Annette Bening gives Chekhov tale its wings
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
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