Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The Girl and Death: A Colleague for Zhivago
rarely works out for early Twentieth Century Russian doctors with a taste for
lyric poetry. Sadly, Nicolai Borodinski will be no exception. Geography,
corruption, and consumption will all conspire against him in Jos Stelling’s
awkwardly titled The Girl and Death (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
route to medical school in Paris, Borodinski stops at a Leipzig country inn of
questionable repute. Everyone seems to work for the dodgy “Count” who leads the
nightly hedonism, especially the mysterious woman living in the top room. That
would be Elise, the Count’s kept woman and most exclusive “working girl.”
According to her procuress, Elise’s childhood was so abusive her life with the
Count is considerably more pleasant in comparison. Despite the Count’s
possessive jealousy, Borodinski and Elise fall madly in love, but it is not to
the Count’s wealth and hired thugs are sufficient to foil Borodinski, but the
doctor in training keeps coming back for more. Eventually, his idealism
inspires false hope in Elise, but her mounting debts and failing health will
sabotage their attempt to be together. As misunderstandings compound, their
great love will obviously follow the course of all Russian tragedies.
is probably impossible for a film to be anymore elegiac than G&D. Although Stelling’s deliberate
pace can be lulling at times, there is something intoxicating about the film’s
aching romanticism. A lush period production, G&D is defined by its decadent and decaying mise-en-scène.
However, when revisited in a cold post-screening light, it seems rather hard to
believe a well-to-do doctor with bourgeoisie interests and a history of
frequenting German brothels would weather the Stalinist era so easily (even if
Leipzig was unfortunate enough to fall under Soviet domination in the GDR).
In truth, G&D
is not meant to be analyzed for socio-political implications. It is all about
taking in the rich visuals and the delicate classical soundtrack, largely consisting
of Chopin, with a dash of Satie and Gounod thrown in (but no Für Elise—that would be too literal and
too obvious). Best scene on a real screen, The
Girl and Death is recommended for those who appreciate the look and feel of
grand historicals when it opens this Friday (4/25) in New York and the Cinema Village.
Labels: Jos Stelling