Feb 222011

Last weekend I watched Neokonchennaya pyesa dlya mekhanicheskogo pianino again — the first time in maybe a year.

The boy in the screen shot is playing a recording of what sounded like something from an Italian opera.  I don’t know much about opera, but I got to wondering what it is, and what it’s significance is.

It turns out that somebody already asked about it at answers.com.  The answer:  It’s the aria, Una furtiva lagrima, from  Gaetano Donizetti’s  L’elisir d’amore.     Wikipedia has the lyrics with an English translation, as well as a recording done by Enrico Caruso in 1911.   My untrained ear likes Caruso’s rendition of it more than any of the others I’ve found on YouTube.   The one in the film is pretty good, though.   In the closing scenes we get to hear the complete aria, as opposed to the fragments that were played earlier.

I dug out my wikipedia password and updated the aria’s page to add Unfinished piece for player piano to the list of films in which it is heard.

As to the significance of using that piece, I suppose it fits the film because it’s about sweet illusions of love, of which there are a few in the film.   It also fits in that it’s about the gulf between different socio-economic classes

A side note.  The opera comes from a period of special interest to me.   It premiered on May 12, 1832, which was two days before the battle at Stillman’s Run, the violent clash that set off the Black Hawk war.

I almost forgot to mention that it’s on video.google.com, with English subtitles.

Dec 222009


Usually when someone loses his/her temper in a movie role I just roll my eyes. It often adds a false note to an otherwise good movie. It’s cheap acting that anybody can do. I’ll bet that even I, the worst actor who ever had a minor part in a school play, could do it.

I must confess to liking this scene, though. And the way Platanov nurses his hand as he rants is a nice touch. You can hurt yourself pounding your fist on a table. (This scene is at about 4:40 in the YouTube clip.)

Dec 182009


I’ve seen discussions on other topics that go like this one in Neokonchennaya pyesa:

Shcherbuk: All the best that humanity possesses, it owes to the representatives of the blue blood. … Where are the representatives of our high-class aristocracy? Where are the Pushkins, the Lermontovs, the Gogols, Goncharovs, Turgenevs?

Platanov: Gonchorov was a merchant.

Shcherbuk: Yes, that’s right. What?

Platanov: Gonchorov was a merchant.

Shcherbuk: Exceptions only prove the rule. So there, young man. Besides, it’s a debatable issue whether your Goncharov was a genius.

(I’m not sure these subtitles are a good translation, but I noticed one throwaway phrase that wasn’t translated, so I added it.)

I had never heard of this Goncharov, so I looked him up. Wikipedia says that author Ivan Goncharov’s father was a wealthy grain merchant. Ivan Goncharov himself was a writer and government worker. His most famous novel was Oblomov.

Well, I’ve heard of that one because I’ve seen the movie version, done by the same Nikita Mikhalkov who did this movie, a couple of years after this one. And in the movie Oblomov, the main character is played by the same Oleg Tabakov whose character is pontificating here in Unfinished Piece for Player Piano.

I’ve seen him in other movies, too, usually playing some obnoxious character, though usually it’s a more subtle, nuanced one than Shcherbuk. I wonder if he ever had a role playing a sympathetic character.

(I wish I could find Russian subtitles for this movie.)

Dec 172009


I didn’t care for 1612 Chronicles of the Dark Times (2007). It doesn’t help that it’s a Nikita Mikhalkov film.

I’m not a fan of Mikhalkov, in part because he defends the state of artistic freedom under a national leader who has an uncanny knack for not being able to find the murderers of outspoken journalists. This behavior affects us as well as Russia. It is not helpful for journalistic and artistic freedom in the U.S. or anywhere else, especially at a time when it is under attack around the world, perhaps like it hasn’t been since the 1930s.

But I also don’t care much for Mikhalkov’s acting. In most movies he plays Nikita Mikhalkov rather than whatever character he’s supposed to be playing. At least in Dark Times he didn’t give himself any role that I noticed. If he did, we were at least spared another sight of him in a muscle shirt.

But Dark Times is especially bad. It could just as well be an American movie. Even the realistic parts are improbable when they’re not trite. And the minor actors look too bored to be engaged in a life-and-death struggle.


I could say a lot more bad things about Mikhalkov and his work, but I just finished re-watching Unfinished Piece for Player Piano.” I’ve watched it about once a year since 2006, and I think more highly of it each time. Sometimes I can’t believe it was made by the same Nikita Mikhalkov who made so many films I dislike (such as Burnt by the Sun, to name another). Even his acting is good in this one, here playing a doctor who doesn’t really like being a doctor, especially when the work has anything to do with patients and disease.

Life is not simple.