A century after Anton Checkhov’s birth, The Lady with the Dog was filmed in a Communist Russia that he never saw. With Kruschev in power, one can guess that the film was pitched as a warning against the depravity of the idle rich. Nevertheless, it survives the Soviet Union as story about the universality of love and sex beyond marriage.
Those who Love Checkhov
I don’t love Checkhov, but those who do say that Checkhov was innovative in writing stories without a satisfying conclusion, and for conveying much in the spaces between the words. Both of these characteristics are evident in The Lady with the Dog (and yet they don’t make me love this film any more).
Dmitri and Anna meet in Yalta. They are both married, but not to each other. Both are wealthy enough to vacation by the seaside and have spare time during the days. One thing leads to another — a stolen kiss first, and then a surprisingly frank (both for 1899 and for 1960) sexual affair. They return to their previous lives, but Dmitri can’t get Anna out of his mind. He concocts a pretense to leave home on business and instead goes to visit Anna. And lest we think the affair more his than hers, she later comes to Moscow for another tryst.
I probably would like Checkhov better if he left me more to think about. Rather than boldly condemning Dmitri and Anna, or conversely declaring that their love is more important than their marriages, Checkhov leaves it to the audience to decide right from wrong — or not — as they see fit. It’s impossible to agree or disagree because he hasn’t taken a stand. There are probably theories of drama that see this as the dramatic ideal, but I find it frustrating and unsatisfying.
Picture and Sound
What is satisfying is the clarity and detail in this Facets DVD release. It’s almost unbelievable that a relatively obscure fifty-year-old film made in Communist Russia could look so good today. The DVD doesn’t offer any hints as to whether a very clean source was found, or whether it took lots of digital restoration by devoted technicians. In any case, this is one of the cleanest archival DVD releases I’ve seen in a long time.
There are none.
How to Use This DVD
Read up on Checkhov either before or after because otherwise the film might seem aimless. Be sure to marvel at the picture quality when you watch.