Natasha Nastassia Kinski
The Prince Nikita Mikhalkov
Vanya Sergei Perelygin
Alessia Victor Rakov
Nelly Anastasia Vyasemskaya
This modestly produced adaptation of a Fyodor Dostoyevsky novel succeeds mainly because of the scene-stealing central performance by Nikita Mikhalkov, who, with compelling style, plays a charming yet thoroughly evil character. A very talky film, with minimal production values, this looms as a possible item for fests and specialized TV outlets, but has minimal international theatrical possibilities. A last-minute replacement in the Fast Lane section at the Venice fest, after another film failed to materialize, pic unspooled sans proper documentation.
The setting is 19th-century St. Petersburg. Sergei Perelygin portrays Ivan Petrovich, known as Vanya, a would-be writer who lives close to the poverty line but who worships Natasha (Nastassia Kinski), a young woman as poor as he is. Sadly for him, Natasha is hopelessly in love with Alessia (Victor Rakov), the son of a raffish prince (Mikhalkov) who is, himself, in desperate need of money.
Alessia returns Natasha’s love and wants to marry her, to the quiet distress of Vanya. The prince wants his son to marry a woman who will bring to the union both money and position, and will do almost anything to achieve his devious ends , including manipulating the besotted Vanya. Meanwhile, Vanya gradually discovers the evil character of the prince, who had, some years earlier, callously seduced and then abandoned a young woman. The result of that liaison is Nelly, a sickly little girl who seeks help from Vanya.
This quintet of principal characters tear themselves apart in a series of strongly dramatic scenes as the film progresses. Screenwriter Alexander Volodin has made little attempt to open out the drama, and the penny-pinching production contains just a few images of wintry St. Petersburg (which are, at times, rather strangely framed for the camera). As a result, a heavy load falls on the actors.
Perelygin plays the tormented Vanya all on one rather monotonous note, though Kinski makes a strong impression as the unfortunate Natasha. Best of all is Mikhalkov, who makes the prince a man of consummate charm but innate evil. Best known these days as the director of films like “Burnt by the Sun,” Mikhalkov strongly confirms his stature as an actor.
Technical credits are just acceptable.