Sunday, 27 November 2011

Abram Room:Belated Flowers - Цветы запоздалые (1969)

Director: Abram Room
Writers: Anton Chekhov (novel), Abram Room
Stars: Irina Lavrentyeva, Aleksandr Lazarev, Olga Zhiznyeva

A very young writer at the beginning of his career and an elderly film maker, nearing the end of his, reach a lovely, tactful kind of accord in "Belated Flowers," based on the novella that Chekhov wrote in 1882, when he was 22, and now made into a film by Abram Room, who is 78.

The novella, more evocatively titled "Late-Blooming Flowers" in the translation by I. C. Chertok and Jean Gardner, is a gently comic, bourgeois fairy tale about the redemptive love of the beautiful, consumptive and flatbroke Princess Marusya Priklonsky for the vain, hugely ambitious Dr. Toporkov, who'd once been a bootboy in the Priklonsky palace.

The Priklonskys are at the end of their rope when the doctor comes back into their lives, though he scarcely remembers the name when he visits the palace to treat young Prince Yegorushka for delirium tremens. The old princess frets about the doctor's arrogance and wishes that he weren't so ill-born. He is, she knows, a catch. The young prince thinks the doctor is a bore and the young princess falls madly in love with him.

Time passes. A disreputable old matchmaker comes by and suggests that the doctor would marry Marusya if she could produce a dowry of 60,000 rubles—the sum the doctor needs to acquire a fine new house. It's an unthinkable amount, and the doctor, instead, marries the daughter of a wealthy trademan.

More time passes. The Priklonsky palace and possessions are lost to debtors. The old princess dies. The young prince acquires a rude, noisy mistress, and Marusya slips farther into a consumption that finally breeds its own kind of emotional antibodies. One day she goes to the doctor's office, pays her five-ruble fee and confesses to the amazed man that she loves him desperately.

The doctor, whose entire life until then has been devoted to money, is transformed. Although it's too late to save Marusya, he takes her on an idyllic holiday to the South of France and, later, when last we see him, he is still making as much money as he can, but now he has taken the ridiculous, dissolute prince into his household, to feed and care for him and to indulge his whims. Writes Chekhov: "Yegorushka's chin reminds [the doctor] of Marusya's chin, and because of this he allows Yegorushka to squander his five-ruble notes. . . ."

Abram Room, who was a pupil of Kuleshov, is known in this country almost exclusively for his 1927 silent film, "Bed and Sofa," and for "The Garnet Bracelet," which was shown here in 1967 without creating any interest whatever. Compared with other great early Soviet directors, all of whom he has outlived, he is a most conservative director, yet the conservativism of "Belated Flowers" has the effect of being spectacular today.

The film is conceived almost as if it were a theatrical piece. Sets never seem to have more than three sides, and it's a shock when the director occasionally turns his camera to show us the fourth wall. Most of the scenes are photographed in soft focus, in medium long-shots, through wide-angle lenses that have the effect of distorting perspective in such a way that we feel as if we're looking at a world enclosed in a glass sphere, as if it were in an antique paperweight. There's very little cutting so that even the slightest movement of the camera becomes somehow a momentous gesture, the visual equivalent of the emotions that rock the ill-fated princess. ...

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