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France, 1936-37. The Popular Front wins elections, the Spanish Civil War begins, and Hitler and Stalin are manipulating and spying. The brilliant exile, Fiodor Voronin, a general at 20, is the deputy at the White Russian Military Union, probably slated to replace the aging Général Dobrinsky soon. Fiodor's Greek wife, Arsinoé, paints and stays away from politics, befriending Communist neighbors. Her health declines; the attentive Fiodor arranges care and, against the backdrop of Stalin's Great Purge, considers his options. He plays a chess game in which love of country, love of Arsinoé, ideology, petty jealousies, and the machinations of power roil in matters of life and death.Written by
Eric Rohmer masterfully uses Paris as a canvas to brush the complex profiles of his characters, a quartet of retired White Russian Generals, a Greek painter married to a member of the quartet and their friends exiled in 1937 Paris.
Rohmer's mastery: His use of authentic buildings of the period with subtle deco stylization and other White Russian meeting points (the canteen of the Rachmaninov conservatory and a wooden Orthodox church near Butte-Chaumont), along with brilliant dialogues subtly lit with conversation on Picasso, Abstraction and realism in Art. Both the Communist couple and the White Russian couple in the movie will be steam-rolled by the events. Rohmer's use of newsreels is also extremely symbolic. The Paris World Fair of 1937 is shown with its stone colossus in the competing Soviet and Fascits pavilions seeming ready to crush the movie's characters as the end appears.Blum is seen making a speech among a forest of risen fists.
The relativity of life and that of free-will is the real subject. Is Fiodor pulling the strings or is he just just one of the puppets lost in the dubious cauldron of the Germano-Soviet pact of 1939 brewing in the shadows? Extraordinary work of a mature genius that makes one think that freedom is just appearance. Great actors with the beauty of french spoken rolling the Rs (Fiodor) or whispering them (his wife). Tragic unexpected ending. Rohmer revisits Hitchkok for a final "Coup de Theatre"!
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