Uncle Vanya

The pitfalls of transposing the delicate atmosphere of Anton Chekhov's plays from stage to screen are overcome with exceptional success by Mikhailkov-Konchalovsky, and with perhaps Chekhov's most difficult work, “Uncle Vanya,” a “comedy” which moves to the cadences of tragedy. The director provides the social background to the play and period - when the country gentry lived in pastoral comfort during summer days, and the poor suffered in the numbing grip of Czarist indifference - with an opening montage of period photographs which document the pestilential poverty endured by the peasantry. If the film begins with these brutal flashes of history, it ends with a soaring camera movement which places both Chekhov's drama of the idle rich and the country's starving masses outside the frame in a humbling perspective which can only be called religious. In between, the camera is a calm omniscient visitor to the country dacha where the interior “action” of the play takes place. The troupe of actors is splendid. Innokenty Smouktenovsky's portrait of Vanya captures the eccentricity and intimations of dwindling genius in one who has sacrificed his intelligence for someone else's career. As Doctor Astrov, the great actor-director Sergei Bondarchuk is brilliant, playing a tormented, emotional man, thwarted by an inability to love and live to the fullest in the amount of life left to him. Color and black-and-white are intercut with a fine sense of atmosphere and nuanced lighting. Uncle Vanya is without doubt the finest film of Chekhov to date.

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