Anton Chekhov’s The Duel
Presented by Music Box Films
AVC CODEC @ 21.7Mbps weighted bitrate
2010 Release film
It is sometimes said that the worst thing that can happen to you is to receive exactly what you think you want. It’s partly because it can never live up to your imagination, and it is partly because once you find those faults we tend to rage against the inadequacies of our desires. Anton Chekhov’s “The Duel”, an 1891 Novella, is faithfully adapted here in English Language, and sets out on asking the question that Chekhov is famous for asking: Can man become better when faced with his frailties?
It has been years since I actually read Chekhov. I will openly admit that , like Tolstoy, I often found the writing to be difficult to get into. Chekhov mixes people together in situations that seem to draw out nothing but their faults, with no character being presented as pure of virtue or really all that redeemable. The title “The Duel” is itself used as a coy play to the reader; Duels often imply by their nature a deep desire of the participants to achieve a great accomplishment. Chekhov, however, uses it to frame two men into a situation where it is convention and societal force rather than their own interest that compels them.
Dover Kosashvili, the Georgian-born(Russian) Israeli director who takes on this work manages to pull together maybe one of the more faithful adaptations of a Chekhov work I’ve seen delivered to the screen.
Because I am not big about spoiling major plot points, I will just lay out the framework; Laevsky, a civil servant and his marriedmistress Nadya (Fiona Glascott, who frankly is fantastic in this) find themselves in a rut. Soon, Nadya discovers that her husband is dead/gone, and the forbidden fruit and joy of a married mistress closes the loop on Laevsky. Laevsky, suddenly feeling closed in by his new life finds that Von Koren, a zoologist finds more interest in Nadya then he does – but it is honor, force and societal expectations that force the pair into the situation that forces the plot forward.
Chekhov is famous for long periods of dialog and this movie manages to faithfully create that. I found that the movie lacks some of the basic sexuality that the book managed to convey, the desire that existed between the characters in the book is turned more introspective. My wife seemed to feel as though the movie better matched her memory of the novella, so this may be about expectations. I will add: I have not read the novella in about 20 years, though I have seen a few staged attempts at The Duel in the intervening years.
The Picture: 4.5 / 5
Presented in AVC at an average bitrate of 21.7Mb, the film looks very good. There are scenes where dark elements did not look as I expected them too, but I took that as more the nature of the setting and original film then the way in which the film was put to disc. The cinematographer here does a fantastic job with utilizing light and interior shots to service his film, and for the limited budget on which this was produced, the one thing that is certain is that a good eye is invaluable.
The film features sets and shots that are backdrop worthy in their beauty, and could only be realized in a format like Bluray. The film features several shots of water, beaches, and the vast agrarian communities in the Baltic that makes this film look as much a matter of art as a film trying to tell a story. There are several moments where I felt like backing up, pausing, and taking in the way the cinematographer had framed the community and the actors. And it starts right at the beginning, with the presentation of the actors as they make their way through the downtown.
The Audio: 4 / 5
The audio is presented in DTS-MA, and I found it very effective. Surrounding music, off-camera ambient noises helped flesh out the world that makes up “The Duel”. In a film that is built on so much dialog and delivery, the dialog is sharp and easy to listen to. I never found myself backing up or asking what was said; even stage right and left dialog was sharp, clear and managed to give the actors a real feel to it. The audio work on this title is about what you would expect or need, there aren’t going to be massive crashes or explosions – but it is the ability of the audio to set the mood and to make sure that the words get across. This sound track accomplishes that.
Extras & Menus: 1.5/5
This disc contains no extras, barring 3 trailers for other works by Music Box. HOWEVER, I have to commend this disc for it’s absolutely rapid load time in comparison to many Bluray titles. I would take this any day for the speed at which you can get to the movies. The trailers are skippable in one button press, and the disc can get to the root menu – which is flat, loads quick, and gets to the point. It may be a sticking point of mine, but the faster I can get to the film, the less time there is for me to second guess and watch something else.
Chekhov’s “The Duel” is a very faithful representation of the famous Russian authors novella. Because of this, for a lot of people this will be a film that they will pass on. It is a film as much about the nature of man as the story, and it makes its case in a sometimes funny, often dark manner that a lot of viewers may find tedious. I’m reminded of something a literature professor once told me: You either love or hate Russian authors. It’s hard to be ambivalent about them. I would say that’s the case here. If you love Chekhov, you’ll find this work to be a fantastic effort to realize his words. The costuming, performances, and cinematography are a great effort. If, however, Tolstoy, Chekhov, etc. were the kind of works you avoided in college and high school, then this is the kind of film that may send you screaming out of the room to go pull your hair out.
One final note: while exceptionally accurate to the book, if you have a child that thought this would be a great Cliff’s Notes on the novella, they may find themselves in hot water because while they will get the meanings of Chekhov, so much of it is designed to be interpreted by the reader that it’s a great way to get busted