Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 18, 2016 5:13 pm 
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Another film in the 2016 FSLC/UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema


Bruni Tedeschi opens up Chekhov's 'Three Sisters' with fluent Comédie Française performances

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi's sunny, fluent film adaptation of Three Sisters, one of Chekhov's most notable plays, is a glorious feast of vintage acting since nearly all the cast comes straight from the Comédie Française, and though the limited budget shoot, funded by Arte for French and German TV, took place in little more than three days, they deliver fluent and lived-in performances in a film whose editing allows the action to breathe, and includes some memorable moments, like an impeccably dressed little boy with copious scarf solemnly pouring dirt on the face of his recumbent dad, and an odious bourgeoise dressing down a weeping old lady retainer and saying she's useless and should go back to her village.

The script of the film, dedicated to the memory of director Patrice Chéreau, co-written with Noémie Lvovsky, retains the the play's essentials, including period and costume. But it jazzes things up from time to time, including an opening scene with a young woman relieving herself on a bidet and chatting with a nude girlfriend whose perfect breasts are highlighted by the sunlight streaming from an open window. Later there's a un-Chekhovian mad and surreal nighttime sequence when everyone seems high. And the score isn't decorout and classical, but a sparse scattering of arresting modern songs in English. Most notable among these, repeated at the end, is Lou Reed and John Cale's "Smalltown", which ends, "There's only one good use for a smalltown,/you hate it and you know you have to leave" -- suggesting an option the fading rural aristocrats and military men of Three Sisters can only dream of.

The action takes place in a sun-dappled garden in summer, with a feeling of calm and open space redolent of landed gentry comfort, with a small French chateau filling in for the family estate of the two unmarried sisters and the one unhappily married one. Winter scenes inside it look out to snow flurries outside. In all seasons the siblings are joined by the play's population of men in uniform, debtors, pensioners, and spouses, who regret the present, declare their secret loves and unveil hidden paternity, and dream of a better future for humanity, and perhaps for themselves.

Three Sisters/Les Trois soeurs, 110 mins., was adapted by Lvovsky and Bruni Tedeschi from a French translation of Chekhov's Russian play by André Markowicz and Françoise Morvan. Funded by and made for Arte TV and shown on German and French Television 4 Sept. 2015, the film received the French Film Critics Guild's "Best French Fiction 2015" television award. Accepting it, Bruni Tedeschi said she'd fallen in love with the whole cast and would have married any one of them. Since it was not released in theaters, there were no French film reviews or AlloCiné press rating. Screened for this review as part of the 2016 FSLC/UniFrance series Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, its first showing in the US, presented to the public the following dates:
Wednesday, March 9, 3:30pm (Q&A with Valeria Bruni Tedeschi)
Friday, March 11, 6:30pm (Q&A with Valeria Bruni Tedeschi)

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