Friday, April 30, 2010

Dostoyevsky and Me

This looks like a fun new book about one person's obsession with Russian literature.  The cover seems to give it a more comic feel, but apparently Elif Batuman literally explores Russian literature and its sphere of influence, taking her on journeys to Uzbekistan and beyond.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Anton Chekhov's The Duel

Looks like Chekhov is hot property these days.  Here's a review by Manhola Dargis on the latest adaptation,

The film appears to have come out of nowhere — it hasn’t been making the usual rounds on the festival circuit — so it’s welcome news that it’s been given a berth at Film Forum in Manhattan for its world premiere. It’s the third feature by Dover Kosashvili, a Georgian-born Israeli who made a strong debut with his 2001 “Late Marriage,” about an Israeli man hiding his affair with a divorced mother from his domineering family. Once again, Mr. Kosashvili mixes moments of bitterness and laughter with strong dramatic passages, creating a social milieu in “The Duel” that is believably inhabited, consistently surprising and true-feeling in detail and sweep. (Its most unattractive feature is that ungainly title.) 

Anyone up for The Duel?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ward No. 6

Ward No. 6 is a short story written by Chekhov in 1892.  It has appeared in various collections of Chekhov short stories, including The Horse-Stealers and Other Stories translated by Constance Garnett in 1921.  In this story, Chekhov explores the inner working of a run-down lunatic asylum in a provincial town.  He  introduces the readers to a coarse porter who speaks mostly with his fists, various patients, a doctor who presides over this ward, and expresses his thoughts with a local postmaster.  It was recently made into a movie, featuring Vladimir Ilyin.  Here's a clip.

There's also this very recent short film (30 min.) by Suzana Purkovic, with English subtitles.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

If Only We Could Know: An Interpretation of Chekhov

A noted Russian scholar takes on Chekhov in what looks like an intriguing book.  According to Kataev,

The key to understanding Chekhov is to understand his epistemology or philosophy of knowledge. Basically, in Chekhov’s world the characters do not have access to a privileged perspective or to ultimate truth. "The relative, conditional nature of ideas and opinions, and of stereotyped ways of thinking and behaving; the refusal to regard an individual solution as absolute; and the baselessness of various claims to possession of ’real truth’: these are constants in Chekhov’s world." (p. 164) Thus, the characters communicate poorly and often end up inadvertently causing pain, or sabotaging their own life projects.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Reading Chekhov

I noticed this critical journey by Janet Malcolm, which incorporates her impressions of post-Soviet Russia, ca. 2000, with Chekhov.  Don't know how much are her impressions and how much is a study of Chekhov, but the book looks interesting.

Chekhov: The (Almost) Complete Short Novels

This is a nice collection of short novels, translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky, although The Shooting Party is missing.  It includes The Steppe, the Duel and three other stories written between 1888 and 1893.  He also published Sakhalin Island during this time.  Unfortunately, on-line texts of The Shooting Party and Sakhalin Island don't seem readily available, but Read Print has a pretty extensive library of Chekhov.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Anna Karenin(a)

In 2008 Sergei Solov’ev re-adapted Anna Karenina for Russian television. As Banerjee notes in her review, there have been 24 adaptations to date, dating from 1914, with perhaps the two most memorable being the 1948 version with Vivien Leigh and the 1967 Soviet version, not to mention the ballet featuring Maya Plisetskaya.  All though, there had been earlier operatic versions dating back to 1905.  But, Solov'ev apparently gives Tolstoy's classic a bold new look, so I'm trying to hunt down a copy to see what he has created.

Anna is one of those immortal beings that has captivated audiences all over the world for over a century.  A few years ago, I read the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, which had been vaulted to bestseller status thanks to Oprah's Effect.  They certainly made the story more accessible than the previously widely read Constance Garnett translation, which I found to be quite tedious.

Like the other new Russian television productions, Solov'ev pretty much takes the novel scene by scene, only breaking it down into five instead of eight parts.  It also looks like he has saturated his version in brilliant colors, foliage and a preponderance of  Russian flags, firmly rooting this movie in Russia's reclaimed sense of nationalism.

Zhivago 2002

It was interesting to come across this 2002 British television version of Zhivago with Keira Knightley as Lara and Hans Matheson as the good doctor.  Here's a clip.  Anyone care to comment?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Battle of the Ice, 1242

Today marks the anniversary of the famous Battle of the Ice as depicted in Eisenstein's classic movie, Alexander Nevsky.  We were on Lake Peipus on the border of Estonia and Russia a few summers ago.  It stretches out like one of the American Great Lakes, but felt so calm and peaceful that it was hard to imagine such a great battle taking place here 768 years before.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Larisa Shepitko on Criterion

Criterion is offering an Eclipse box set of Larisa Shepitko, which includes Wings and The Ascent.  Shepitko was one of the most promising directors of her era, late 60s and 70s.  She was a student of Alexander Dovzhenko, and a contemporary of Tarkovsky.  Sadly, her career was cut short by a car accident.

No second chances

 It ended as you would expect it to end, even if you haven't read the book.  You have to admire Zhivago's taste in women, if not the way he treated them.  In the Soviet Union, pride ends with you mopping floors and chopping wood, and acceptance of your lowly place in society and in the world.

Zhivago certainly is an odd character, more in tune with the Nihilists of Lermontov or Turgenev than the rapidly changing world of the 20th century.  He still seemed to hold onto a shred of faith, or at least felt that his low station was a form of penance for his past sins.

I thought the director,  Aleksandr Proshkin, did an excellent job of capturing the changing face of Russia from 1905 to 1929.  A few scenes seemed out of place like Antipov popping up at the cabin shortly after Zhivago had sent off a pregnant Lara and her daughter with Komarovsky.  But, I guess the "war hero" had to confront his sins in the burnt village where he grew up.  Retribution moreso than redemption seemed to be theme of the story.