Tchaikovsky's wife

Tchaikovsky's wife is definitely not a film that aims at an accurate rendition of the composer's life, or that of the true protagonist, his wife. It is rather a nightmarish descent into obsession and mental illness in Serebrennikov's now signature style.

The term "dramatisation" describes perfectly Serebrennikov's approach in adapting to the screen one of Tchaikovsky's less known sides: his brief marriage to Antonina Milukova, who apparently was madly in love with Tchaikovsky and through a correspondence inspired him for his opera adaptation of Evgenij Onegin. While the broad biographic element is somewhat accurate, most of the film's content is rather fictionalised or overcharged, obviously opting for an impactful  mise-en-scène rather than a historically coherent or accurate one. Tchaikovsky's music is almost absent, and the coerography of certain sequences reminds more of modern dance than his ballets, pointing at a marginalisation of his figure, in an effort to overthrow the isolation that Antonina sufffered from his life.

The film is almost always green tinted, a hue associated with decomposition. Together with other tropes, such as the persistent presence of a fly in some sequences, the film builds a cadaveric atmosphere, a visual depiction of the absurd state of mind of the protagonist, whose socially oppressed, isolated and obsessed state of mind is continuously associated with a state of death. Death indeed is a constant that appears right in the first scene, and this sense of lifelessness manages to translate to the entire plot.

Serebrennikov's use of dance-like sequences, long takes, absurd situations reminds close of his previous film, Petrov's Flu. Although the settings and tones of Petrov are different enough to question in theory the choise of this style for a period drama, Serebrennikov's flow works surprisingly well for Tchaikovsky's wife, going as far as to add some openly metaphysical scenes that take advantage of a distinctly russian aesthetic.
A very performance-based film, it has already been repeatedly lauded for the work of the lead actress, Alyona Mikhailova, but similarly praise should be given to Odin Lund Biron's portrayal of Tchaikovsky, who sometimes appears identical to the composer's iconography.

What makes Serebrennikov's film partially flawed is that it is perhaps not daring enough. Even the scenes that sparked most controversy at Cannes are mild when compared to the provocations of other recent filmmakers, despite the clear allusions to contents that could have been more explicit or aspects of the lives of the protagonists that would have definitely been worthwhile of further analysis. Ultimately, the social commentary of Tchaikovsky's Wife is not unheard of or innovative either.
The film confirms the new stylistic route taken by Serebrennikov in Petrov's Flu, but isn't able to provide enough weight to the elaborate style if not in the form of a persistent emotional oppression.


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