Saturday, March 6, 2010

Vanya on 42nd Street

Vanya on 42nd Street; Drama, USA, 1994; D: Louis Malle, S: Wallace Shawn, Julianne Moore, Brooke Smith, George Gaynes

New York. A couple of actors enters a theater in order to rehears Chekhov's play "Uncle Vanya". The costumes are weak, the stage is falling apart, but they start the play: Sonya lives with her uncle Vanya (47) who regards his life to be pointless and considers suicide. Vanjya loves Yelena (27), the wife of the old professor Serybryakov, but knows his feelings won't be met. Sonya is in love with Dr. Astrov, but he doesn't love her. When Serybrykov decides to sell their home, Vanya fiercely opposes the move and fires two shots from a gun. Everyone makes up and leave, Sonya comforts Vanya that God will reward his suffering. The rehearsal of the play ends.

Louis Malle's drama, his last film, has an unusual 'film-within-a-film concept': in the opening, all actors from New York enter a theater and start performing Chekhov's play "Uncle Vanya", which is why their whole rehearsal (!) becomes this whole film. An interesting and daring move, but of a lax, inert execution. One of the surprises is that the not very popular actor Wallace Shawn (who is often reduced to small, but excellent supporting roles, like in "Manhattan" and "Heaven Help Us") finally got a leading role and portrayed it masterfully serious: his character of uncle Vanya, i.e. the actor to plays him in the theater, is full of nihilism. It's a play full of anxiety and depressive dialogues ("The truth, even if bitter, is better than uncertainty"). But the whole film is lifeless and stiff, the characters passive (Vanya only does something when he shoots in the air) and thus nothing much can be learned to offer a practical solution to such a negative view on life, whereas the mood is pretentious.


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