For those who were wondering, TORRENTS OF SPRING answers the question of whatever happened to Timothy Hutton and Nastassja Kinski. But it also signals a strong return for director Jerzy Skolimowski, whose last major work was 1982's MOONLIGHTING, and who adapted the film from Ivan Turgenev's novel Torrents of Spring. On the negative side, Skolimowski's...read more
For those who were wondering, TORRENTS OF SPRING answers the question of whatever happened to Timothy Hutton and Nastassja Kinski. But it also signals a strong return for director Jerzy Skolimowski, whose last major work was 1982's MOONLIGHTING, and who adapted the film from Ivan
Turgenev's novel Torrents of Spring.
On the negative side, Skolimowski's version has most of the earmarks of a mishmash multinational production--including bad dubbing, cheap cinematography, and a cheesy, dentist-office music score. But, for all of that, it is also beguiling, mesmerizing, and memorable. In TORRENTS, a Russian
nobleman, Sanin (Hutton), returning home from a tour of Europe, stops off in Mainz, Germany, where he is smitten with a pastry cook, Gemma (Valeria Golino, who played Tom Cruise's girl friend in RAINMAN). He steals her away from her foppish, haberdasher fiance and even fights a duel with an Army
officer who insults her in public. Having proposed marriage, Sanin decides to sell his Russian estate, freeing his serfs, and invest in Gemma's family business. However, noblemen do not become humble pastry shop proprietors overnight, and before too long, Sanin is smitten again, this time with
Maria (Kinski), the wanton wife of his blueblooded childhood friend Polozov (William Forsythe), who emerges as a buyer for Sanin's Russian holdings. Herself the illegitimate daughter of a Russian nobleman, Maria has used her wits, along with beauty, to put together a fortune of her own. Sanin
offers the estate at a bargain-basement price, with the freeing of the serfs as a prerequisite for the sale, and to expedite the deal, Maria gives Sanin a literal tumble in the hay--with predictable, though logical, results for all involved.
What gives TORRENTS its unexpected power is the ironic distance Skolimowski maintains from all these 19th-century heaving bosoms and fevered brows. The characters are finally not so much enslaved to their passions as they are to history--not too unlike the Polish foreman Jeremy Irons played in
MOONLIGHTING, stranded in London during the rise of Solidarity and the imposition of martial law in his homeland. Sanin is defined by his utter fecklessness (making the terminally boyish Hutton a perfect casting choice for the role). He's vaguely aware that he and his kind are teetering on the
verge of extinction, but he has no real idea of how he is to fit into the new society about to be created by the rise of the middle class. He makes a tentative move in the right direction with Gemma, and with his decision to free his serfs, at the time a radical idea. Yet he remains tragically
vulnerable to Maria's world of leisure, luxury, and romantic intrigue (and with Kinski as tantalizing as ever as Maria, who can blame him?). Gemma, guided by her hardheaded mother, is motivated by ruthless practicality, sensing in Sanin (much more than in her former suitor) the opportunity to
expand her business, with the prospect of becoming a noblewoman by marriage providing an added bonus. Maria, meanwhile, is just plain ruthless, a self-made woman who would be a formidable match for any of today's Wall Street sharks, shrewdly using her connections to nobility and her sexual prowess
to build her personal fortune--buying low (estates in decline from the likes of Sanin) and selling high (her charms, also to the likes of Sanin).
There is neither a misty nostalgia for a noble age gone by nor a knowing anticipation of modernism in Skolimowski's treatment, which makes the film eminently faithful to Turgenev, whose novel was published in 1872. Rather, the director keeps linking the movements of his characters to the rhythms
of nature. One result of this is that TORRENTS may have more animal actors in it than THE BEAR: Skolimowski fills the frame with horses, geese, dogs, cats, and pigs, often in humorously witty, attention-getting contexts, as if the key image, for him, were the kitten stranded in a tree that first
brings Sanin and Gemma together. As we later discover, the kitten has more in common with Sanin than it does with Gemma. Thus, what happens to Sanin is neither tragic nor absurd--though it has both tragic and absurd elements--but instead emblematic of the historical passage from an age of
stratified noble rot to a free-enterprise social Darwinism.
For all its cerebral complexity, however, TORRENTS moves along at almost torrential speed, clocking in at just over 100 minutes. Once again, Skolimowski's talent for crafting a taut, compelling narrative rich in ideas is evident. His is a cinema of intelligence, vitality, and feeling--attributes
rarely found together in movies nowadays. It can only be hoped that it doesn't take another eight years before we hear decisively from him again. (Adult situations.)
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