A cross-cultural tear-jerker set in Moscow in late summer 1983, “The Envy of Gods” takes its inspiration from “Last Tango in Paris” but comes across like “Last Line Dance in Kishinev,” so genially ham-fisted is its approach. Romance and sacrifice are laid on with a spatula throughout this agreeably overblown weeper in which a married Moscow TV worker embarks on an impossible affair with a visiting Frenchman. Local Russian population at its Chicago festival preem seemed highly appreciative of the lengthy extravaganza’s blend of corny humor and nostalgia for the bad old days.
On the 20th wedding anniversary of 44-year-old Sonya (Vera Alentova) and her easygoing husband, friends screen a bootleg copy of “Last Tango in Paris” that is not to the taste of the uptight Sonya. She literally flees from the notorious butter scene, but that just greases the way for the smarmy licentiousness to come.
The shamelessly syrupy tone of Sonya’s subsequent emotional upheaval suggests that Claude Lelouch films were also required viewing for the intelligentsia — or at least for helmer and co-scripter Vladimir Menshov, a 1980 Oscar-gleaner for “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears.”
Bernard (Gerard Depardieu, in a hammy cameo), Gallic head of a Soviet-French friendship org, is scheduled to come to the apartment where Sonya lives with her hubby — a writer of military and patriotic books — and their teen son. Before the vodka-soaked evening is over, Bernard’s handsome blue-eyed translator, Andre (Anatoly Lobotsky), is deeply smitten with Sonya.
In the interests of maximum conflict, Andre is also married with two daughters back in France, and his Soviet contract and visa expire in one week. After Sonya strenuously resists his overtures, the pair are soon engaged in torrid sex in the back of a truck.
Alentova is every inch the leading lady as Sonya; Lobotsky is about as French as a tractor collective on the Steppes, but plays gallant lovelorn persistence to the hilt. Corny, overwrought score drenches the proceedings; lensing provides plenty of washed-out local color.