Friday, 17 August 2012

Pavel Chukhrai: The Russian Game - Русская игра (2007)

Director: Pavel Chukhray
Writers: Pavel Chukhray, Nikolai Gogol (novel)
Stars: Sergey Makovetskiy, Sergey Garmash, Andrey Merzlikin

Awards: Best Directing Festival'' Cinema and Literature'', Russia, 2008
Best Film Window to Europe Film Festival, Vyborg, Russia, 2007
Audience Award Window to Europe Film Festival, Vyborg, Russia, 2007


Pavel Chukhrai's latest film, The Russian Game, hardly seems deserving of serious review. It depends on the star power of its three leading actors (Sergei Garmash, Sergei Makovetskii, and Andrei Merzlikin), the debonair good looks of a Russian-speaking Italian (Guiliano di Capua), and a mediocre rendition of comic antics reminiscent of Viktor Titov's 1975 classic, Hello I'm Your Aunt (Zdravstvuite, ia vasha tetia) to create a slapstick adaptation of Nikolai Gogol''s play The Gamblers (Igroki, 1843). Chukhrai does his viewers, studying for a 19 th century Russian drama exam, the favor of reproducing Gogol' almost verbatim. As in the play, the film tells the story of three Russian gamblers who move from town to town cheating their unsuspecting opponents out of tens of thousands of rubles. While staying at a provincial inn, this trio serendipitously meets a fourth expert card-shark, who has just arrived from afar. Both parties—the trio and this fourth character—have the same intention: to lure others to the card table and to use slights of hand and marked cards to pocket fortunes. However, upon discovering his superior swindling skills, the trio invites the fourth to join their gang, recognizing him as a potential asset to their schemes. Of course, all is not on the up and up. An elaborate plot to deceive this fourth character, concealed until the final scene, leaves him outwitted and financially ruined. In addition to following the play's plot, the film goes so far as to reproduce a theatrical feel; the artifice of cramped studio sets, stylized costumes, and exaggerated performances that provide evidence of the actors' thespian backgrounds seem better suited to the stage than to the screen.

On one hand, as is the case with other Chukhrai films, most notably The Thief (Vor, 1997) and A Driver for Vera (Voditel' dlia Very, 2004), The Russian Game cannot be dismissed too quickly. It has garnered certain acclaim, winning awards at two of the less important film festivals dedicated exclusively to Russian cinema. At the 2007 Window to Europe (Okno v Evropu) film festival held in Vyborg, Russia, it received the Grand Prize and audience favorite awards. It also was recognized with an award from the Moscow Department of Culture at the Moscow Premiere festival. As a result of these awards, the Russian popular press has reviewed the film comprehensively and positively. Irina Liubarskaia, writing in the weekly journal Itogi, lauds Andrei Zhegalov's cinematography, congratulates the actors on inspired performances, and complimentarily describes the screenplay as witty. Larisa Iusipova, who covered the film for Vremia novostei , deems it as the unqualified leader of the Window to Europe festival program, an opinion shared by Lidia Maslova, a journalist at Kommersant" .

Reviewed by Dawn Seckler© 2008 in KinoKultura

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