The Movie Waffler New Release Review - THE HERITAGE OF LOVE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - THE HERITAGE OF LOVE

A burgeoning romance in contemporary Paris is interconnected with the fate of a pair of lovers in Tsarist Russia.

Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Yuriy Vasilev

Starring: Aleksandr Adabashyan, Aleksandr Baluev, Marat Basharov, Dima Bilan, Svetlana Ivanova

The Heritage of Love pleased this romantic soul. With its convincing recreation of a certain point in time, the reassuring narrative and soppy denouement, it’s the sort of superior historical escapism that suits a Sunday afternoon.

Perhaps the most unabashed of all genres, the romantic film often contextualises the amour of its central drama within the vast spectacle of real life historical circumstances. The world’s favourite film (in terms of gross adjusted for inflation, at least), Gone with the Wind sets O’Hara and Butler’s will they/won’t they against the backdrop of the American Civil War, while another populist example sees the mass loss of life that resulted from Titanic’s tragedy reconfigured as a curtailed romantic opportunity for Kate and Leo. By relocating momentous and far reaching historical events within the foibles of a good-looking couple, the ramifications of universal change and mass upheaval is filtered through the personal, while what is as simple and everyday as a human relationship is imbued with intensity and dramatic meaning. 

Taking its lead from the doomed aristocratic romance of Tolstoy (although inspired by a ‘true story’), Yuriy Vasilev’s Russian language The Heritage of Love splits its narrative between early 20th century Russia and modern day Paris, setting the bulk of its plot against the last days of the Empire and the subsequent onset of civil war, and centring in on the timeless love between a soldier and a princess caught between revolution and the pull of destiny.

The Heritage of Love was apparently a huge smash at its native box office, and it isn’t difficult to see why: the look of the film is sumptuous, with precise period detail realised within a bright, colourful palette that brings the typicality of its plot to glowing life. 

On a visual level, this is a film to curl up inside, with Vasilev taking us from the pristine decadence of imperialist Russia (all gleaming white marble and warm interiors) to the eventual destruction of the White army upon grim, mud-churned battlefields. It is within this vivid tableau that trademark handsome and stoic officer Andrey (Dima Bilan) and Duchess Vera Chernisheva (Svetlana Ivanova) fall in love to the encroaching rumbles of insurgency. The largely static, painterly spectacle of the historical sequences are emphasised further by the flash forwards to present-day Europe, which affect a hand-held urgency which graphically distinguishes each plot thread. It is here, in contemporary Paris, that Andrey and Vera’s counterparts enact a more rom-com style narrative, a cherchez la femme wherein Andrey chases about the city of love searching for that cute girl with a dog he bumped into on the rue, and who seems to haunt his dreams of candle lit love and fin-de-siècle Russia.

The melodrama of The Heritage of Love is so old fashioned as to be naïve, the faithfulness to genre so intense - clandestine meetings under rain soaked tress, letters written upon the battlefield - that it borders on pastiche. At times, The Heritage of Love is almost glorious: there is a moment early on the film where future-Andrey, wandering through Père Lachaise Cemetery, spots a grave with an image of past-Vera on it, who looks the spit of modern-girl-with-dog. The picture has a spot of dew upon it that could be a tear from across the century, which future-Andrey wipes away with a manful thumb. You won’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I, of course, did cry a little bit: from Parisian meet-cutes to savagely staged set pieces of war heroism, The Heritage of Love offers almost everything that you could possibly hope for in a historical romance. Almost everything because, despite the film’s suggestion that fate has tied the souls of Andrey and Vera together for eternity, this is not backed up by the chemistry between Bilan and Chernisheva, which has all the ardour of Siberian sleet. The film is at its most beguiling when the two are apart, mainly in the Russian sequences which have the life and death urgency of historical conflict burning at the edge of each frame: the Paris bits drag a little, because just as one is beginning to get into the historical veracity of the White Army, we undercut to, say, some dope in a French apartment actually spying on a mademoiselle across the way, Jimmy Stewart style (‘Reincarnation of long lost love, you say sir? Tell it to the judge!’).

Nonetheless, The Heritage of Love pleased this romantic soul. With its convincing recreation of a certain point in time, the reassuring narrative and soppy denouement, it’s the sort of superior historical escapism that suits a Sunday afternoon in front of the television; bowl of smokva, bottle of Stolichnaya and blanket/shawl at the ready. Three tear soaked silk hankies out of five.

The Heritage of Love is in cinemas now.