Sunday, December 05, 2010

Russian Film Week ’10: Man By the Window

A wise man once said: “you can observe a lot just be watching.” One Russian actor understands where Yogi was coming from. Day after day, he stands at the window, imagining the lives of those he watches, with surprising accuracy. His strange power of empathy indirectly mixes him up with some dodgy business in Dmitry Meskhiev’s Man By the Window, which screens during the tenth annual Russian Film Week in New York, in advance of its Russian opening.

Shura Dronov is a small actor, both on life’s stage and in St. Petersburg’s grand repertory theater. He suspects his wife is having an affair with his frienemy, the star of the dramatic company, but he is not sure whether he cares. One night, a minor auto accident serves as an unlikely ice-breaker with the attractive young Sonya. She even seems to appreciate his sympathetic powers of perception.

Of course, she has a boyfriend. A shady pseudo-oligarch, "Stas" is instinctively jealous of Shura, but he has need of an actor. Soon, Dronov is making serious money impersonating cops, lawyers, and government officials to help out Stas’ cronies. Yet, despite her lover’s threats, he is falling hard for the younger woman, even while his feelings for his own wife remain unresolved. Involved in two love triangles and multiple cases of fraud, Dronov suddenly is not such a boring guy anymore.

Indeed, Window could be considered an ode to the character actor. Yuriy Stoyanov gives a full-bodied, nuanced performance as Dronov. Funny and sad, he even plays a mean Spanish guitar. He takes Dronov through quite a dramatic character arc, yet he keeps it all credible and grounded. Likewise, Kristina Kuzmina nicely conveys the ambiguities of their possible mutual attraction. Perhaps the greatest surprise though is the depth and maturity Maria Zvonareva brings to the film as Dronov’s wife, in what could have easily been sloughed off as a henpecking caricature.

Window is the sort of bittersweet crowd pleaser Miramax used to regularly breakout during their heyday. Sharply written, but with a deeply compassionate perspective on humanity, it is one of the highlights of this year’s Russian Film Week. Window screens again today at the Millennium Theater in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.