Dark Eyes

Once upon a timein 1959, to be preciseSoviet director Josef Heifits filmed a lovely, exquisite, and by now all but forgotten adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s story The Lady With the Dog, which wisely restricted itself to Chekhovian dimensions, giving the plot and characters their full due but never any more. By grotesque contrast, writer-director Nikita Mikhalkov’s elephantine set piece for Marcello Mastroianni (1987)which came about through Mastroianni’s desire to work with the Soviet filmmakerloosely adapts that Chekhov story along with elements from three others (My Wife, The Birthday Party, and Subjugated Anna) to produce a film so sprawling and ungainly that Chekhov is turned into chopped liver. Atrociously out-of-sync dubbing, shameless mugging and prancing from Mastroianni, and an unearned (and decidedly un-Chekhovian) grandiosity are the main elements on the bill of fare, all working overtime to register life’s little ironies; Elena Sofonova, Marthe Keller, Silvana Mangano, and a cute little dog are on hand to teach Mikhalkov and Mastroianni a few lessons in restraint, but alas, to no avail. (JR)

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