Two Women

 

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You are more likely to find adaptations of Turgenev's A Month in the Country on television than in the cinema and this one might have been better there.

 

Two Women

Ralph Fiennes and Anna Astrakhantseva

 

In 1999 Michael Cacoyannis made a beautiful but sadly undervalued film of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard done in an old-fashioned but entirely appropriate style. The Russian director of Two Women, Vera Glagoleva, is attempting the same thing here with that earlier play by Turgenev, the celebrated A Month in the Country, which due to its tragicomic tone is frequently compared with what Chekhov would give us later. Thus, this retitled adaptation keeps faith with its setting, that of a country estate in the 1840s where we find emotional entanglements which if portrayed without the pain might be the stuff of farce. The landowner (Alexander Baluyev) has a younger wife, Natalia (Anna Astrakhantseva) who is loved by her husband's old friend Rakitin (Ralph Fiennes) but who herself catches the eye of 21-year-old Alexey (Nikita Volkov), the new tutor for her young son. Meanwhile, Natalia's ward, Vera (Anna Levanova) falls for Alexey unaware that he might be tempted to respond to Natalia's approaches. In addition to all this, we have on the side an elderly neighbour (Vasily Mishchenko) proposing to the uninterested Vera and a doctor (Sergey Yushkevich) weighing up the pros and cons of settling down with the governess (Sylvie Testud).

 

Being subtitled (Fiennes played his role in Russian with a touch of French), Two Women creates an apt atmosphere, except that is for a couple of brief pastoral scenes in which the look of the film is far too glossy. For the most part it is very well cast. The role of Natalia, more playful than sincere perhaps, is a complex one and I am not sure that Astrakhantseva has the full measure of her, but many players are spot on, not least the undervalued Sylvie Testud. But in my eyes at least all this potential loses out to a major error of judgment on the part of the director, Vera Glagoleva, Fiennes being a particular victim here. She opts again and again to feature massive close-ups of the characters which are so full on that it is as though we are watching them through magnifying glasses. This feels so inappropriate, the effect so exaggerated, that one can only conclude that the many scenes presented in this way need to be seen on the smaller scale of a DVD because only then would they seem natural.  

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Sylvie Testud, Anna Astrakhantseva, Anna Levanova, Nikita Volkov, Sergey Yushkevich, Alexander Baluyev, Vasily Mishchenko, Larisa Malevannaya, Bernd Moss, Andrey Zanoga.


Dir Vera Glagoleva, Pro Natalia Ivanova, Screenplay Svetlana Grudovich and Olga Pogodina with Glagoleva based on Turgenev's play A Month in the Country, Ph Gints Berzins, Pro Des Elena Zhukova and Olga Arkhipova, Ed Alexander Amirov, Music Sergey Banevich, Costumes Elena Luklanova.


GVI Group/Rezo Productions/Jura Podnieka Studija-MGR Films.
104 mins. France/Latvia/Russian Federation. 2014. Rel: 16 September 2016. Cert. U
.