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  Oblomov Nothing Doing
Year: 1980
Director: Nikita Mikhalkov
Stars: Oleg Tabakov, Yuriy Bogatyryov, Andrei Popov, Elena Solovey, Avangard Leontev, Andrei Razumovsky, Oleg Kozlov, Yelena Kleshchevskaya, Galina Shostko, Gleb Strizhenov, Evgeniy Steblov, Evgeniya Glushenko, Nikola Pashtukov, Oleg Basilashvili
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: It is the mid-nineteenth century, and for the aristocracy in Russia, the writing may not be on the wall, but the wider populace is certainly muttering about them darkly. One such aristocrat is Ilya Ilyich Oblomov (Oleg Tabakov) who personifies the concept of the idle rich, for while he owns a lot of land and is technically well-off, his quality of life is not the best, he has lost all motivation and prefers to spend his days lying on his couch, sleeping, only occasionally rousing himself to shout at his loyal manservant Zakhar (Andrei Popov) to bring him something to eat. But despite this apparent selfishness, Oblomov is not a wicked person, he has a genuine philosophical reason for his inaction...

Though not well know outside of Russia, the novel Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov remains one of the most celebrated of its era, that period when The Great Russian Novel had plenty of competition to see who could be the most definitive. This example was lauded thanks to its apparent criticism of the ruling class that seemed to conjure up the spirit of the Revolution to come, though it would take around half a century for that to occur, yet it was open to much interpretation, and some have regarded it as a sympathetic portrait of a man who knows he's on the way out, and has been reduced to vegetating for there is no other course to take in his mind; he has it all worked out.

Now, it may be difficult to find much to admire in a protagonist who does as little as possible because of some philosophical motive he has contained in his sleepy head, and it is true his slothful nature can make the opening half of what is well over two hours of film somewhat baffling to watch, it's like the opposite of an action movie. In those, you will get someone taking matters into their own hands and squaring off against an antagonist, but here our hero realises he is nothing special and opts for the more supine position, refusing to tackle life head on or in any other fashion. For that reason, if you did not know what was going to happen next, you may be wondering, why watch?

Yes, quite a lot of that first hour or so takes place indoors where Oblomov feels sorry for himself in a near-disgust at the world that allows him to get away with his lifestyle, and at himself for squandering what could have been a happy life, or a happier one at any rate. We do get glimpses of his early days when he was a small boy, and note he was assuredly cheerful then, but also that his mother was still alive - her death appears to have been a turning point for him. In addition he had a friend from Germany, Stoltz (Yuriy Bogatyryov), who reappears in the present to drag him off his couch and try to get him to engage with society, and here is where things start getting interesting, not least because we start to see more of the world outside his St. Petersburg apartment which is frankly a beautiful sight.

Director Nikita Mikhalkov, someone who was very much part of the old guard of Soviet filmmakers who had a mixed reception once that regime was over, proved his worth by demonstrating how idyllic Russia could look, whether in the deep of winter or the height of summer, and the contrast between the gloomy interiors of Oblomov's home and the breath of fresh air we have when he finally emerges is striking, even moving. But his philosophy continues to sabotage him, which either renders him noble for never wavering from what he sees as a personal quest in life to be an example for others, or an idiot for not allowing himself to be happy in love with fellow aristocrat Olga (Elena Solovey, a favourite of this director), a ray of sunshine, one of those people who makes life worth persevering with. Two choices for our lead character, and the one he plumps for is by no means as clear cut as may appear, with one broken heart resulting, possibly more, and a way of life crumbling in its foundations. Russians will draw the most from this adaptation, especially if they know the source, but non-Russians can find it affecting if they stick with it. Music by Eduard Artemev.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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