James and Eleanor are a seemingly happy couple who have been married 25 glorious years. However, the arrival of a stunning young woman named Kate who befriends the couple becomes their downfall as James embarks on a sordid affair with her whilst frantically trying to cover his tracks from his wife. Soon the mountain of lies grows and it becomes inevitable that the truth will be revealed with inner passions and emotions betraying the perpetrators and barely shrouding their secret. Meanwhile, James and Eleanor's identical inner voices make themselves known to the audience as we experience their raw emotions first hand.
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Despite the remarkable assemblage of talent, Cacoyannis' Cherry Orchard feels self-aware of adapting a renowned classic from stage to screen. The cinematography is handsome and stately, but more appropriate to the colorful orchards and vast family estate, the 1900 costumes, the theatrical entrances and exits, than to the intimacy of Chekhov's vivid characters. (It almost makes one long for the hand-held documentary treatment of Louis Malle's seminal Vanya on 42nd Street.) The stylistic choices here take a while to get used to, especially during a drawn-out prologue, absent in the original text, as Madame Lyubov and her buoyant teenage daughter Anna (Tushka Bergen) make elaborate preparations to return to their Russian estate after a self-imposed exile. Some may be exhausted by this Masterpiece Theater treatment (lingering over every piece of luggage) before Chekhov's social entanglements kick in -- which happens shortly after the dozen major characters have assembled at their estate.
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