Oblomov (1980)

“My life began by flickering out.”

Set in 19th Century Russia, the film Oblomov is based on the classic Russian novel by Ivan Goncharov. Bachelor Oblomov (Oleg Tabakov) is in his 30s and lives in a spacious apartment in St. Petersburg with grumpy old serf, Zakhar (Andrei Popov). After 10 years of government service, Oblomov is retired. He lives on an income generated by the country estate he inherited from his parents, and he also owns 350 serfs. He’s been brought up “gently”, and this means he doesn’t even dress himself. Hobbled by inertia and boredom, Oblomov spends his days and nights mostly on the sofa where he sleeps–lying down is his “normal state”, and from time to time, he snoozes, eats, drinks and rails against his fate. But there’s a storm gathering that threatens to disturb Oblomov’s existence–he’s received an eviction notice (his landlord needs the apartment), but in spite of constant nagging from Zakhar, Oblomov is incapable of making a decision about moving.

Oblomov’s childhood friend, the half German, half Russian Stoltz (Yuri Bogatyryov) arrives. He crashes into Oblomov’s life, and immediately tries to rehabilitate his friend. He drags Oblomov off to business meetings–only to catch Oblomov snoozing at the first opportunity. Sorties into polite society with Oblomov are equally unsuccessful and embarrassing. Stoltz believes in vigorous exercise and a healthy diet–he takes Oblomov off to a snowbound sauna and also forbids him to eat pies. The contrast between the two men couldn’t be greater–or more slyly comical–Oblomov’s bleak outlook has led to complete inertia, and Stoltz is a model of German efficiency. The friendship between Stoltz and Oblomov is really quite extraordinary: “how could two men be close whose every trait, whose very lives were a flagrant protest against the existence of the other?”

To solve Oblomov’s housing crisis, Stoltz drags him off to the country where he rents a house near another old friend, a young woman named Olga (Yelena Solovey). When Stoltz leaves for Paris, he admonishes Oblomov to leave the house and discuss books with Olga.

“Oblomovism” is examined through this marvelous film, and both Oblomov and Stoltz’s pasts are explored in flashbacks of the two men as little boys. In spite of Oblomov’s crippling flaws, the film treats him with great affection. He is seen as a rather hapless, harmless fellow who has the occasional tendency to become excited when his world is threatened. Oblomov’s quirky personality is best shown in the scenes that involve the serf Zakhar and his lifelong friend Stoltz. Directed by Nikita Mikhalkov (Burnt by the Sun), Oblomov is in Russian with English subtitles.

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Filed under Period Piece, Soviet

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