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CHEKHOV’S MOTIFS (CHEKHOVSKIE MOTIVY) (director/writer: Kira Muratova; screenwriters: Yevgeni Golubenko/based on Anton Chekhov’s unfinished short play Tatiana Repina and his story “Difficult People”; cinematographer: Valeri Makhnev; editor: Valentina Olejnik; music: Valentin Silvestrov; cast: Sergey Bekhterev, Nina Ruslanova, Natalya Buzko, Sergei Popov, Filipp Panov, Jean-Daniel; Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Igor Kalyonov; Expo DVD; 2002-Russia-Ukraine-in Russian with English subtitles)

“This is a masterful absurd comedy of the highest order.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The septuagenarian controversial Soviet filmmaker Kira Muratova (“The Tuner”/”Passions”/” Melody for a Street Organ), the country’s most frequently banned director who is known for irritating her viewers with abusive demanding works that are tedious, nonsensical and filled with ridiculous dialogue, updates in b/w photography, with writer Yevgeni Golubenko, two early works by Chekhov: hisunfinished 1889 short play Tatiana Repina and his 1886 story “Difficult People.”

From “Difficult People” Ms. Muratova has the characters during a rural farming family dinner scene repeat their lines incessantly while they argue, as a dour foppish college student (Filipp Panov)leaves home for Moscow and his prideful stingy father (Sergei Popov) refuses to give him as much money as his nagging long-suffering wife (Nina Ruslanova) wants. Also unforgettable and strangely affecting, is a prolonged wedding sequence from the play Tatiana Repina. There’s a provincial Russian Orthodox church wedding attended by the college student from the previous segment, where the town guests cackle madly over gossip while the actress ghost, Tatiana Repina, the former rejected suicidal lover of the uncomfortable opera tenor earring-wearing groom (Jean Daniel) has her presence hover over the ceremony. During the prolonged wedding ceremony, officiated by the priests in seemingly real-time, the rich widow bride (Natalya Buzko) becomes increasingly skittish as the ghost manages to ruin the ceremony in a surreal way with the shocking suicide of the “Woman in Black” taking place during the ceremony.

The merging of the two Chekhov pieces and the director’s unique film-making style, make this an unusual film but one that does justice to the idea of a Chekhovian tragedy. Unlike Shakespearean tragedy, things are not resolved by bloodshed. The great Russian author has the family learn to cope with each other and they all continue to live on unhappily with a dysfunctional family. This is probably the kind of bloodless tragedy many in the modern world experience first-hand and care most about.

This post-Soviet era madman-like absurdist drama is not for the casual film-goer or someone not willing to go along with a piece that seems so disconnected, as Ms. Muratova removes what she wants from her Chekhov source material and applies it to contemporary times. But if you can somehow stick it out and get into its prickly storytelling, this is a masterful absurd comedy of the highest order–an art film, if you will, in the true sense of that term, that dates back to Greek tragedy. It’s the kind of subversive drama meant for the discerning viewer, a film not concerned with the popular trends of the day.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”