Reviews

Tense Encounters in Anton Chekhov's 'The Duel'

The most interesting aspect of this film is the tension between the entrenched, traditional older generation and their more liberal, younger counterparts.


Anton Chekhov's The Duel

Director: Dover Kosashvili
Cast: Andrew Scott, Tobias Menzies, Fiona Glascott
Distributor: Music Box
Rated: Not Rated
Release date: 2011-05-24

The Duel takes place in the intimate confines of a seaside town. The main character, Laevsky (Andrew Scott), has ended up there after running away with his married mistress, Nadya (Fiona Glascott). The town does not prove entirely welcoming, though. The majority of the residents shun their improper courtship and his improper behavior, the latest example of which is his sudden distaste for Nadya and desire to leave her and the town behind. The few who do start up friendships with them all seem to have ulterior motives, whether they be to set the couple on the path to respectability, or to seduce Nadya.

This is admittedly a setup rife with dramatic potential, and Chekhov mines it wonderfully in the novella on which this film is based. The movie, though, wastes such possibilities. It's so preoccupied with defining all the characters in opposition to each other that any dramatic tension between them comes off as forced and over-calculated rather than as a natural consequence of the social situation in which they find themselves.

The main conflict in the film is meant to be between Laevsky and Von Koren (Tobias Menzies). The differences between the two are mapped out early in the film: the educated Von Koren espouses the teachings of Darwin and Kant, and is greatly preoccupied with the responsibilities that come with his social stature. As such, he cannot contain his irritation toward Laevsky, who eschews work in favor of drinking, gambling, and a generally lazy existence.

The two are supposed to be bitter rivals, but it's unclear why this is the case. Their interactions are limited and so Von Koren’s hatred seems petty. Laevsky, meanwhile, has so many other problems – a crumbling marriage, imminent bankruptcy – that a feud with Von Koren seems like the least of his worries. The film makes little attempt to provide a context for their hostility. It's happy to show tense encounters between the two and hope that the audience gets caught up in it, but The Duel is no Hollywood thriller, and so the drama in the film never takes off.

Few characters in the film garner our sympathy, although again the potential of placing such a discordant group in close confines is never fulfilled. Von Koren is pompous and cold. The town doctor, Samoylenko, who seems to genuinely like Laevsky, is good-hearted but too easily manipulated. Marya represents the typical cold-hearted aristocrat: all too ready to be a friend to Nadya until she realizes that Nadya has no interest in behaving like a proper lady. Laevsky’s frantic behavior inspires slight empathy as the film goes on, though for the most part the melodramatic flair with which Scott’s performance is infused only induces eye-rolls. It's ultimately only Nadya whom we feel sorry for, a modern woman stuck in a culture that won’t allow her freedom and amidst men who vie for her affections without any seeming appreciation for her feelings on the matter.

In fact it is Nadya who provides the best moment of the film. After receiving news of her husband’s death, a distraught Nadya is visited by Marya, who encourages her to see the bright side of things: now she can finally marry Laevsky and settle down. Nadya does not see much use in the advice. "I have not lived yet and you ask me to settle down," she retorts. Marya is taken aback by Nadya’s impropriety. She accuses her of seducing Laevsky and of being a sinner. It’s the most explicit occurrence of what is the most interesting aspect of the film: the tension between the entrenched, traditional older generation and their more liberal, younger counterparts.

Ultimately, though, this is just another example of wasted potential in The Duel. It's possible that all the promise comes from Chekhov’s novella and is lost in the adaptation to film. But movies are no less capable than literature at navigating the tensions of a crumbling marriage, the social divisions in a small town, or the conflicts between generations. The Duel, though, gets overwhelmed by all these possible layers, and as such is itself underwhelming.

As an added disappointment, the DVD comes with no special features.

4


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Music

Hip-Hop's Raashan Ahmad Talks About His Place in 'The Sun'

On his latest work,The Sun, rapper Raashan Ahmad brings his irrepressible charisma to this set of Afrobeat-influenced hip-hop.

Music

Between the Buried and Me's Baby Pictures Star in 'The Silent Circus'

The Silent Circus shows Between the Buried and Me developing towards the progressive metal titans they would eventually become.

Music

The Chad Taylor Trio Get Funky and Fiery on 'The Daily Biological'

A nimble jazz power trio of drums, tenor sax, and piano, the Chad Taylor Trio is free and fun, funky and fiery on The Daily Biological.

Music

Vistas' 'Everything Changes in the End' Is Catchy and Fun Guitar Rock

Vistas' debut, Everything Changes in the End, features bright rock music that pulls influences from power-pop and indie rock.

Film

In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?

Music

Maestro Gamin and Aeks' Latest EP Delivers LA Hip-Hop Cool (premiere + interview)

MaestroAeks' Sapodigo is a collection of blunted hip-hop tunes, sometimes nudging a fulsome boom-bap and other times trading on laid-back, mellow grooves.

Music

Soul Blues' Sugaray Rayford Delivers a "Homemade Disaster" (premiere + Q&A)

What was going to be a year of touring and building Sugaray Rayford's fanbase has turned into a year of staying home and reaching out to fans from his Arizona home.

Music

Titan to Tachyons' Experimental Heaviness on Full Display via "Earth, And Squidless" (premiere)

Featuring former members of Orbweaver and Imperial Triumphant, Titan to Tachyons break incredible new ground in the realm of heavy music.

Music

Jerry Leger Teams with Moby Grape's Don Stevenson for "Halfway 'Til Gone" (premiere)

Reminiscent of Lee Hazlewood and the Everly Brothers, Jerry Leger's "Halfway 'Til Gone" is available on all streaming platforms on 6 August.

Music

The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

Books

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.

Music

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.

Music

Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.