The opening scene of Aleksei Batalov's "The Overcoat" has a baby crying on being given his lousy name- Akaki Akakiyevich. It's a moment that is both sad and funny, and establishes the tone of the story, which is about a good-hearted man who just seems to have been cursed with low status and bad luck. Akaki grows up to become a clerk in an office filled with people who mock him and make him the butt of their practical jokes. He goes home everyday to his dingy apartment, where he has a stash of money hidden so he can save up for an overcoat. When he finally buys it, the coat brings Akaki a kind of warmth and companionship that he has been missing. No one else can see why it's so special to him. Then, one day, his coat is stolen...
Anyone familiar with Gogol's justly famous short story will probably like this film. It has a few flaws: Rolan Bykov, despite having a strong lead performance, is a little too doe-eyed at moments (such as when he tearfully asks his bullying co-workers "Why do you persecute me?" and they are immediately overwhelmed with sympathy), and the sense of humor that was so crucial to Gogol's masterpiece diminishes as the film progresses. But the pluses outweigh the minuses by far. The script is very faithful to the story, allowing the twist at the end to come as a satisfying surprise for the audience, just as it should. Yelena Ponsova is delightful as the crotchety old landlady, and the other supporting actors all have enjoyable performances. The music score adds a nice touch, and the beautifully lit black-and-white photography is often stunning. At 75 minutes, Batalov's film is a short work of art in its own right- not always perfect, but very likeable and deeply felt.
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