4 April 2012 | guy-bellinger
Good adaptation of Leskov. Would have been very good with a better actress
Nikolai Leskov (1831-1895) is a little known Russian writer. And yet, he was the equal of Tolstoy, Chekhov , Gorky (the three of whom, incidentally, thought high of him) and Dostoyevsky. Like them, Leskov managed to provide in his numerous short stories, novels and newspaper articles a comprehensive view of 19th century Russia. Among his masterpieces are "Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District" (1865) , adapted in 1963 by Andrjez Wajda as "Siberian Lady Macbeth", and "The Enchanted Wanderer" (1873). A year later, in 1874, the writer published "Pawlin", a short novel in which he exposed the lightness and and the callousness of the rich through the tragedy of a doomed love triangle. It is this interesting work that producer Georg Witt and first time director Kurt Meisel (better known as an actor : "A Time to Love and a Time to Die", "The Longest Day", among many others) chose to film in the post-war Germany still occupied by the Allied Forces, to overall good result. Of course "Tragödie einer Leidenschaft" (as the novel has been renamed) does not revolutionize anything. Stories set in old Russia indeed abound in the worldwide cinema (USA: "The Brothers Karamazov"; France: "Crime et Châtiment"; Italy: "Il capotto"; England: "The Three Sisters"; Japan: "The Lower Depths" and naturally Germany: "Die Kreutzer Sonata", "The Postmaster", and many many others). But, after all, there are worse things than taking one's inspiration from Puschkin, Turgeniev, Gorky and their likes. Moreover, if the story told is not the most innovative ever written, it does contain its share of dark romanticism, of violent passion and of tragic exaltation. And Kurt Meisel takes a great care to reconstruct the Russian atmosphere, with the valuable help of production designers Bruno Monden and Hermann Warm (the latter being the immortal creator of the memorable sets of "Caligari"). Another asset is Hans Schnackertz's wonderfully contrasted cinematography (though if you intend to appreciate it to the full you'd better avoid the grainy Magic Pictures DVD version). Anyway, Kurt Meisel is never content to illustrate this sorry tale flatly. The framing is always careful, the camera moves are sleek and the shots generally well composed. One scene, that of the wedding, in which the cursed couple dance to a music that sounds more tragic than joyful immediately following up on the two lovers' wild escape stands out as a powerful artistic achievement. The cast is globally good, with one exception - unfortunately a major one - : the female star Joanna Maria Gorvin. The young woman is acceptable when she performs in a light register, but becomes awfully annoying as soon as she tries (vainly) to be a great tragic actress. A bit problematic when, as the poor Liuba, she is supposed to move us to pity. Too bad for this otherwise commendable film which, in spite of everything, deserves to be seen. It is in fact not unworthy of Douglas Sirk, who, with "Summer Storm" also adapted a great Russian author, "Tragödie einer Liedenschaft" would be better remembered if it bore his signature.