Santa Cruz Good Times

Dec 01st
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Off the Mark

film_The Duel1'Anton Chekhov's The Duel' an exercise in ennui
It might surprise 19th Century Russian playwright Anton Chekhov to see naked women in a adaptation of his work. But it's not entirely gratuitous in Anton Chekhov's The Duel, an international co-production of a Chekhov novella whose heroine, a young society matron transplanted to a sleepy seaside resort in the Caucuses, is so ripe for life, she's fairly bursting out of her corsets. Which makes her the perfect visual and emotional contrast to the story's protagonist, a slight, sallow, petulant malcontent whose only response to the natural beauty of both the seaside and his mistress is profound boredom.

It's all about ennui in this delicately rendered drama of morality and malaise, discontent and redemption. Shot in lovely Croatia with a mostly Irish/British cast, it was directed by Russian Georgian-born Israeli filmmaker Dover Kosashvili, whose first film, Late Marriage, also dealt with a fellow at odds with society and himself over his love life. But while that protagonist tilted against repressive traditions,  the anti-hero of The Duel has none but himself to blame for his small-minded, all-consuming boredom. To its credit, the film captures his sense of trapped, choking ennui to perfection, but we wish Kosashvili had come up with a better way to convey it than asking the audience to sit through 95 enervating minutes that feel like days.

Ivan Laevsky (Andrew Scott), a young aristocrat from St. Petersburg who was evidently something of a bon vivant in the city, has fled to the seaside with another man's wife, the creamy, beauteous Nadia (Fiona Glascott). Charmed by the vision of going back to nature and starting up their own vineyard, he's taken a civil servant job that requires him to do exactly nothing and pays less; now they're stuck in a bourgeois house struggling to pay their bills at the dressmaker's shop. Quickly bored by the lack of society in the provincial town, Ivan is also tired of Nadia and privately scheming to find a way to abandon her and get back to St. Petersburg— hopefully before she learns that her husband has died and starts demanding a marriage.

Nadia, meanwhile, has no idea why Ivan has begun to absent himself from her, physically (except for very occasional sex play) and emotionally. All she knows is that he's becoming increasingly dissolute and frantic around the edges. But while he's off all day drinking and playing cards with his lowlife buddies, vibrant but neglected Nadia is attracting the attention of other males in town. Some are predatory, while the scholarly visiting zoologist, Von Koren (Tobias Menzies), observes with caustic hostility how Ivan's sneering disdain toward Nadia and everyone else (Von Koren compares him to "the cholera microbe") is poisoning the welfare of the town.

But once this premise is set up, it's explicated tediously over the next hour or more in which nothing happens: bathers bathe in the sea, various men make sheep's eyes at Nadia, Von Koren debates moral law and creationism with the jovial priest, Ivan goes more and more bonkers at public gatherings, Nadia languishes. By the time someone is (finally) challenged to the eponymous duel, the audience is as tired of all of them as Ivan is of Nadia. And even that protracted climax is allowed to dribble away to nothing.

The script by Mary Bing is so intent on capturing every nuance and undercurrent of the Chekhovian social order, she forgets to tell a dynamic motion picture story. The accumulated psychological details that create milieu on the page don't always translate to a narrative that's interesting to look at onscreen. But where Bing's adaptation does wake up and become briefly compelling is in the scenes when Nadia begins to realize how film_the_duelprecarious her position is—and how dwindling her options—after her husband has died, if Ivan does not offer her the protection of a new  marriage. When a smooth older woman gives her a no-nonsense earful, or the most dangerous of her suitors maneuvers her into his web, Nadia's plight feels urgent, and this lovely film (momentarily) regains a pulse.


With Andrew Scott, Fiona Glascott, and Tobias Menzies. Written by Mary Bing, from the novella by Anton Chekhov. Directed by Dover Kosashvili. A Highline Pictures release. Not rated. 95 minutes.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger


Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share


Santa Cruz Gives

A look at the organizations we’re asking you to support in our new holiday giving campaign


Gratitude—For Each New Morning With its Light

The full moon of Wednesday brings light to Thanksgiving (Thursday) under the Sagittarius Sun and Mercury. Mercury in Sag offers humanity the message (Mercury) of thankfulness and joy (Jupiter). No other sign represents food, music and joy better than Sagittarius (only Pisces, when not in despair). Beginning on Thanksgiving, we can list what we’re grateful for. Then we can continue the list, creating a daily Gratitude Journal. What we are grateful for always increases in our lives. On Thanksgiving Saturn/Neptune square (challenging) is in full effect. This can manifest as traditions not being honored, disappearing, falling away. It can also create a sense of sadness, confusion, of things not working out as planned. It’s best to be as simple as possible. And to focus on gratitude instead. Gratitude is a service to others. It is scientifically and occultly a releasing agent. Releasing us from the past, allowing our future—the new culture and civilization, the new Aquarian laws and principles, the rising light of Aquarius, the Age of Friendship and Equality—to come forth. Gratitude and goodwill create the “thought-form of solution for humanity and the world’s problems.” The hierarchy lays great emphasis upon expressing gratitude. Gratitude illuminates all that is in darkness. Let us be grateful during this season together. Being, for others, the light that illuminates the darkness. A Poem by R.W. Emerson: We are grateful … “For each new morning with its light/For rest and shelter of the night/For health and food/For love and friends/For everything thy goodness sends.” (poem by R.W. Emerson). I am grateful for my family of readers.


The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program


Pluck of the Irish

Mid-century immigrant tale engagingly told in ‘Brooklyn’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments


Second Street Café

Pies and tarts for all tastes—from traditional to adventurous


How are you preparing for El Niño?

Getting ready to buy some rain gear. Cory Pickering, Santa Cruz, Teaching Assistant


Fortino Winery

Cabernet and superb fruit wine from Fortino Winery


Tap Dance

West End Tap & Kitchen’s impressive menu to expand to Eastside location