The movie follows fairly closely the novella by Staniukovich, the leading nineteenth-century Russian spinner of sea yarns.
These are not the adventures of Horatio Hornblower, still less Jack Aubrey. This is a navy at peace, at Empire's height.
A beautiful Russian widow in San Francisco wishes to return to Russia after her American husband loses everything in a speculation and shoots his brains out. Along with her personal maid she is given passage to Hong Kong aboard a Russian naval vessel. A woman on a naval ship? Right then... the rest follows. With very gentle and unironic humour, the officers and ratings react to the stimulation, each according to his rank and personality type.
The director admits that he made this movie as a tribute to Staniukovich. And indeed his love is obvious. The setting is recreated meticulously, the story is followed very closely. But...
There are flaws.
The first basic issue is this: should a movie follow the book story exactly, or should it adapt to cinematic art? I will say unequivocally: if you dare do a book, follow the book.
With a couple of exceptions, the director followed the book: in this sense, that he removed nothing, and changed nothing but... But... There was no sex. And now there is, a disgustingly anachronistic modification of morals. And a small quibble: the ship is a sailing ship with auxiliary steam engine. Correct for the early 1860's, the time frame of the original story, disturbingly obsolete for 1882, as the movie would have it.
The main flaw, however, is that the director added episodes from at least five other Staniukovich sea-tales into the plot. And these generally make no sense in this story. So whenever you feel something is really out of place, chances are your intuition is correct.
The acting is entirely adequate, the setting luminous. I hate that word, it's so overused: but here the ship, the sun and the sea literally shine, in and out of doors. If we ignore the presence of electrical lamps in 1882, it is utterly perfect.
All in all, this was a slightly frustrating movie to watch. I love Staniukovich, and I was prepared for and expecting the slow gentle development. I also recognized at once where all the interpolations came from. But they jarred nonetheless.
Six out of ten, for the mis en scene, acting, and original prototype.
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