Cinema: Quiet Destruction

In the late 19th century, Anton Chekhov raised the nuance to an art form. The technique moved one of his contemporaries to complain to him of The Sea Gull: "My dear fellow, it isn't dramatic." The paralyzing problem with this film version of Chekhov's first major play is that it is far too dramatic.

Chekhov's narrative is meticulously simple, containing, as he put it, "much talk of literature, little action, and five poods* of love." Director Sidney Lumet, who hammered home The Pawnbroker, pummels away at Chekhov's plot. At the country estate of a...

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