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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Solovyov's New Film Brings Youth to a Classic

Renowned film director Sergei Solovyov, himself an enfant terrible of Russian cinema, has always been fascinated by the mystery of youth: its inquisitive openness, its heart-on-the-sleeve sensitivity, its intolerance of compromise. So it is only natural that he is celebrating his 50th birthday by presenting a screen version of Anton Chekhov's "The Three Sisters," a play about youthful longings and disillusionment.

The most frequently revived play in Russian theatrical history, "The Three Sisters" centers on the vigorous personal revolt of the young Prozorov sisters against the mediocrity, vulgarity, hypocrisy and crude utilitarianism of the 19th- century intelligentsia and middle class.

Solovyov's film thoroughly recreates the exquisite interiors of a 19th-century Russian provincial estate, adding a nostalgic touch through deliberately "misty," out-of-focus shots.

But the director's vision is not purely nostalgic. In one startling scene, he tries to make a connection between the sisters' longing for a better tomorrow and the longings of the present day, with the specter of the Gulag spoiling the dream.

The sisters -- Olga, Masha and Irina -- are trapped in a dull provincial town alien to their cultivated upbringing.

They yearn to return to the life they had before in Moscow. Their longing is kindled by the arrival of a new artillery brigade in town -- an event that symbolizes a transitory culture's passage through a stagnant society. The officers themselves are uprooted, solitary daydreamers on their own monotonous journeys; this gives them a bond with the daydreaming sisters.

As the relationships unfold, the dreams spin out. Everyday life becomes full of a dangerous, aggressive force that makes a mockery of the protagonists' strivings. In the end, the sisters lose their home.

The master filmmaker shows the sisters' tragedy from an historical distance, inserting a sudden and unexpected quotation from Alexander Solzhenitsyn -- lines in a frame -- that if the delicate Chekhovian intellectuals dreaming of a better future in Russia were to learn of the horrors of the Gulag in the following century it would drive them insane.

The remark is a non sequitur; it is dropped in and left without follow-up. Solovyov -- who is now filming "Anna Karenina" at Mosfilm --would be better off trusting the 19th-century literary giants. Chekhov, in particular, never commented on reality, but let reality reveal itself.

In casting the film, Solovyov succumbed to the temptation of youth. Except for German theater star Otto Zander, who has played Officer Vershinin in his country more than 800 times, the actors are newcomers -- young students in Solovyov's acting workshop at the National Film School.

The performances of the budding actors and actresses have been criticized as unconvincing, and indeed the roles are usually reserved for seasoned professionals.

At the film's showing before a select audience at the Central House of Cinema, Solovyov explained his decision: "I was always dissatisfied with the Russian theatrical tradition, in which you cast three old, jaded actresses, instead of youthful twentysomethings." He added: "Malignant tongues keep accusing me of not giving my students' acting careers a good start, but I do not find anything wrong with it, because they're extremely talented."

Solovyov said the film originated as a student thesis, and that he was so intrigued by the students' unconventional interpretation that he decided to make a film of it.

The choice of youth over experience is not surprising in the case of Solovyov, a cinema rebel known for his bohemian and countercultural connections. Some of these one-time bohemians have become filmmakers and guiding forces of the Russian Union of Filmmakers thanks to Solovyov, who is the union's chairman.

Sergei Solovyov will present "The Three Sisters" for a general audience plus a five-minute reel of screen tests for "Anna Karenina" at 7 P.M. Wednesday, Nov. 23 at the Cinema Center on Krasnaya Presnya (main hall). In Russian. Tel.: 205-7306. Nearest metro: Krasnopresnenskaya.