Dir: Alexei Uchitel. Russia. 2000. 110mins.
Prod co: Rock Film Studio. Int'l sales: Rock Film Studio (+7 812 114 2056). Prod: Alexei Uchitel, Alexander Golutva. Scr: Duna Smirnova. DoP: Yuri Klimenko. Ed: Yelena Andreyeva. Music: Leonid Desyatnikov. Main cast: Andrei Smirnov, Galina Tyunina, Olga Budina, Yvgeny Mironov, Elena Morozova, Dani Kogan.
His Wife's Diary is a successful attempt by Russian director Alexei Uchitel to mine the rich historical vein of stories that could not be told during the country's communist period. The film is centred around Russian writer Ivan Bunin who was awarded the Nobel prize while living as an emigrant in the south of France where he fled to escape the Bolshevik revolution. Uchitel has created a visually and emotionally rich film that enchants at the same time as making us cringe with the pain of Bunin's true-life love affairs. Its poetic language, like that of Bunin, should make it appealing to European audiences and the film looks set to receive both festival and arthouse theatrical exposure.
Set in France in the period between the two world wars, Uchitel explores Bunin's complex character through his relationships with his wife Vera and his young lover Olga. The ageing Bunin cruelly moves his young student, the poet Galina Kuznyetsova, into the family home where he proceeds to conduct a love affair right under the nose of his long-suffering wife. Life is further complicated by the arrival of Gurin, who promptly falls with Vera, and the singer Margo Kovtun, a lesbian who wins Galina away from Bunin when the two become lovers.
This unlikely family shares the Bunin seaside villa for several years creating a rich font of inspiration for his poetry. Yet in the midst of all these relationships the film is also very much about loneliness. Andrei Smirnov, who is also known for his work at the Comedie Francaise, does an admirable job of humanising the not very appealing Bunin, and the film should also create new admirers for Bunin's complex and moving writing which forms an integral part of the film as it melds with the dialogue.