An­nette Ben­ing gives Chekhov tale its wings

The Georgia Straight - - Movies -

RE­VIEWS THE SEAG­ULL Star­ring An­nette Ben­ing. Rat­ing un­avail­able

An­ton Chekhov’s oft-re­vived play gets a mild makeover in this take on The Seag­ull. A set of whirring ro­man­tic tri­an­gles that over­lap in ways that are al­ter­nately funny and tragic, it is pure Mozartian farce—mi­nus most of the singing—with a pi­quant tone that has in­formed many movies, most no­tably Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game. This one is pleas­ant with­out be­ing on that level.

Di­rected by TV veteran Michael Mayer, it cen­tres on fad­ing ac­tress Irina Arkad­ina, played with mon­strous charm by An­nette Ben­ing, and takes place at her ram­bling lake­side es­tate not far from Moscow. Irina’s son, Kon­stantin (Billy Howle), is a clas­sic 19th-cen­tury hand­wringer who writes fu­tur­is­tic plays so full of sym­bolic over­reach, the out­door sum­mer staging of his lat­est is halted when his mom won’t stop laugh­ing.

The head­strong young­ster is in­fat­u­ated with his lead ac­tress, Nina (Saoirse Ro­nan), who has more am­bi­tion than ta­lent, as we see when she grad­u­ally latches onto Irina’s lat­est con­sort, a fa­mous au­thor named Boris Trig­orin (Corey Stoll). Later, Kon­stantin, who has a thing for guns and mop­ing, shoots a hap­less gull out of the sky and presents it to Nina as yet an­other ob­scure sym­bol—an act that surely gave rise to the age­less apho­rism “If you love

some­thing, set it free, kill it, and of­fer it to some­one you want to in­tim­i­date.”

The other would-be, could-be, or used-to-be lovers in­clude an ur­bane doc­tor (Jon Ten­ney) still jug­gling numer­ous af­fairs, in­clud­ing a past one with Polina (Mare Win­ning­ham), mar­ried to the boor­ish es­tate keeper (Glenn Flesh­ler). Polina’s daugh­ter, Masha (Elis­a­beth Moss), is crazy about Kon­stantin. Or maybe just crazy. She drinks away her days and dresses in black—“i’m in mourn­ing for my life” is the play’s most fa­mous line—while ig­nor­ing an im­pov­er­ished school­teacher (Michael Ze­gen) who lives for her. Mean­while, Irina’s el­der brother (Brian Den­nehy) casts a jaded eye on the white-peo­ple prob­lems at hand.

Stephen Karam’s script feels rushed and has a cu­ri­ously mod­ern ring to it, as does most of the act­ing. The sense of Ro­manov Rus­sia on the eve of rev­o­lu­tion is lost here. Howle, soon to be seen op­po­site Ro­nan in an­other pe­riod piece, On Ch­e­sil Beach, seems par­tic­u­larly mis­cast—too ma­ture to con­vince as the wob­bly, im­ma­ture Kon­stantin. For­tu­nately, Ben­ing isn’t both­ered by any of that. Her Irina is an undy­ing swan, and not about to be put off by lowlier birds.

> KEN EIS­NER

RE­VENGE

Star­ring Matilda Anna In­grid Lutz. In English and French, with English sub­ti­tles. Rated 18A

Re­venge is 2The bluntly ti­tled

about just one thing. Its peo­ple are two- di­men­sional char­ac­ters act­ing out pri­mal urges in a name­less place. For her fea­ture de­but, French writer- direc­tor Co­ralie Fargeat has come up with some­thing so bru­tally atavis­tic, specifics would only get in the way.

Events cen­tre on a wo­man called Jen. She’s played by Matilda Anna In­grid Lutz—not mul­ti­ple Scan­di­na­vians but just one Ital­ian, speak­ing English here, if very lit­tle of it. Jen might be in show biz. Our first glimpse of her is while she’s de­scend­ing from a he­li­copter in Lolita shades with match­ing lol­lipop.

The craft has landed on a promon­tory in the mid­dle of a vast desert (Moroc­can, in fact), just by a lux­ury villa so su­per­mod­ern it has a gi­ant paint­ing of the Vir­gin Mary com­pet­ing with the in­fin­ity pool. Jen ar­rives with a hand­some mil­lion­aire named Richard (Kevin Janssens), who could be some sort of politi­cian. He’s def­i­nitely mar­ried, judg­ing from cell­phone con­ver­sa­tions with some­one about ta­ble set­tings at an up­com­ing din­ner party.

Things are okay un­til Richard’s hunt­ing bud­dies show up a day early. Do I re­ally need to go on? I mean, “hunt­ing bud­dies” should be enough, but Jen de­cides to keep par­ty­ing with this ma­cho claque. And if that in­cludes wear­ing next to noth­ing while danc­ing around them like a manic sex pixie, they shouldn’t make as­sump­tions. They do, though, and when Richard leaves for a few hours, Fargeat sets in mo­tion a cruel match that’s as much about sex­ual pol­i­tics as about sur­vival.

This is where the young film­maker shows ta­lent for more than bloody provo­ca­tion and wide-screen ge­om­e­try: the in­sti­ga­tor (Vin­cent Colombe) turns out to be the least vi­o­lence-prone of the three; the non­par­tic­i­pant (Guil­laume Bouchède) is a sadist; and the sup­posed boyfriend is the one who wants her erased from the pic­ture. What fol­lows is a kind of Tomb Raider– meets– Mad Max: Fury Road, with our pussy­cat hero­ine re­born as an aveng­ing an­gel. She even ends up with scars that re­sem­ble gothic wings.

The pain comes amid techno mu­sic and rapid-fire edit­ing, and some tropes are up­ended in strik­ing ways. The prin­ci­pal male an­tag­o­nist, for ex­am­ple, spends the last bat­tle en­tirely naked. Some view­ers will cer­tainly find the whole sub­ject too loaded a topic for even the most ki­netic come­up­pance. But there’s a case to be made for adren­a­line as an an­ti­dote to toxic mas­culin­ity.

> KEN EIS­NER

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