Anton Chekhov is renowned as one of Russia’s greatest writers. He was also a practicing doctor. The Admirer (Poklonnitsa) brings to life one specific chapter of his life. It has also been the subject of much conjecture because at its centre is a rather timid and chaste love affair.

Director, Vitaliy Melnikov (Poor, Poor Pavel, Beat the Enemy) glosses over possible historical inaccuracies. Instead he favours a tale that is loosely based on a true story. It’s a dreamy account; one based on letters sent both to and from Chekhov and his love interest, Lidia Avilova (Svetlana Ivanova).

Chekhov and Avilova are a pair of star-crossed lovers. When they meet Avilova is a published, short story writer who is married with children while Anton Chekhov (Kirill Pirogov) is ill with tuberculosis. The film is not so much about a torrid love affair because this coupling does not actually happen. Instead it hints at what might have been as the pair exchange letters and share a few precious opportunities to meet. So basically it is like boy meets girl fan and then both seem to try and try again in order to “win” each other over with varying results.

This period drama is a tense and atmospheric film where long and lingering shots of the stars’ faces are favoured in order to show them both becoming besotted. The two lead actors are respectful of their characters with Ivanova playing a graceful Lidia, while Pirogov is a reserved and modest Chekhov.

In some ways this film has parallels with Bright Star in that they are both gorgeous period pieces with a slower-than-normal pacing. They both star a writer who is in ailing health, but one that is ultimately sustained by his love and affection for a young, clever beauty. The difference however, is that Bright Star used John Keats’ poetry as an underlying thread to the narrative but Chekhov’s work is not used in such an obvious manner. Instead, his writing shapes the film in terms of colouring the mood and exploring these dense, human characters, including their follies and foibles.

The Admirer is a Russian film about a sad love that wasn’t meant to be. It’s a sympathetic look at one that was never properly realised and told mainly from the perspective of the female protagonist. This slow-burning affair may not necessarily be the most exciting portion of Chekhov’s live, but it is still a gentle and romantic chronicle of one particular episode that is full of nuances and quietly, subtle moments.

Review score: 3 stars

Originally published on 9 September 2012 at the following website:

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