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With: Ralph Fiennes, Liv Tyler, Martin Donovan, Toby Stephens, Lena Headey, Simon McBurney
Written by: Peter Ettedgui, Michael Ignatieff, based on a poem by Alexander Pushkin
Directed by: Martha Fiennes
MPAA Rating: R for brief violence and a sexual image
Running Time: 106
Date: 09/18/1999

Onegin (1999)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Everything's Fiennes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Onegin is a movie put together by three members of the Fiennes family: Ralph Fiennes in the title role, Martha Fiennes directing, and Magnus Fiennes composing the score. (Sorry Shakespeare in Love fans, brother Joseph is not here.) This film is a bit more successful than last year's brotherly brew, This Is My Father, but it's not likely to rule the box-office.

The basic story, adapted from an Alexander Pushkin poem by Michael Ignatieff and Peter Ettedgui, has Eugene Onegin (Ralph Fiennes) as a member of the idle rich who inherits a house in the country. Once there, a lovely young thing Tatyana (Liv Tyler) falls in love with him but he blows her off (he must be blind or crazy or both). After a disastrous pistol duel, Onegin disappears for a few years, then reappears, sees Tatyana and falls madly in love with her. Sadly, she's now married. And that's about it.

But the movie is far from your typical Masterpiece Theater/Merchant-Ivory production. Martha Fiennes brings all kinds of little inventive moments in; like cross-cutting between Tatyana and Onegin, she writing a letter, and he reading it at the same time. Another scene has Tatyana drifting dreamlike through an empty mansion before throwing open two enormous doors, revealing a colorful ball in full swing. Ms. Fiennes also knows when to back out of a shot, giving us a physical distance and enhancing the power of the scene. Other moments have weird, far-off soundtrack music, slow motion, and more inventive cutting.

As for the acting, Mr. Fiennes again excels at his brooding Englishman-type character. It may be about time for something different for him though, another Strange Days (1995) perhaps. And Liv Tyler surprises. Despite tentatively trying on an English accent, she's very good in her role; passionate and reserved at the same time. She's already developing into a strong actress.

Overall, Onegin is a bit of a sloppy and untidy affair, but that goes a long way in distinguishing it from the 7000 other movies of this type. If only the story were a bit more lively. I'm giving Onegin a tentative recommendation. Filmgoers who love literary costume movies will take it under their wing, but I'm not so sure about most other folks will enjoy the effort.

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