Where for art thou, ya bum

Where for art thou, ya bum

Lovers of yore still aren’t connecting for many of the same selfish reasons in ‘Anton Chekhov’s The Duel’

By Jana J. Monji 06/17/2010

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In 1891, two cultured, educated and unmarried people unapologetically living together was a sin, but not in “Anton Chekhov’s The Duel,” opening Friday at Laemmle’s Playhouse 7.
Even though this really is an adulterous affair, Chekhov, one of Russia’s greatest short story writers, looks calmly and dispassionately at the situation as a matter not so much one of morality but basic humanity, with all the cravings for love, attention and freedom that condition demands. 
Directed by Georgia-born Dover Koshashvili (director and writer of the acclaimed 2001 “Late Marriage”), this lushly realized movie based on Chekhov’s eponymous novella is Koshashvili’s third feature film. 
As the story goes, beautiful Nadya (Fiona Glascott) has left her husband to live with Laevsky (Andrew Scott) in a charming small town on the Black Sea. Laevsky (Andrew Scott) is a penniless dreamer and has no taste for even faux married life. Unfortunately, Nadya has a need for beautiful things and the admiration of men. And that’s too bad, because Laevsky doesn’t have a job.
“I fell in love with a married woman and she with me,” Laevsky confides in his friend, Samoylenko (Niall Buggy). He adds, however, that the past two years have been a big mistake. Laevsky is no longer in love and wants out of the relationship, but now he’s trapped. After hearing him complain, Samoylenko blasts Laevsky, saying “Fate has sent you a young, beautiful, cultured woman, and you refuse the gift.”
Indeed, Laevsky revels in the delights of the unkempt life. He lounges and drinks and gambles too much. And his neighbor, Von Koren (Tobias Menzies), a zoologist who ponders the evolution of species, considers Laevsky to be as “dangerous to society as the cholera microbe.”
These vain and selfish lovers certainly deserve one another, yet neither is really evil. They merely both fail to appreciate life, love and the simple beauties of everyday life. 
While the ending suggests what is more clearly spelled out in the novella, this adaptation remains true to the spirit of Chekhov’s work, with screenwriter/producer Mary Bing refraining from over-explaining.  
Paul Sarossy’s photography allows us to appreciate just how much loveliness there is in this life where Laevsky and Nadya locked themselves into misery, wanting what they do not have and bored with what they do possess.

“Anton Chekhov’s The Duel” opens Friday at Laemmle Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (626) 844-6500.

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