|Shvedskaya spichka / [The Swedish Match]. Click to enlarge.|
Based on the short story [133.] Шведская спичка. (Уголовный рассказ) / Ruotsalainen tulitikku, 1883 [A Swedish Match (A Criminal Story)] by Anton Chekhov.
Viewed at Sala Scorsese (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato), introduced by Olaf Möller, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, 28 June 2015
Peter Bagrov (Il Cinema Ritrovato, catalogue and website): "In his native Russia Čechov is loved first and foremost for his short stories – and only secondarily for his plays. There have been dozens of screen adaptations from the 1930s through the early 1950s – mostly of the anecdotes signed by Antoša Čechonte (Čechov’s pen name in his early days)."
"Švedskaja spička was to become yet another one: 1954 was particularly fruitful for this ‘humorous’ Čechov, a peculiar way to commemorate the writer’s memory 50 years after his death. Yet, it became a turning point for Čechov’s adaptations – which will almost become a genre in the following decades. For in this film Čechonte was read through the eyes of Čechov. Konstantin Judin never reached high ranks, but was known as a master of genre, making some of the best comedies and action films of the 1930s-1950s. Among his admirers and supporters were Sergej Ėjzenštejn and Boris Barnet (no wonder after Judin’s death Barnet completed his last film, The Wrestler and the Clown, which was highly praised by Godard and Rivette)."
"Čechov’s The Safety Match was an elegant spoof on detective stories, nothing more. It suggested a two-reeler with a very stylized grotesque setting. It was a custom to turn short stories into features by making a ‘Čechov stew’, adding funny phrases and anecdotes from any of his stories on hand. But it seems that Judin did not add a single word. Instead he put much effort into recreating a most convincing atmosphere of provincial Russia at the turn of the XIX century. For example one of the interrogations takes place during breakfast, at the victim’s house – and what a breakfast it is! It seems that the joy of a good meal can overshadow a murder case, deadly accusations and bloodstains right outside the window."
"The murder itself is a source of excitement, the big time for almost everyone in this God forsaken little town. The investigation is ridiculous in a way – for everyone here knows each other, even the local ‘Nana’ at some point has lived with every male involved in the case. But the young inspector’s logic and pathos are irreproachable. And when the whole case turns out to be nothing but a silly anecdote it’s almost a tragedy for this man who lost his only chance for a ‘real thing’."
"Cozy wooden houses with old-fashioned furniture, grim autumn landscapes with all the suspects squelching through the mud one after another (that’s one of the leitmotifs of the film – a daring one for 1954, two years before the ‘De-Stalinization’), and a sentimental waltz interwoven with grotesque polkas... All that will soon become standard for a Čechov film. And a Čechov film will become standard for an existential tragicomedy, Russian style." (Peter Bagrov)
AA: After a long day I stayed awake only until the half of this film but I managed to observe that this is a pleasant humoristic interpretation of one of Anton Chekhov's entertainment stories typical of him before the great turning-point of The Steppe in 1888. This movie version of The Swedish Match seems to belong to the same agreeable Chekhov tradition as Isidor Annensky's film adaptation of The Bear. There is a constant sense of vitality, of truth in the approach to the milieu, a vigorous satiric attack on the small town mentality of the bureaucracy, and a good interplay within the actor ensemble. With a police force like this the solving of a crime (if there is any) seems to be a random occurrence. The print seems very good with a pleasant reproduction of the Sovcolor of the era.