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Madame Ranevskaya (Rampling) is a spoiled aging aristocratic lady, who returns from a trip to Paris to face the loss of her magnificent Cherry Orchard estate after a default on the mortgage. In denial, she continues living in the past, deluding herself and her family, while the beautiful cherry trees are being axed down by the re-possessor Lopakhin (Teale), her former serf, who has his own agenda. Written by
I came to this production of Chekov's "The Cherry Orchard" with high hopes. It looked like a fine cast, and under the direction of Michael Cacoyannis, I felt certain they would shine. Alas. my hopes were dashed. The low-key approach Cacoyannis takes (and one assumes that he also directed his actors to do it) drains the movie of almost all of its human energy. And that's only one of the deadly choices he makes.
Instead of opening where the play does with the family and some hangers-on await the arrival of Charlotte Rampling home after five years abroad, the director, in a unnecessary bid to open up the play), opens in Paris, which is where she is coming home from. Thus, her anxiously awaited homecoming devolves from a major event in the first act to a throw-away scene. Worse, because dialogue from her arrival home is transposed into the Paris scene makes her seem already defeated instead of letting us see how the situations that cause her defeat develop. What this does is to put a heinous crimp into the development of Rampling's character. The prologue seriously compromises the balance of the play.
Worse, in making this film, Cacoyannis seems to have his phaser stuck on "elegiac." Ah yes, we're witnessing the decline of a awy of life, we are saying goodbye to people who will soon be swept out of history by the Russian revolution. These characters can't know that. Even Chekov could not really have known. Elegiac music by Tchaikovsky oozes out of every poor, making every sticky. This decision allows Cacoyannis (who has already thrown out a third to a quarter of the original play) to ignore the rich vein of social humor that runs direcly beneath the surface of Checkov's script. There's a lot of fun to be had with "The Cherry Orchard" with a director who knows where to find it also knows how to use it. But this is a deadly boring affair.
Cacoyannis uses every opportunity to get his cast out of doors, so it's ironic that when something really important has to be said, he groups his actors together in stagy poses and then leaves them there for the duration of a scene. And when this happens (all too frequently), the director has his actors declaim as if they were addressing the back rows in a live theater.
There is no human energy in this production. And human energy is the only thing that can possibly transform a play that is virtually all talk and no (onstage) action. Whether it's the fault of the director or of his actors, this movie has absolutely no juice.
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