Queen Of Spades


Reviewed by: Tara Karajica

Queen Of Spades
"Lungin skillfully weaves the psychological characteristics and his clearly defined characters into the fabric of the thriller and film-opera genres."

“What is our life? A game!” That famous quote from Act 3 of Tchaikovsky’s The Queen Of Spades is the leitmotif of Pavel Lungin’s new film, which bears the same title as the iconic Russian opera and short story and had its first festival bow at the 20th jubilee edition of the Black Nights Film Festival in Tallinn.

Lungin’s Queen Of Spades is the story of a once-great soprano, Sofia Mayer, who conquered the world with her voice, her beauty and the legend she has carefully built around herself. Now, only the legend remains as the diva has neither performed in years nor has been seen in the shimmering light of high society circles she once dominated. But, she yearns to have one last bow and crown her career with one more triumph - to stage the Tchaikovsky opera that had once made her a star… On the mad path to the recovery of her now declining glory, she manipulates Andrey, a young tenor with a striking resemblance to Pushkin’s German, and her niece, a young and naïve real-life reflection of Lisa.

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Co-penned by David Seidler, who won an Academy Award for The King’s Speech, Lungin’s modern spin on The Queen Of Spades moves away from the director’s previous psychological dramas. As a matter of fact, this is still a subtle psychological drama – only it is somewhat lighter, entertaining and dynamic. Lungin skillfully weaves the psychological characteristics and his clearly defined characters into the fabric of the thriller and film-opera genres. In that sense, the film is perhaps at its best when dealing precisely with the opera, thus giving it an extra layer of texture and gravitas – be it in the depiction of the rehearsals or the premiere of the opera itself. Indeed, the synergy of the two arts here – film and theatre – may seem experimental or even off-putting to some, but it works marvellously, making us adhere quite unconsciously to the new rules in the game of (contemporary) art. Moreover, Lungin shows extreme dexterity in the creation of the onstage operatic scenes, thus awakening curiosity as to what an opera directed by him would actually look like.

Moving Pushkin’s short story to the 21st Century and crossing it with the protagonists of Tchaikovsky’s opera is a clever script and story solution. Lungin nimbly juggles the double action unfolding before us - on the opera stage and in real life at the underground casino and with theatre intrigues and monetary debts, thereby succeeding in creating an energetic and compelling cinematic whole, all the while offering an engrossing interpretation of Pushkin’s thought on his own groundbreaking work: “Two obsessions can no more exist in the same mind than two bodies can exist in the same space.”

Although it may at first seem that the film was made to solely benefit Kseniya Rappoport who gives a brilliant turn as the opera diva, Queen of Spades in truth showcases the acting skills of up-and-coming talent Ivan Yankovsiy and Mariya Kurdenovich as Andrey and Lisa. Strangely and/or surprisingly enough all three thespians come alive when their characters are deep in their operatic performances.

Technically and visually the film is extremely well-crafted, thanks to Levan Kapanadze and Grigoriy Yablochnikov’s crisp chiaroscuro lensing and the slick and somewhat thematically suggestive production and costume designs, courtesy of Pavel Parkhomenko and Ekaterina Dyminskaya and Evgeniya Panfilova, dominated by the colours black, white and red. In addition, the rhythm of the editing is dictated by Tchaikovsky’s notes in the utterly polished scene of the opera premiere. The film most certainly alive when in its operatic mode. Were Queen of Spades a US production, it would have undoubtedly been made to fit the blockbuster pattern and would have therefore lost its appeal. So, the fact that this is a Russian production adds to its authenticity, allowing it to keep its soul, charm and edge intact. But, we can be certain it will be getting the US remake treatment in the (near) future…

Queen Of Spades is a compelling contemporary morality tale of passion, love, jealousy, addiction, and the destructive thirst for glory that proves that the combination of film and opera is a winning one, reminding us along the way us that life is an addictive game, a gamble, but that we choose how to bet.

Reviewed on: 18 Nov 2016
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Queen Of Spades packshot
A fading opera diva tries to stage one final triumph.

Director: Pavel Lungin

Writer: Pavel Lungin, Alexander Pushkin, David Seidler

Starring: Kseniya Rappoport, Ivan Yankovskiy, Mariya Kurdenevich, Igor Mirkurbanov, Evgeniy Zelenskiy

Year: 2016

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: Russia


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