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.
HIM & HER from Daria Geller on Vimeo.
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