dir. Michael Cacoyannis
Fri-Thurs April 12-18 at the Varsity.
Good actors like nothing better than to sink their teeth into layer upon layer of lies--and nobody dishes up the deception with more ethereal grace than Anton Chekhov. So, it's no wonder director Michael Cacoyannis was able to assemble an impressive cast for this (very loose) adaptation of Chekhov's masterpiece about a wealthy family teetering on the brink of ruin in the last moments before the Russian Revolution. But while Cacoyannis, best known for Zorba the Greek, has given them a magnificent decaying mansion and a sweetly menacing orchard in which to chew their internal scenery, he fails to bring sufficient dramatic momentum to what sadly remains a self-consciously theatrical experience.
But if you can look beyond the pointless pre-credit sequence Cacoyannis had the audacity to pen in order to provide "back story," then block out the irritating swells of piano noisily reminding us we are in the presence of a classic, and simply close your eyes whenever he resorts to "point-of-view" shaky-cam, you might just find yourself carried away by the delicacy and power of the wonderfully nuanced performances.
Alan Bates and Charlotte Rampling are both exquisite as the hopelessly irresponsible aristocratic brother and sister who glide lazily through the crumbling manse in their moldering finery like ghosts, Rampling's still-great beauty crumbling at the corners even as a smile of self-knowledge plays around her mouth.
Also worth noting in this uniformly excellent cast is Owen Teale's bracing blast of life force as the wealthy former serf, and Katrin Cartlidge as the foster-daughter who loves him, a study in corseted, quivering need.
Granted, this is not a great movie, but if you've been touched by the play, enjoy watching world-class actors at the top of their game, or simply get a kick out of beautiful people in period costumes walking up and down grand staircases, there's something here worth seeing.