NY Movie Guru: Chagall-Malevich

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Toward the end of WWI, Marc Chagall, a Russian-Jewish painter, returns to his hometown, Vitebsk, where he lives with his wife, Bella (Kristina Schneidermann). He establishes a school there for aspiring artists. Professor Kazimir Malevich (Anatoliy Belyy) firmly believes in an artistic style of painting called Suprematism unlike Chagall, so their different beliefs cause both of them to clash with one another. Naum (Semyon Shkalikov), a poet, flirts with his love interest who just so happens to be Chagall’s wife. Meanwhile, Lyova (Yakov Levda), a Hasidic young man, studies at the art school in spite of the disapproval of his father, Rabbi Itzhal (Dmitriy Astrakhan).

Chagall-Malevich, a very loose biography that takes many creative liberties, has a complex story with interesting characters. Unfortunately, writer/director Aleksandr Mitta fails to take that story and to turn it into a compelling film. He blends drama and romance with whimsical magical realism in a way that feels awkward and gimmicky. It doesn’t help that none of the actors bring the characters to life because of their wooden performances, but even if you were to forgive that, there still remain the problems of oversimplified, underwritten characters and the lack of subtlety.

None of the scenes feel organic or believable, especially one that takes place in a communal shower room that includes intellectual conversations with students that most likely would never take place in that particular kind of location between young men. At a running time of just under 2 hours, Chagall-Malevich is a contrived, clunky biopic that often drags and fails to pack any emotional punches.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by ShiM-Film, LLC.
Opens at Cinema Village.

NYC Movie Guru
Chagall-Malevich official page