Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Cine-Caché #1: Anton Chekov's The Duel

The first entry in the Brattle Theatre's and Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film's follow up to the Sunday Eye-Opener series (last seen about a year ago) is a film that will play a regular booking there starting on the 15th, and comes recommended.

So far, time will tell if Cine-Caché manages to bring in more people than the Eye-Opener did; a weekday night should be easier to make than 11am Sunday morning, but the "soft opening" was pretty scantly attended The next entry, on 11 October, is apparently a group of documentary shorts in co-operation with the DocYard (who collaborated on the last bi-weekly Monday night program). I'm a little surprised that it's not The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, as the rest of that day's schedule is a mirror image of the entire-trilogy day on the 14th, but it doesn't seem to be shaking out that way.

At any rate, both The Duel and Cine-Caché are worth the time of Boston-area moviegoers when they reappear next week.

Anton Chekhov's The Duel

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 September 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (Cine-Caché)

I cannot claim any degree of expertise on how The Duel works as an adaptation of Anton Chekov's source material; I am just educated enough to know that Chekhov is considered one of the world's great playwrights but not enough to know much more than that. I suspect that I am not alone in this, for better or worse, so those in a similar situation can take me at my word when I saw that this adaptation of his novella is, at least, a good movie for us: It's entertaining, though it does expect a little effort on the audience's part.

Laevsky (Andrew Scott) is an idle man. He is currently idling in the Crimea, neglecting some sort of official posting, sharing his home and his bed with Nadia (Fiona Glascott), who has left behind a husband in St. Petersberg. He's friendly with army medic Samoylenko (Niall Buggy) and fellow expatriot Sheshkovsky (Nicholas Rowe), but has the overt disdain of others, such as naturalist Von Koren (Tobias Menzies). He is settling steadily into debt and ennui when he receives a letter from back home, stating that his married love is now a widow. That's quite unsettling, as she may want to marry if she finds out, and he truthfully isn't quite that fond of her.

Though the title suggests decisive action, The Duel is rather focused on the opposite. It is full of characters progressing from day to day on inertia, not taking action until backed into a corner, and even then finding it rather distasteful. It's a tale of 19th Century aristocrats, not modern slackers, so there are intrigues of reputation and standing. How much that was the case in Chekhov's original story, I don't know, but in Mary Bing's script, it's a very well-balanced combination of comedic laziness and moralistic judgment, the wispiest of plots to make sure that what we're watching feels like a story rather than just observation.

Full review at EFC.

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