Home Arts & Culture CANNES 2022. Special correspondence from Eugenia Vodă. “Tchaikovsky’s wife”: gender mismatch

CANNES 2022. Special correspondence from Eugenia Vodă. “Tchaikovsky’s wife”: gender mismatch


Two and a half hours later, the director, the famous Russian dissident Kirill Serebrennikov (52 years old, five active films), builds a portrait and proposes, in his own terms, the solution of an equation.

An equation that no biographer has been able to solve to the end, so far. A young woman falls in love with a man eight years her senior who she knew nothing about; he’s a composer and a teacher at the Conservatory, she’s just flirting with music. She doesn’t know that he’s a genius or that he doesn’t like women, even though he tells her explicitly, “I’ve never loved a woman in my life and I don’t feel capable!” “Mistake of their life”: a marriage based on a (mis) understanding; he believes that a “white marriage” is possible, as a brother-sister relationship; she believes that by loving him, she will be able to achieve anything. Everything takes place in 19th century Russia, where, we read on the screen (although it was not necessary), the woman was, legally speaking, a mere appendix in the man’s documents. Everything is going from bad to worse: he needs air and mental space to compose. She becomes the “clinging woman”, suffocating in the passion unleashed on a block of ice. The mouth of the world slanders: “He used you as a screen to hide his vices,” because everyone – except his exalted wife – knew that he “liked young boys.” As a result, Tchaikovsky takes his suitcase and leaves, asks for a divorce and never wants to see Antonina Miliukova again (16 years, until 1893, when he died of cholera at the age of 53). The madness begins the moment she, with a hypnotic self-destructive vocation, refuses to accept the divorce, continues to see in him “My Piotr”, although it is explained in various ways that “a genius does not belong to anyone, it belongs to humanity “…

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Tchaikovsky (played by American actor Odin Biron, at the age of marrying Tchaikovsky, 37) is a quasi-absent character in the film, and he is not interested in the director! The director focuses on the mystery of a female soul that is gradually ruined, eroded by a single fixed idea: “Piotr”! With a minor pension, offered with a penny, woe to her “deed” husband, she slips on the dirt slide, lives with a man she, in turn, destroys, gives birth to three children and gives them to the orphanage, where they will die – a time when her whole existence is structured, obsessively, on the “fatal attraction” for the great absentee, Tchaikovsky. Who, all this time, in the off-story, composes those brilliant works … When a fire burns down the building where she lived, and she is evacuated on a rope, she realizes that she has forgotten her wedding ring and starts screaming:

“Wedding ring! The wedding ring! ”, Ready to turn around and throw herself into the fire for her …

Interestingly, Antonina survived Tchaikovsky for 24 years, and died in 1917 in a psychiatric hospital … She died and went down in history as “Mrs. Tchaikovsky”, the survivor of a “heroic love” song. Her first guilt was that she was not a man. But, audiatur et altera pars, it is easy to imagine what a nuisance it was for poor Tchaikovsky, this tail tin, this kitsch creature, who followed him with her hysterical naivete and her vulgar tenacity – to the coffin!

As I think it was understood, the story itself was extremely tender! And I was waiting for the sea with the salt from Serebrennikov, especially since at the 2018 edition in Cannes, his film, “Leto”, was also my favorite, many people then perceived as an injustice the fact that it did not enter the list . But that black-and-white film about rock as freedom in 1980s Leningrad throbbed with originality and truth. While “Tchaikovsky’s Wife” is a heavy, dark film without a real directorial invention. The selectors described it as “a historical film”. As a historical film, it’s too close and it feels like a non-stop thing … As a biographical film, it has too many licenses. As a free movie, about an obsessive, one-way love – it looks like a “mausoleum of horror”!

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The director also imagined depressing theatrical scenes, for example at one point there are some “strippers” in the costume, who undresses naked, for the heroine to touch and choose, etc. etc., sequences that on a stage might have looked different, but which in cinema seem very artificial. One thing in the film stands out brilliantly and deserves to have access to the track record (although I doubt, especially after the press conference, the relatively poor, which were very precisely targeted questions, about possible, nebulous funding from two “oligarchs” close to the director, who denied everything), it is about the prize for female performance; Alena Mikhailova, the actress who plays Antonina, makes an extraordinary creation in this impossible character … Here it mattered enormously that Serebrennikov is above all a great theater director … As a curiosity, something that rarely happens in cinema and which was a huge help to the actress: everything was filmed in a strictly chronological order! Damn timeline …

Kirill Serebrennikov, between Alena Mihailova and Odin Biron

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