“How am I to live now?”
I’m always a bit reticent when it comes to Soviet era films, and I’ve been disappointed in several Soviet adaptations of Chekhov’s works in the past. However, the delicate and subtly-nuanced Soviet film, The Lady with the Little Dog is the perfect screen adaptation of the Chekhov short story. The love affair between a bored bourgeois banker and a woman married to a provincial bureaucrat begins during the holiday season in the city of Yalta in the Crimea. Dimitri Gurov (Aleksey Batalov) has left his wife (Nina Alisova) and children behind in Moscow to holiday alone. Before too long, he spies Anna Sergeyovna (Iya Savvina) walking along the promenade with her dog. As a woman alone, Anna is already the subject of gossip and speculation, and Dimitri, who’s a practiced hand at casual affairs, pursues the lonely, frail Anna until he secures her seduction.
Anyone who’s enjoyed the Chekhov story will appreciate this marvelous film adaptation. The sets are splendid, and the casting excellent. Iya Savvina as Anna Sergeyovna could have stepped out of the pages of the book–she’s that perfect. Trapped in a loveless marriage and a boring existence, Anna cannot resist Dimitri’s advances. The film perfectly captures Dimitri’s approach to what he thinks is a casual affair, but instead it becomes the relationship that provides the single defining moment of his life.
There are many memorable scenes in the film, but one of the best occurs when a ship docks in Yalta, and Anna thinks her husband may be on it. Dimitri, worried that he may lose his prey, hovers hidden in the background, observing those who disembark. Every man who appears causes Dimitri to speculate, “is this Anna’s husband?” And the film conveys Dimitri’s threatened curiosity without Dimitri ever once vocalizing his concerns. Interestingly enough, and this may be a sly criticism of Stalin’s policy against Muslims, Muslims appear twice in the film–once to signify spirituality. Directed by Iosif Kheifits, this black and white film is in Russian with subtitles.