Lover's Prayer Movie Review

The hero of the unlikely British drama Lover's Prayer, based on Ivan Turgenev's story "First Love," is a frail, pale-faced, Russian boy named Vladimir (Nick Stahl) who stumbles through the movie as if his legs were stilts, barely finishing five complete sentences. The son of middle-class landowners, Vladimir is spending away summer near Moscow, waiting to go to college in the fall. He desperately wants to fall in love but, being very shy and deeply absorbed in his own naïve imaginary world, he's unsure of himself. To explain his longings, the director relieves the actor from acting almost entirely, and, instead, simply asks him carry his dour face throughout the movie and adds a voice over of an older Vladimir, his tone so dispassionate one wonders if the actor took sedatives before taking on the project.

Soon enough, Vladimir becomes acquainted with his parents' neighbors, an alcoholic and broke princess with a hair like a haystack, who, while reaching for a bottle, utters banalities in a loud piercing voice. Immediately, Vladimir falls for the princess's daughter Zinaida (Kirsten Dunst) and spends endless summer days in the company of this pug-nosed, plain looking capricious young woman. Zinaida adds Vladimir to her circle of admirers -- a group of men of every stripe, age, and rank. They all dance around Zinaida, playing charades, eager to fulfill her every wish. As it turns out, she seems to have many such admirers -- and Vladimir learns that she is having an affair with his own father.

In Turgenev's "First Love," the story begins on a light romantic note about a boy falling in love for the first time. But when he discovers the identity of Zinaida's lover, the mood turns to one of torment and despair. Turgenev, with remarkable sensitivity and honesty, describes the boy's growth of knowledge as he awakens to the complex nature of the adult world and discovers the depth of his own tragic passion.

Nothing of this sort happens in the movie: Lover's Prayer is one of those strange international hybrids in which foreign filmmakers -- in this case British ones -- entertain themselves with the idea of filming Russian classical literature without having a scintilla of understanding about its meaning, its idiosyncrasies, its elusiveness, and its historical basis. Unable to convey the depths of any of the characters, the tone of the film becomes murky, and every time there is a hint at some sort of hidden layer of mystery, the film stutters as if it immediately forgets what it was.

Lover's Prayer is mostly hot air -- a strange concoction of haphazard elements in which nothing really works, a love story that doesn't have a single character to care about. The actors mispronounce Russian names horribly, and each in a different way. As expected, the adaptation of Turgenev's powerful idiomatic language is substituted for a commonplace one -- a language without a flavor and weight.

Aka All Forgotten.


Lover's Prayer Rating

" Grim "

Rating: PG-13, 2000


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