December 01, 2019

A Valentine Gift: He and She


A Valentine Gift: He and She

Why Are They Together, Anyway?

Him & Her is Daria Geller’s marvelous, heartbreaking, new short film, inspired by Chekhov’s “Он и Она” (properly, “He and She”). While a 22-year-old medical student, Anton Chekhov wrote “Он и Она” for a Moscow periodical and revised it two years later for a small collection of theater-related stories.

In the film, it is non-pandemic 2020, and “She” (played by Miriam Sekhon) is a lithe, beautiful, popular singer, 30ish, and on tour in Russia, though sometimes her heavy drinking leads to canceled appearances. The director follows Chekhov’s lead:

“Just look at her when she wakes up at noon and lazily crawls out from under the covers. You’d never guess that she was a woman with the voice of a nightingale.”

(Russian Life's own Michele A. Berdy did a terrific translation of the story at The Short Story Project; my favored Russian site is here. The film’s good English subtitles are uncredited.)

“He” (Evgeniy Kharitonov) is her disgruntled manager, a drunken-scold and sad-sack husband. (As if able to foresee the actor Kharitonov, Chekhov writes: “His face seems to have been pickled in kvass.”) Through the director’s eyes, we spend a couple of days with them and hear their more detailed and incisive assessments of each other in voice-over reflections to a wide-eyed journalist. We see them wake up on two different mornings with his complaints about her cigarette-smoking and their customary curses at each other.

From the outside, their relationship is mysterious. Chekhov:

“If you are at the luncheon, look at them, that husband and wife, observe them and tell me what brought them together and keeps them together. … ‘He’d leave her if she didn’t have any money.’ That’s what everyone who sees them at a luncheon thinks and says about them. They think and say that since they can’t get to the heart of their relationship and can only judge by appearances.”

As Chekhov and Geller present them, we worry about and sympathize with both of them, the way we do with those half-cocked friends of ours who are always wrangling. She has, it seems, contempt for him that he values her voice above herself. In the movie, she grouches: “Even more than he loves me, he loves my noble art.” She doesn’t quite understand it herself that her singing transforms her into a kind of genius and is somehow greater than they are or is at least their only salvation. The short story makes this explicit; he confesses: “When she, my wife, begins to sing, when the first trills fly through the air, when I begin to feel my tumultuous soul quietening under the influence of those marvelous sounds, then look at my face and you will understand the secret of my love.”

The film is more immediate, more subtle and more affecting than Chekhov’s story, which at the end of his life he chose not to include in his Collected Works. The closing song, set to the lyrics by Marina Tsvetaeva, is just lovely.

Enjoy!

HIM & HER from Daria Geller on Vimeo.

 

Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

Marooned in Moscow

Marooned in Moscow

This gripping autobiography plays out against the backdrop of Russia's bloody Civil War, and was one of the first Western eyewitness accounts of life in post-revolutionary Russia. Marooned in Moscow provides a fascinating account of one woman's entry into war-torn Russia in early 1920, first-person impressions of many in the top Soviet leadership, and accounts of the author's increasingly dangerous work as a journalist and spy, to say nothing of her work on behalf of prisoners, her two arrests, and her eventual ten-month-long imprisonment, including in the infamous Lubyanka prison. It is a veritable encyclopedia of life in Russia in the early 1920s.
Tolstoy Bilingual

Tolstoy Bilingual

This compact, yet surprisingly broad look at the life and work of Tolstoy spans from one of his earliest stories to one of his last, looking at works that made him famous and others that made him notorious. 
Woe From Wit (bilingual)

Woe From Wit (bilingual)

One of the most famous works of Russian literature, the four-act comedy in verse Woe from Wit skewers staid, nineteenth century Russian society, and it positively teems with “winged phrases” that are essential colloquialisms for students of Russian and Russian culture.
Moscow and Muscovites

Moscow and Muscovites

Vladimir Gilyarovsky's classic portrait of the Russian capital is one of Russians’ most beloved books. Yet it has never before been translated into English. Until now! It is a spectactular verbal pastiche: conversation, from gutter gibberish to the drawing room; oratory, from illiterates to aristocrats; prose, from boilerplate to Tolstoy; poetry, from earthy humor to Pushkin. 
Turgenev Bilingual

Turgenev Bilingual

A sampling of Ivan Turgenev's masterful short stories, plays, novellas and novels. Bilingual, with English and accented Russian texts running side by side on adjoining pages.
A Taste of Russia

A Taste of Russia

The definitive modern cookbook on Russian cuisine has been totally updated and redesigned in a 30th Anniversary Edition. Layering superbly researched recipes with informative essays on the dishes' rich historical and cultural context, A Taste of Russia includes over 200 recipes on everything from borshch to blini, from Salmon Coulibiac to Beef Stew with Rum, from Marinated Mushrooms to Walnut-honey Filled Pies. A Taste of Russia shows off the best that Russian cooking has to offer. Full of great quotes from Russian literature about Russian food and designed in a convenient wide format that stays open during use.
Russian Rules

Russian Rules

From the shores of the White Sea to Moscow and the Northern Caucasus, Russian Rules is a high-speed thriller based on actual events, terrifying possibilities, and some really stupid decisions.
Okudzhava Bilingual

Okudzhava Bilingual

Poems, songs and autobiographical sketches by Bulat Okudzhava, the king of the Russian bards. 
The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

This exciting new trilogy by a Russian author – who has been compared to Orhan Pamuk and Umberto Eco – vividly recreates a lost world, yet its passions and characters are entirely relevant to the present day. Full of mystery, memorable characters, and non-stop adventure, The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas is a must read for lovers of historical fiction and international thrillers.  

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955