“Is it true that I’m home at last?”
The Soviet film, A Nest of the Gentry (Dvoryanskoe Gnezdo) is based on the novel by Ivan Turgenev. It’s the story of the return home of disillusioned Lavretsky (Leonid Kulagin) after he separates from his wife, Varvara (Beata Tyszkiewicz) in Paris. While the beautiful, elegant Varvara is the toast of Paris, Lavretsky is sadly out-of-place in the salon society, and after learning of his wife’s affair with another man, Lavretsky decided to return to his country estate in Russia. During his long absence, the estate has fallen into a state of decay, and during the film’s first scenes, Lavretsky wanders through the house with a loyal serf by his side. Everywhere he looks, things are falling apart–from the broken frames of portraits to the cobwebs flung across unused rooms.
Lavretsky has returned to the refuge of his long-unappreciated estate to “plough the land” and he very soon reconnects with long-time acquaintances–the Kalitins. The oldest girl of the family, Liza (Irina Kupchenko), catches his eye, but she already has a suitor, the dilettante Panshin (Viktor Sergachyov), a government official who comes by to lay siege to Liza on a daily basis. Liza’s mother encourages the match, and it’s one of those situations where the mother is enamoured with the daughter’s beau and arranges the match through a sort of thwarted desire. Liza, who’s a deeply religious girl, is ambivalent about Panshin, but not rebellious enough to openly disobey her mother’s wish. So it seems as though the match will take place as Panshin’s courtship extends through the long summer days.
Lavretsky’s arrival upsets all these matchmaking plans, and as he continues to visits the Kalitins, he falls in love with Liza and his feelings are reciprocated. Lavretsky is tied in marriage, but then the news comes that his wife is dead….
The film includes flashbacks of Lavretsky’s life in Paris, although his wife is a screaming success in the salons of Paris, Lavretsky seems out-of-place, superfluous, and even in the way as Varvara glitters and glides through the elegant company. But somehow Lavretsky is equally out of place in his dilapidated country estate.
Nest of the Gentry is a difficult novel to translate to the screen as a large portion of the novel is spent explaining Lavretsky’s background and his hideous education at the hands of his “anglomaniac” father. While Turgenev’s novel explains the idea of the ‘superfluous man’–an upper class man divorced from Russian culture, these portions of the novel are mostly absent from the film, and that’s unfortunate as these sections underscore the Russian upper class divorcement from their own culture. Lavretsky’s background, and the fact that his mother was a serf is only briefly mention. Several scenes, however, underscore the idea of French decadence and artificiality in direct contrast to the gorgeous summer scenes in the Russian countryside. There’s one great scene of the idle rich lounge by the river’s edge while in the background serfs sing as they slave on the estate.
The film is also quite gentle in its treatment of Panshin, and while the novel spends pages on Panshin’s egoism, the film, apart from sticking Panshin in the clothes of a dandy, doesn’t address his character or his desire to ‘westernize” Russia.
The film also ends inconclusively, and somewhat unsatisfyingly with the characters’ fates still up in the air. Those complaints aside, Nest of the Gentry is a gorgeous adaptation that should please fans of Russian literature and/or Soviet cinema, but a mini series format would perhaps effectively capture the details of the novel that this film missed. From director Andrei Konchal