Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Return to the classics - A love affair between Anton Chekhov and an admirer of his work is the subject of a new film by a local director.

St. Petersburg director Vitaly Melnikov presented the premiere of his new film, “The Admirer” (“Poklonnitsa”), at the city’s Dom Kino movie theater last week. The film is loosely based on a true story, and focuses on 19th-century literary giant Anton Chekhov, one of Russia’s greatest dramatists. Melnikov, an esteemed veteran of the city’s Lenfilm studios, picked a little known episode from the writer’s biography as the basis for his new film. Chekhov, played by Kirill Pirogov, arrives in St. Petersburg already reputed as a literary figure, and meets Lydia Avilova (Svetlana Ivanova), a young writer and an admirer of his work. The two quickly fall in love, but the story cannot be a happy one: He is terminally ill with tuberculosis, and she is married with children. In contrast with modern cinema, their love affair consists of a few meetings, a few exchanged letters and not much else. But a shared understanding of literature and their affection for each other unites the characters until the final frame of the movie. It is no accident that the film was originally planned to be titled “Lions, Eagles and Partridges” — a quote from Chekhov’s play “The Seagull,” devoted to love and art, which in the film are the opposing forces to mediocrity and banality. Melnikov has created a heartwarming story that includes both sad moments and comic episodes. Avilova’ s brother, carried away by the philosophy of Leo Tolstoy, is a source of humor, as is her narrow-minded husband and the insolent circle of literary ladies. The highlight of “The Admirer” is undoubtedly the film’s talented actors, the most famous among whom is Oleg Tabakov, who plays Chekhov’s friend Nikolai Leikin. Tabakov is known for his roles in many classic Russian films, including “War and Peace” (1968), “Seventeen Moments of Spring” (1973) and “Oblomov” (1981). “The Admirer” is the 23rd movie of the 83-year-old director, who rose to fame after his first serious work, “The Boss of Chukotka,” in 1966. His best-known works also include “The Tsar’s Hunt” (1989), “Prince Alexei” (1997) and “Poor, Poor Paul” (2003), which comprise a trilogy of historical films depicting court intrigue and tragedy in the Russian Empire in the 18th century. The fact that a classic filmmaker was attracted to the subject of a classic writer is significant, especially today when, as a rule, only commercial blockbusters catering to modern trends hit the screens. “The Admirer” is in sharp contrast to such films, following instead the style of Soviet cinema, with its deep and nuanced depiction of human relationships. Despite documented financial difficulties faced by the film crew, the visual reconstruction of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is impressively atmospheric. “The Admirer” is a simple, positive film that doesn’t shock, reveal secrets or raise social issues, but its unforgettable depiction of human relationships is certainly a cut above the generic action movies offered by the rest of the contemporary Russian film industry. ...

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