This thoughtful and somewhat languid adaptation of Anton Chekhov's 1904 play finds its beauty in the heady performance of Charlotte Rampling as Lyubov, childlike matriarch of a fast-fading period of social polarity. Returning from a long-term Paris retreat to her Russian estate and its complex web of disparate characters, not to mention its way symbolic, titular orchard, Lyubov discovers the family coffers are dangerously low and the splendor of her youth soon may be divided for--ew!--a bunch of serfs. Those who loved Gosford Park will surely appreciate this swank cast--Alan Bates as Lyubov's brother, Gaev; Michael Gough as the butler, Freers--but this is by far a more complex and engrossing production, and if you can get past the wannabe Merchant-Ivory vibe, Chekhov's musings prove as trenchant as ever. Director Michael Cacoyannis (known for Zorba the Greek and his adaptations of Euripides) takes his sweet time with the material, allowing each of Chekhov's points to ring out its echoes before engaging the next, but those with a modicum of patience will find in these characters' foibles a timeless and unique perspective.
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