A crazy wager between an arrogant businessman and a cocky young man ends up ruining not just their own lives but others as well in the Russian drama "The Bet."

A crazy wager between an arrogant businessman and a cocky young man ends up ruining not just their own lives but others as well in the Russian drama “The Bet.” Loosely adapted from a Chekhov short story, sophomore helming effort by former thesp Natalia Bronstein (“Doroga”) resonates and often impresses, despite the sense that everyone here — helmer, lenser, editors and thesps — is trying a bit too hard. Odds are good “The Bet” will surface at a fest or two offshore.

At a party, wealthy oligarch Viktor (Viktor Verzhbitsky, “12″) and his puppyish employee Maxim (Vladimir Zherebtsov) make a ludicrous wager: If Maxim endures 15 years of imprisonment by Viktor, the latter will pay him $15 million. If Maxim leaves the guest-house prison next to Viktor’s home, he’ll have to work for Viktor for free for the rest of his life. The incarceration begins, and over an unspecified period of time, both men get progressively crazier — Maxim from solitude, Viktor from his obsession with winning the bet. Handheld lensing overenthusiastically attempts to rep increasing desperation, flashbacks mimic characters’ unraveling minds and thesps generally chew the furniture. But it’s still watchable.

The Bet

Russia

Production

A Russkaya Movie Studio presentation of a Tanger Film, Vega production. (International sales: Intercinema, Moscow.) Executive producer, Irina Mitrofanova. Directed by Natalia Bronstein. Screenplay, Bronstein, Tatyana Guryanova, adapted from a short story by Anton Chekhov.

Crew

Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Robert Filatov; editors, Roman Kanatnikov, Tatiana Belousova; music, Peter Klimov; art director, Sergei Ovchinnikov; costume designer, Alina Budnikova. Reviewed on DVD, Hoveton, U.K., March 5, 2008. (In Berlin Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 87 MIN.

With

Viktor Verzhbitsky, Vladimir Zherebtsov, Marina Mogilevskaya, Sergey Chonishvilli, Anatoly Belyi, Olesya Zheleznyak, Evgenia Loza, Daria Poverennova.

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