Vanya on 42nd Street

Director: Louis Malle

Louis Malle’s highly acclaimed Vanya on 42nd Street is a filmed version of Andre Gregory’s theatre production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya as adapted by David Mamet. The film is framed as a rehearsal under the direction of Gregory. We enter the wonderfully dilapidated New Amsterdam Theatre situated at 42nd Street and Broadway in New York. We meet the actors and their rehearsal begins. At some point, under the collaborative direction of Malle and Gregory, Chekhov’v classic and a remarkable new collaboration from the team who made the magical My Dinner with Andre.
This is Chekhov with no frills and no fuse. The stageing is sparse – a table, a few chairs – a Malle’s direction is a discreetly self-effacing as Gregory’s, shifting from hand-held cinema Verite in the establishing sequences to a more intimate style as the drama casts its spell (intervals are respected with the minimum of fuss). Thus we can concentrate on David Mamet’s fluent, sensitive adaptation and some (unexpectedly) enthralling performances: Wallace Shawn as a wretched, resentful Vanya, George Gaynes – a long way from the Police Academy – as the professor, and Julianne Moore as his lovely, long-suffering wife Yelena. Moore is simply outstanding, beautifully composed and modulated, shouldering her companions’ pain with a compassion and forbearance that’s also a kind of defeat; this acting as X-ray of the heart. Chekhov’s astonishingly modern fin-de-siecle concerns are expressed with a rare and vivid clarity: ennui, environment, old age, the difficulty of change ans the disappointments of love. There’s more power here than in all the multi-million dollar fireworks Hollywood can muster.

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