Monday, April 25, 2011
My wife and I watched Duska the other night, followed by a Russian round table discussion from 2010, which featured the late Lyudmila Gurchenko. The title is the mistaken namesake of the Russian character in this Dutch film, implying little soul or heart. As Sergei Makovetski noted, the name referred to the malformed baby in a scene he and the movie critic (Gene Bervoets) were watching.
The movie critic meets Duska at a film festival in Russia, played to great comic effect, and finds he can't shake his new friend no matter how hard he tries. When Duska shows up on Bob's doorstep back in Holland, this crimps Bob's designs on a cashier at the local cinema, resulting in a number of amusing situations. Jos Stelling forces the humor at times, but Bervoets and Makovetski play off each other extremely well.
Bob has essentially become bored with life, unable to even be fully stimulated by the nubile Sylvia Hoeks, when she literally falls into his arms following a dispute with her motorcycle suited boyfriend in front of the theater. You aren't quite sure whether Bob is imagining these relationships or if they are real, given the ever growing surrealistic tone of the movie.
The comments from the Russian critics was as amusing as the movie, as they found themselves deeply at odds over Duska. Makovetski offered numerous defenses, while Jos Stelling felt he had undergone an inquisition afterward. It was a rather harsh tone that developed, with a lot of discussion of the meaning of the "Russian Soul" with Gurchenko pleading for Ukranians to have a greater accord with Russia. Other critics saw the movie as a Western longing for the depth of the Russian soul, pointing out the movie critic's emptiness. One critic felt they were making too much out of the movie, as it was pretty simple and offered no profound statement on the Russian soul. He found the references to Pushkin empty and the music insufferable.
You can read into the movie pretty much what you like. Stelling leaves it open ended. There is a Gogolian quality to the story, like an "overcoat" that takes on a life of its own, but it isn't the type of movie that is going to stay with you.