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Despite the legends that have grown around it, this is a God-awful movie. Shpalikov as a director is completely clueless. His framing is dull, his shots arbitrary, his editing lacks rhythm - in short, he has no visual sense at all. The problem with rhythm is magnified by scoring: the music is grating, distracting, totally out of touch with the images. But the lack of formal technical mastery of the art is perhaps secondary to the pretentious handling of story, character and dialogue. The falling in love of the two dull protagonists is not so much unbelievable - the film's champions will no doubt say that stranger things happen in "real life" - as it is completely artificial. If such things happen they do not happen in this bland way. There is absolutely no sense of chemistry, of a growing intimacy between the characters - which is essential even if their feelings are to be shown up as a delusion in the second half of the film. The banalities they tell each other as they allegedly fall in love will not support a casual friendship, much less a deeper feeling. The language they use is the language of bad theatre, and no one ever spoke like this even in the 60s. The clownish flashbacks are coarse, and their frivolity breaks the mood and atmosphere of the story (what little there is of both). The centerpiece of the film - the theatrical performance of "The Cherry Orchard" - is so hammy and downright atrocious that it would be funny in a campy sort of way if the director were not taking it so painfully seriously. The play's interval with dancing in the foyer is all wrong - they didn't dance in theatre foyers in Russia - and apparently needed only because the director wanted some dancing. The second half of the film is slightly less objectionable as at least the psychology of the break-up is more plausible then the psychology of falling in love. But the characters remain blanks. No doubt this was intentional - Antonioni was big at the time - but with Antonioni the flow of images, the expressionistic mise-en-scene, the evocative landscape built up the sense of the inner life that the characters could not express directly. Shpalikov's cyphers have no inner life. If you want to see how the psychology of the characters can be captured on camera indirectly, how landscape and the physical world can frame and enhance human figures, see Marlen Khutsyiev's "July Rain" made the very same year. That is the true masterpiece using the language of cinema to express things which would otherwise be left unsaid. What Shpalikov did was a pretentious exercise of an aesthete who did not bother to learn the language of the medium that he used. A failure on all counts.
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