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As France is nearing the end of the first Indochina War, an open-minded teenage boy finds himself torn between a rebellious urge to discover love, and the ever-present, almost dominating affection of his beloved mother.
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A French boarding school run by priests seems to be a haven from World War II until a new student arrives. He becomes the roommate of top student in his class. Rivals at first, the roommates form a bond and share a secret.
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An uniterrupted rehersal of Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" played out by a company of actors. The setting is their run down theater with an unusable stage and crumbling ceiling. The play is shown act by act with the briefest of breaks to move props or for refreshments. The lack of costumes, real props and scenery is soon forgotten.Written by
Hey, the guy who plays the professor in this film was Commandant Lassard from the Police Academy Series!!!
Okay, okay. Now that I've got that out of my system, I can actually review the movie.
Vanya on 42nd Street is pretty much a perfect film, just like its predecessor My Dinner With Andre. Both films have the same three cooperative creators, Andre Gregory, Wallace Shawn, and Louis Malle. Both these films have revolutionary structure. My Dinner With Andre is a film about two people who sit down to dinner and an extended conversation. Nothing else. For nearly two hours, two people talk, interrupted occasionally by a waiter delivering food. It is one of my favorite films, and only two films rival its depths that I can think of offhand, 2001 and Citizen Kane. All three of those films are so layered and have so many levels of interpretation that their value is priceless. Vanya on 42nd Street is a film about the first complete rehearsal of an English translation of the Anton Chekov play _Uncle Vanya_. The camera shows us actors acting on an undecorated stage with their street clothes on.
And it pulls us in just as well as if we were sitting in the front row opening night (perhaps even more; I will explain why further down the page). I was entirely involved in the play throughout the whole film, and at one point Vanya (Wallace Shawn) grabs a cup which he wants to put water in. Emblazened on it: "I <heart> NY." It yanked me out of feudal Russia in a heartbeat. It wasn't there on accident of course. The bright red lettering faces straight on towards the camera, and is in the very center of the picture. This cup is pure braggartry, screaming: "THERE! You were entirely involved in something that was in no way real. Look just how well we are fooling you!" Of course, it didn't take another second before I was completely absorbed with the play. About fifteen to twenty minutes later, at the end of act three, tears were streaming down my neck.
Okay, now, my reason for my claim that I experienced this play better in this film than I could ever experience it in the front row of a professional production of it. My reason stems from my fundamental dislike of theater. When one is acting in a play, one must shout (or rather, as a theater teacher might correct me, Project!) for the audience to be able to hear you. People do not shout their deeply emotionaly words. They grumble them or murmur them or whisper them or moan them. Dialogue released in a groan or a grumble does not project all that well. Therefore, all dialogue in a theatrical setting has always seemed, well, phony. Also, the complex facial expressions are entirely lost on every person sitting in the aisles at a play. All except for the most pronounced and overwrought. The same goes for gestures. Gestures are not always large in normal human communication, but on stage they simply must be for them to be communicated. The actors in this film are so, so, so, so so so so good, especially in their facial expressions. You could never get a proper feel for them sitting beneath them in a playhouse. The medium of film allows subtlety, as little as that quality is used in most films. That is why I feel film is superior to the play.
Well then, if I believe that plays are awful, and conversely, that films are great, then why don't I believe that _Uncle Vanya_ would have been easily adapted into film. Well, because it was written for the stage, I believe (though I'm not 100% sure why, I'll honestly say). To actually see these actors moving around inside a house, or, even worse (since it's not in the actual play), on a farm would have seemed unrealistic. Normally, plays just feel stagey when they're put to film. There have been few exceptions that I can think of. I can tell almost instantly, when a play is translated into film. The only really great film to be made from a play is Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, easily one of the best films ever made. It never lacks the feel of a film. You can tell it was once a play, but it never feels like it has to be a play like Uncle Vanya would if it were adapted straight from play to film. I attribute most of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'s success as a film to the perfect acting and the superior cinematography by Haskell Wexler.
The play to film thing even bothers me when it is Shakespeare. I have seen very few Shakespeare films adapted straight to film that have worked for me. Zafferelli's Romeo and Juliette was the best. But the two Shakespeare works on film which have really intrigued me are direct descendents of Vanya on 42nd: Looking for Richard (I cannot believe Al Pacino did not see Vanya) and Shakespeare in Love (okay, maybe this isn't directly inspired by Vanya). Both of those films place the play on an inner level of the film's overall plot, and thus they try to teach us the inner workings of the plays themselves and acting as an art on the whole.
Anyway, since I am tired and no longer in control of my thoughts, per se, I will just say 10/10, goodnight everybody!
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