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Ralph Fiennes smolders, but 'Onegin' lacks fire

Saturday, July 15, 2000

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

When it comes to pining, burning and longing for a woman who belongs to another, nobody does it better -- or more often, it would seem -- than Ralph Fiennes. In "The End of the Affair," he was in love with another man's wife. Ditto, "The English Patient."


Rating: R for brief violence and a sexual image.

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Liv Tyler.

Director: Martha Fiennes.

Critic's call:2 stars


And now comes "Onegin," playing at the Star City theater in South Fayette, and starring Fiennes as Evgeny Onegin. Wrapped in the splendor of St. Petersburg and the Russian countryside, it's the story of a man and a woman who are meant for each other but never seem to be in love or available at the same time.

"Onegin," from a novel in verse by Alexander Pushkin, opens with Onegin being summoned from 19th-century St. Petersburg to the remote home of his dying uncle. From the back of a horse-drawn carriage, he muses: "Oh God. The dying platitudes of the half-dead. Arranging the pillows. The stench. All the while thinking, 'When will the devil take him?' When will the devil come for me?"

He's an idle, snobbish aristocrat who inherits his uncle's estate and meets the neighbors, including a poet in love with a young woman and the woman's strong-willed sister, Tatyana (Liv Tyler). During a sleepless fit of passion, Tatyana writes a love letter to Onegin.

He, however, informs her: "I'm not someone who is made for love or marriage." Marriage will only lead to boredom and adultery, he insists. Onegin eventually disappears, only to resurface as a changed man who encounters vastly changed circumstances.

"Onegin" was directed by Martha Fiennes, sister of the star, and she has made a lovely-looking movie. Individual scenes are captured as if they were still lifes or paintings. A wintry skating party could double as a museum painting or exclusive Christmas card. A despondent man stands on a foggy deck, peering into his watery shadow. Women and men whirl around the dance floor, like brush strokes come to life.

But that's not enough to sustain an entire movie. There are too many feverish glances and missed opportunities. Events move either glacially or at the speed of light, as a character leaves one room and enters another years later. Despite the 100 or so minutes, no one is explored in much depth.

Watching "Onegin" is like dining on gold-edged china, at a table with exquisite linens and floral arrangements. Too bad the main course doesn't live up to the trappings.

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