Long-winded, theatrically staged but strangely fascinating, “The Tuner” is a refined piece of art cinema from veteran Russian helmer Kira Muratova. Optimistically billed as a “detective drama,” this far from commercial satire on Russia’s haves and have-nots takes almost two hours to get to its main plot, the protags’ clever scam at the expense of a rich widow. The rest is all salon dialogue, paradox and masterful lensing. Festival exposure is sure to renew Muratova’s following of fans, but film’s leisurely pace and elongated scenes — which could have done with massive trimming — will make it difficult to place in theaters.
Andrei (George Deliyev), an unprepossessing type who plays the piano beautifully and drinks on the sly, is madly in love with the beautiful Lina (Renata Litvinova). She’s a spoiled rich girl who enjoys slumming in his humble digs, the service attic of a building.
While he steals from the supermarket, she orders a lavish lunch at a posh restaurant and offers it to a passing bag lady. Spacey as she is, Lina seems to love Andrei, too, and actively encourages him to find some money to support her lifestyle.
Andrei meets wealthy dowagers Anna Sergeevna (Alla Demidova) and her lovesick friend Lyuba (Nina Ruslanova) when he goes to tune their piano. The trio start singing together and, despite their reservations about the young man’s supposed Jewish-Armenian-Uzbek background, he soon becomes a regular guest at their house.
The theme of swindlers and victims is first introduced via marriage ads in the paper. Lyuba gets married to a dignified older gentleman she meets through an ad, but on their honeymoon her joy ends abruptly and a little pathetically when he steals all her money and vanishes.
By this time, Lina has gotten a look at Anna’s antique-filled apartment and is candidly urging Andrei to murder her.
The story swings into its final, exhilarating act after Andrei catches up with Lyuba’s confidence man and recovers her lost cash. But this good deed is just the first step of a complicated scheme he has hatched with Lina.
The mocking actors take their time with pic’s meandering dialogue. Litvinova, the pretend-dumb blonde from “Sky. Plane. Girl,” gives free rein to her considerable comic gifts as Lina, who is made up and lit like a glamorous 1930s platinum blonde. The devious Deliyev is gabbily theatrical, as are Demidova and Ruslanova as cultured society dames who cuddle their lapdogs as they gush emotion.
Production designer Evgeny Golubenko, who also co-scripted, has a field day imitating the geometrical architecture and interiors of sophisticated ’30s comedy, backed by cinematographer Gennadi Karyuk’s elegant modernist-inspired camera movements. One only wishes that the editing could have been more succinct.