Saturday, 12 November 2016

Sergey Snezhkin: Maringolds in Flower / Cvety kalenduly - Цветы календулы (1998)

movie poster

Director: Sergey Sniezhkin 
Cast:Era Ziganshina, Marina Solopchenko, Kseniya Rappoport,

Of all the national cinemas in the world, that of Russia has the most fruitful relationship with literature. This extends beyond the dull and plodding genre of the literary adaptation or the more general "book of the film" treatment to any novel whose widespread success uninspired directors want to cash in on. Russians filmmakers have managed to be inspired by literature in the artistic and spiritual sense rather than just finding a plot idea which will bring in the punters.

As such, literature is a point of departure for many Russian filmmakers and not something whose content merely can be replicated in another medium. This has produced a number of adaptations which seem to merit consideration independently of the text on which they were based, including Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg's Shinel' (The Overcoat, 1927), Andrei Tarkovsky's Soliaris (1969-72), Alexei German's Moi drug Ivan Lapshin (My Friend Ivan Lapshin, 1983) and much of Alexandr Sokurov's oeuvre.

However, the influence of literature extends far beyond using books as a direct source. Sergei Sniezhkin's Cvety kalenduly (Marigolds in Flower, 1998) is a film which takes its inspiration from the great Russian dramatist and short-story writer Anton Chekhov without its plot being directly based on any of his published works.

The action takes place in a dacha just outside St Petersburg some time shortly after the collapse of Communism. The removal of the tyrannical regime has done nothing to relieve the ills of the Protazovs and it has if anything made them worse. Georgia Protazov was a poet who collaborated heavily with the Party and in return was feted as a national hero. However, with the coming of perestroika his reputation was re-evaluated and murky truths dug up from his past. What is more, the MTV generation now has little interest in poetry and literature, least of all Protazov.

This humiliating fall from grace is too much for Protazov's widow, Seraphima, who had her heart set on a place in posterity, rather than infamy, for her husband. If that wasn't bad enough, she has to battle with her family over what to do with the inherited dacha. She wants to create a museum to her late husband, while her three bitchy granddaughters would rather sell up and move to the city for a more adventurous life.

In the midst of this set of mutually antagonistic personalities, arrive two men who offer more money to spend the night in the spare room than can possibly be refused, even if it is the night of carnival-style family celebrations for Seraphima's birthday. However, they have more in mind than just staying the night in the dacha.

Sniezhkin, who co-wrote the screenplay with Mikhail Konvalchuk, certainly has the keen eye for the minutiae of human behaviour necessary to pull this kind of film off. With the action rarely extending beyond the walls of the dacha, Sniezhkin has to rope in all the attention to the details of character he can without going overboard and making his characters overly stylised. This he manages to achieve with only occasional lapses of judgement.

Not only that, Konvalchuk and Sniezhkin have attempted a brave plot which tackles both specific issues of the post-perestroika period and more timeless observations. As the production notes rightly say: "A century has passed [since Chekhov's time] and Russia hasn't changed much, despite revolutions and wars."

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