s eponymous novel. And it’s famous for its how faithfully it follows the original text.
Bulgakov wrote the novel in the winter of 1925 while under investigation by the Soviet secret police. Then, a year after he wrote the story, the secret police confiscated his manuscript. It was not to see the public eye for decades. The way in which Heart of a Dog explores themes of Homo Sovieticus and the inconsistencies of the Bolshevik system made it unpopular with authorities.
In the 1960s, more than two decades after Bulgakov’s death, Heart of a Dog became unofficially available to the Soviet public through “samizdat,” a form of dissident self-publishing. However, only in 1987 did the Soviet regime allow the story’s official publication in Znamya magazine. As such, this film adaption came to the screen exceptionally soon after the official release of the novel.
Today, many consider this 1988 Heart of a Dog adaption to be one of the finest works of Russian film ever. Vladimir Tolokonnikov’s portrayal of Sharikov the dog in particular is legendary.
It’s 1924, Moscow. Professor Preobrazhensky (Evgeniy Evstigneev) conceives a remarkable experiment. He transplants human pituitary and seminal glands to a stray dog that has moved into his apartment.
The results of the operation are incredible. The dog, Sharikov (Vladimir Tolokonnikov), physically transforms into a man who is able to speak.
Despite the initial success of the experiment, though, things quickly take a turn for the worst. Sharikov exhibits the worst character traits of the recently deceased drunk brawler from where his transplanted glands came. He starts stealing from Preobrazhensky, harassing him and his servants, and generally wreaking havoc on his apartment.
While Sharikov is making Preobrazhensky’s life hell, he is also adapting to Moscow life. Amusingly, he becomes head of the Moscow unit for exterminating stray cats. Then, he denounces Preobrazhensky to the apartment building’s house committee, demanding that he give him a separate living space by subdividing his apartment.
Rising tensions between dog and professor come to a head when Sharikov threatens Preobrazhensky with a gun. After that, Preobrazhensky and Bormental return Sharikov to his original canine state.