Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on rockin’ flatscreen.
I watched Dark Eyes (Oci Ciornie) a couple of days ago, and it’s taken me this long to get around to writing about it. I dislike reviewing movies like this one because there’s very little to actually talk about here. Dark Eyes is 136 minutes, a nice performance from Marcello Mastroianni, and nothing resembling much of a plot. Sure, it’s pretty to look at, but it’s not a hell of a lot more than that.
In truth, it’s a very long film version of Anton Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog.” I’ll offer you the quick run-down on the story, and you’ll get a very good sense of what the film is, with some minor issues. A man who is dissatisfied with his wife has numerous affairs. One day, while on vacation, he encounters a young woman with a small dog. Over the course of a week, the two strike up a friendship that turns into an affair, something for which she feels guilty, although he does not. Her husband (the reason she feels guilty for the affair) calls her home. He feels like the memory of the affair will fade over time, but it turns out it does not—he’s really fallen for her, so he goes to her home town to track her down.
So, that’s the story. Put Mastroianni in the role of the man Romano, Elena Safonova in the role of the woman with the dog, Marthe Keller in the role of the man’s mistress who he cheats on his wife with normally, and Silvana Mangano in the role of the wealthy but shrewish wife of the man, and you have the guts of the story. Now, wrap all of that in a framing story that concerns the older Romano now working on a boat telling the story of his great love affair to another older, recently-married gentleman (Vsevolod Larionov), and you’ve got the entirety of the movie, except for the last couple of minutes that give us something like a surprise ending.
But really, that’s the whole film. Romano acts like a clown for much of the film as a way to distract people from his frequent infidelities. His wife, while wealthy, discovers that her business interests have lost a great deal of money and she is forced to sell the family home and many of her possessions. Despite this, Romano, who claims to be chronically ill, heads off to a spa where he meets the woman who becomes the love of his life. He pursues her to Russia by claiming to represent a company that wants to build a factory in her home town, but it’s really just a way for him to hook up with her again.
And all of this takes 136 minutes. That’s going to be the big issue here. In the notes I keep, I had this running just under two hours, which would still be too long for the story it is telling, and far too long for us to get to the “surprise” moment at the end, which was very much not a surprise. Tacking another 20 or so minutes onto this felt almost like punishment.
It’s worth saying that there are some things here that are worth seeing. Marcello Mastroianni, for instance, is very good. He’s generally worth watching, here as much as anywhere else. He’s a charming presence in any film, and here, he’s very much the best part of a film that is a good 40 minutes too long. Additionally, Dark Eyes is beautifully shot and beautiful to look at. This is a gorgeous film from start to finish, and while it does feel like not a great deal happens, it’s always attractive. There are some lovely moments, like Mastroianni, in a perfect white suit, walking into a mud bath to retrieve the lady’s hat that has blown off in the wind. But there aren’t enough moments like that one to keep me too interested.
I mean, don’t get me wrong—this isn’t entirely a waste of time. It’s pastoral and lovely, and Mastroianni, in his 60s at this point, could still legitimately pull off being a romantic lead. Just make sure you’ve got something caffeinated if you’re going to watch, though, because there’s not a lot happening from start to finish.
Why to watch Dark Eyes: Marcello Mastroianni.
Why not to watch: For something that runs 136 minutes, it sure feels like it could run 36 minutes shorter.