The Movie Waffler New Release Review - TCHAIKOVSKY’S WIFE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - TCHAIKOVSKY’S WIFE

Tchaikovsky's Wife review
The tumultuous relationship between Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Antonina Miliukova.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Kirill Serebrennikov

Starring: Odin Lund Biron, Alyina Mikhailova, Miron Fyodorov, Alexander Gorchilin

Tchaikovsky's Wife poster

In a similar way to how untold millions have bloodily perished due to improper applications of Christianity, the amount of misery engendered by heterosexual orthodoxy must be of heart-breaking infinity. Take Antonina Miliukova, in Kirill Serebrennikov's staid biopic Tchaikovsky's Wife, the spouse of the titular composer in a marriage apparently so unhappy that she ended up in an asylum. In the manner that many wives of famous musicians are judged (viz, Yoko Ono, Courtney Love), Miliukova was much maligned and considered an opportunistic gold digger who knowingly exploited fully grown man and bona fide genius Tchaikovsky, fatally contributing to his ruin. Serebrennikov's film is an attempt to redress the mythology, and instead frames Miliukova as a romantic innocent whose genuine and unrequited desires led to tragedy.

Tchaikovsky's Wife review

Notably, Serebrennikov's Nina (Alyona Mikhailova) is no shrinking violet. Her love is real throughout the film, and so is Nina's agency. In the film's opening flashback we see the composer (Odin Lund Biron) playing piano in a dinner party; dashing, well dressed (Dmitry Krupennikov's costume design is to die for) and at ease with the women around him (as gay men tend to be as they're not scared of them), Nina is instantly smitten with the guy and embarks on a sustained campaign to woo him, with the composer eventually acquiescing after a particularly overwrought love letter (preferred medium of the romantic idealist). Well aware of his god given gayness, Tchaikovsky promises Nina, the "gentle, calm love" of a brother, and she protests that any of his "flaws are of no consequence" to her. We'll see! The engagement sequence is blocked ingeniously, with a static camera framing the two as they circle each other, the audience catching the look of self-reproach as Tchaikovsky brokers a marriage of convenience while delighted Nina has her dreams realised. To us, the space between them is palpable and doomed.

Tchaikovsky's Wife review

Tchaikovsky was homosexual in a country which even now seems proud to rampantly censor gay people (see the relatively recent legislation regarding "gay propaganda" - 2013! And you thought this review's opening line was hyperbole! One wonders how this explication of the composer's sexuality will go down in his home country). While the film knows better than to definitively expound upon the massively complicated reasons as to why Tchaikovsky enters into a relationship with Nina (self-loathing, appearances sake, expectation: all part of it) we are left in no doubt that the compromise is a deeply unfortunate mistake. Furthermore, this film isn't about him, it is Nina who is central to the frame throughout. As the film glissandos through time, opening with Tchaikovsky's funeral, which leads to the subsequent wranglings of his legacy, and then back to different points of the deteriorating relationship, it is frustrated, lovelorn Nina who is our point of identification.

Poignantly, this malaise is communicated via a leitmotif of masturbation: Nina does it to herself in an attempt to rouse her husband, Tchaikovsky in a vain effort to muster enthusiasm. Serebrennikov imposes such discomfiting scenes in order to transfer the spiritual distance between the two, a remoteness that is nonetheless cruelly intimate.

Tchaikovsky's Wife review

Is there any era with a more sumptuous iconography than 19th Century Russia? It's all here, beautifully recreated in thick linen costumes, luxurious snow and ivory drawing rooms. A visual set which takes us through idealised dream sequences and nightmare manifestations of asylums and madness. The filmmaking overwhelms the senses but the desperate compassion of the performances reminds us that, despite the prodigious nature of Tchaikovsky and the specifics of his sexuality, this is a tale of human desire and everyday misery given epic Soviet sweep.

Tchaikovsky's Wife is in UK cinemas from December 29th.

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