Lionya loves Vera, Vera loves Ivan, Ivan loves Galia, Galia loves Marga and auds will love the lobby by the time this superficial and cliche-ridden Russian period sudser grinds to a halt. Yet another saga of a self-centered, tortured artist and the loved ones and hangers-on he alternately terrorizes and exploits, item brings nothing new to the party and seems destined for fests looking to fill a Russian slot and whatever vid life it can eke out.
Ostensibly a look at the intrigues and traumas suffered by revered Russian writer Ivan Bunin (Andrey Smirnov) and those around him in the period between the world wars and up until 1945, pic never pretends to be a straight-ahead bio, preferring instead to milk an oversimplified and melodramatic approach to the tolls of the creative process.
After beginning with Bunin’s death from a heart attack in the sleeping car of a train in 1953, story moves back to 1928 and the early years of his relationship with Galia, a poet he installs in the household right under the nose of his long-suffering wife Vera, who seems immune to the entreaties of the smitten Lionya, a nervous young man who shows up one day and never leaves (“there are many odd things about this household,” Vera tells him resignedly).
Establishing an uneasy peace long enough to travel to Paris to pick up his 1933 Nobel Prize, it’s back to squabbling for a number of years as the whole clan moves into a seaside villa in Grasse and Galia leaves Ivan for lesbian singer Marga, only to return from Paris after the beginning of World War II when the two are ostracized for their “Russian bohemian ways” and the Jewish Marga begins to feel the heat of the German occupation.
Although technically commanding, Smirnov’s perf as supremely selfish and emotionally erratic monster grows wearying before long. The script was written by his daughter, who specializes in stories of tortured artists but here provides no particular wit or original insight to leaven the mixture.
Tech credits are handsome without being particularly lush.