2 items from 1999
In "Onegin", which is her directorial debut, Martha Fiennes displays a sensuous visual style and an assured touch with actors.
A commercial and music video director and the sister of actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes, Martha Fiennes has created a lyric and melancholy film out of the famed narrative poem by Russia's most beloved poet, Alexander Pushkin.
With Ralph Fiennes and Liv Tyler starring in this tale of lost love, the film should find sophisticated audiences in movie houses where its wide-screen splendors will have the greatest impact. The film's theatrical success could make this a solid title in ancillary markets as well.
The major question is, will audiences accept the leisurely pace Fiennes bravely adopts, which is so at odds with much of today's MTV-influenced cinema? Fiennes takes her time to get viewers acquainted with the utterly cynical, gossipy and decadent life of the privileged classes in Russia in the early 19th century. Its denizens are heavily influenced by all things French and despair of all things smacking of social experimentation.
Starting in snowy St. Petersburg in 1827, then moving to the countryside and concluding back in St. Petersburg in 1834, the film focuses on a very simple story. Evgeny Onegin (Ralph Fiennes), a supremely selfish sophisticate firmly committed to a life of idleness in the city, inherits the country estate of his wealthy uncle. While visiting it, the bachelor suddenly decides to stay for awhile.
He develops a fast friendship with his neighbor, Vladimir Lensky (Toby Stephens). He is charmed by Vladimir's fiancee, Olga Larin (Lena Headey), but is even more taken with her younger sister Tatyana (Tyler), the very essence of physical and spiritual purity.
But when the young woman impulsively writes Onegin a letter declaring her love for him, the jaded Onegin politely but callously rejects her love. A misunderstanding between him and Vladimir then results in a duel in which Onegin kills his new friend.
Grief stricken, Onegin goes into self-imposed exile abroad. Returning to St. Petersburg six years later, he is startled to find Tatyana married to his cousin, Prince Nikitin (Martin Donovan). Even more startling and disheartening to Onegin is his discovery that fires of love are erupting inside him for the woman he once so cavalierly rejected.
The script by Michael Ignatieff and Peter Ettedgui bristles with witty dialogue, giving all the actors plum roles to play. The performances nicely capture both the rhythms of early 19th century country life and the world-weariness of St. Petersburg society.
Fiennes treats this intimate story with a lush and fluid style, letting one scene slide into the next or turning down the soundtrack so as to concentrate on the emotions playing across people's faces. Cinematographer Remi Adefarasin has beautifully married exteriors shot in St. Petersburg, which still looks much as it did then, to Jim Clay's interior sets of decaying grandeur, built in Shepperton Studios in the U.K.
The film coolly examines this foreign world with sadness for all that was lost to these characters -- not only love but an appreciation for the grand opportunities life presents if only one seizes the moment. The film's final image of a man who has lost the one thing that would have made his life worthwhile is as painful as it is moving.
Seven Arts International
Onegin Productions Limited/Rysher Entertainment
Producers: Ileen Maisel, Simon Bosanquet
Director: Martha Fiennes
Writers: Michael Ignatieff, Peter Ettedgui
Based on the verse novel by: Alexander Pushkin
Executive producer: Ralph Fiennes
Director of photography: Remi Adefarasin
Production designer: Jim Clay
Music: Magnus Fiennes
Costumes: Chloe Obolensky
Editor: Jim Clark
Evgeny Onegin: Ralph Fiennes
Tatyana Larin: Liv Tyler
Prince Nikitin: Martin Donovan
Vladimir Lensky: Toby Stephens
Olga Larin: Lena Headey
Guillot: Jason Watkins
Zaretsky: Alun Armstrong
Running time -- 106 minutes
No MPAA rating
Director Maria Ripoli's feature debut is an uneasy blend of traditional romantic comedy and magical realism that, much like its central character, alternately charms and irritates. Evocatively reflecting its multinational origins -- the filmmakers are Spanish while the cast and crew come from Great Britain -- "Twice Upon a Yesterday" is probably too offbeat to appeal to mainstream audiences.
Highly reminiscent of the recent "Sliding Doors" in its use of fantastical situations to comment on romantic woes, the film unfortunately lacks a performer with the star presence of someone like Gwyneth Paltrow. The film was recently showcased at the Miami Film Festival and is due for a commercial release via Trimark Pictures.
Anyone who has had second thoughts about the breakup of a relationship will find something to relate to in the problems of Victor (Douglas Henshall), a perennially unemployed Scottish actor living in London who is despondent over the fact that his ex-girlfriend Sylvia (Lena Headey) is about to marry another man. Victor has no one but himself to blame for the situation, as it was his confessed infidelity that drove Sylvia away. But he feels he made a terrible mistake, as he woefully confides to a friendly bartender (Elizabeth McGovern).
An encounter with a pair of magical garbagemen -- yes, that's right -- gives Victor another chance in life. He's transported back in time to the moment before he first confessed to Sylvia, and this time he's less forthcoming. But, as any character in a time-travel movie could tell you, fate has a way of not denying its victims. Victor winds up losing Sylvia all over again. Except this time, he's consoled by another bartender, the gorgeous Louise (Penelope Cruz), who falls in love with him.
Rafa Russo's rather convoluted screenplay may sometimes baffle those who aren't playing strict attention; fortunately, she's more effective at creating well-delineated, complex characters. Every figure in the story gets his or her due and is provided with interesting motivations and feelings. And to the movie's credit, it's not afraid to make its protagonists act in some not very nice ways. No doubt, if the project had attracted major stars, they would have insisted on sanitizing some of their characters' less attractive traits.
Henshall brings a properly frenetic comic desperation to the central role, though an actor with more conventional good looks might have made more credible endlessly self-absorbed Victor's ability to score with beautiful women. Headey is excellent as the aggrieved Sylvia, and Cruz is highly appealing as the love-struck Louise.
TWICE UPON A YESTERDAY
Director: Maria Ripoli
Screenwriter: Rafa Russo
Producer: Juan Gordon
Executive producers: Jon Slan, Gareth Jones
Cinematography: Javier Salmones
Editor: Nacho Ruiz-Capillas
Music: Luis Mendo, Bernardo Fuster, Angel Illarramendi
Victor: Douglas Henshall
Sylvia: Lena Headey
Louise: Penelope Cruz
Dave: Mark Strong
Alison: Charlotte Coleman
Freddy: Neil Stuke
Running time -- 96 minutes
No MPAA rating
2 items from 1999
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