Saturday, 13 October 2012
Nikita Mikhalkov: Unfinished Piece For The Player Piano - Неоконченная пьеса для механического пианино (1977)
Writers:Aleksandr Adabashyan, Anton Chekhov (play),
Stars: Aleksandr Kalyagin, Yelena Solovey, Yevgeniya Glushenko
AMONG the leisurely pleasures of Nikita Mikhalkov's ''An Unfinished Piece for Player Piano'' are the ensemble acting of an excellent cast and the extraordinarily enterprising approach taken by this pre-eminent Soviet director. The film, only very loosely based on the early Chekhov play ''Platonov,'' is perhaps even closer to Chekhov than Chekhov was. Mr. Mikhalkov, who is also the director of ''A Slave of Love'' and ''Oblomov,'' uses this as an opportunity to capture, even embroider, the spirit of a Chekhov story. He succeeds to a remarkable degree.
''An Unfinished Piece for Player Piano,''... also resembles Mr. Mikhalhov's other movies, especially in its rapturous summery setting and in the complex irony of its closing moments. It takes place at a country home to which a dozen interrelated characters have retreated for a vacation. Platonov (Aleksandr Kalaigin, who played the film director in ''A Slave of Love''), a schoolmaster around whom much of the action revolves, arrives at the house with his sweet but simple new wife, Sasha (Yevgeniya Glushenko), only to discover than his former sweetheart Sophia (Yelena Solovei) is also in the company. A noisy but very rich landowner is played by Oleg Tabakov, who played the title role in ''Oblomov.'' A local doctor, also one of the party, is played by Mr. Mikhalkov himself.
The action is bewildering at times, because there are so many characters on hand, and because Mr. Mikhalkov is a greater stylist than he is a storyteller; the first part of the film is an extended greeting period, and it takes a while to sort out the various characters. Even here, the ensemble playing is skillful enough to weather any confusion. Mr. Mikhalkov lets the actors glide from one contretemps to another, as their idyll is given over to romantic trouble, to debates about social responsibility and the future, and to the unmasking of these wealthy characters as delusions, selfinvolvement and silliness.
At the center of all this is the troubled Platonov, who during the course of the film is led to question his life profoundly - and then arrive, in the most roundabout way, at a moment of affirmation. In an exquisite closing scene between Platonov and Sasha, who makes him believe that all will change and all will be better, the film strikes a transcendently ironic note, because the improbability of Platonov's changing has already been made plain. Mr. Mikhalkov ends this film, as he ended ''Oblomov,'' on a note of both hope and disappointment, with a view of distant landscapes and the image of a child.