The latest adaptation of Dostoyevsky's "White Nights" relocates the story to contemporary Kazakhstan with slight but charming results.
“White Nights,” Dostoyevsky’s melancholic 1848 story of loneliness fleetingly relieved, has inspired many a notable filmmaker to bittersweet heights — Luchino Visconti (“White Nights”), Robert Bresson (“Four Nights of a Dreamer”) and James Gray (“Two Lovers”) among them. A loose adaptation relocated to modern-day Kazakhstan, Nariman Turebayev’s short, sweet “Adventure” hardly stands shoulder-to-shoulder with those films, but has a groggy charm of its own. Following a milquetoast night watchman drawn by an enigmatic woman into a brief, bewitching change of routine — for which the title seems a deliberately overstated description — Turebayev’s third feature might not have the energy or invention to parlay its Karlovy Vary competition slot into extensive distribution, but it’s a film of quiet pleasures nonetheless.
“Nothing new was supposed to happen,” says protagonist Marat (Azamat Nigmanov) in an introductory voiceover. It’s a statement that could be found at the start of any number of wild tales before lives are thrust into chaos, though what’s ultimately rather touching about “Adventure” is that it doesn’t take much to set our hero’s world off its axis. Recently dumped by his Russian-bound g.f. and whiling away his evenings as a security guard at a low-risk office building in Almaty, Marat spends so much time in varying degrees of slumber that it’s hard to tell whether or not he’s dreaming the distractions to come. When not dozing, he’s plowing through a weighty Dostoyevsky volume — a cute if somewhat heavy-handed nod to the film’s literary source.
Those familiar with “White Nights” hardly need such pointers: As much as its context has been altered, the story’s four-night structure has been retained to pleasingly simple effect. The narrative picks up gently in pace when Marat spots the beautiful, solitary Mariyam (Aynur Niyazova) hovering outside his workplace, and comes to her rescue against a male assailant. Swiftly besotted, and sensing a mutual emotional need after she shares her own romantic woes with him, he begins a puppyish pursuit of Mariyam, deaf to her half-hearted warning that she’s “a dangerous girl.”
Danger, of course, isn’t Marat’s middle name: As Mariyam teasingly goads him into mildly irresponsible behavior (bunking off work for a pub date, for example) that he sees as dizzily reckless, he begins to question the worthiness of his crush. Turebayev’s spare script increasingly deviates from its source as the balance of desire subtly shifts between them; their sleepy back-and-forth belies the heartsick impact of their final resolution. Any emotional blows land softly in a film that skirts conflict at every turn: In one particularly endearing scene, the makings of a barroom brawl are redirected into a heart-to-heart relationship chat between Marat and a male stranger.
Performances are muted to match the directorial approach, though the willowy Niyazova is an appropriately beguiling enigma, a hint of perpetual amusement behind her cool, limpid gaze. Kazbek Amerzhanov’s lensing is fine within modest digital confines — the nights here are more dusty gray than white — but it’s the film’s sonic contributions that linger most. Irena Scalerika’s spare, tingling score and Frederic Thery’s simultaneously hushed and heightened sound design lend proceedings a seductive, waking-dream texture.