Picks and Pans Review: Dark Eyes

updated 11/02/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/02/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

Behold a master at work. At 63, Marcello Mastroianni demonstrates how the craft of acting can be raised to an art. In this turn-of-the-century period piece, the first sight of him is a jolt: Boozy and bleary-eyed, he sits in the bar of a ship en route from Greece to Italy and tells his sad story to a Russian stranger. In flashback Mastroianni is seen as an architect who traded his career for a life of indolent hedonism by marrying an heiress (the stunning Silvana Mangano). Content to play the fool at parties or with his mistress, sassily acted by Marthe Keller, he finds his life dramatically changed when he meets a young married Russian woman at a health spa. In looks she is not extraordinary, but her innocence floors him. Back home, Mastroianni cannot erase her memory, nor can the audience, thanks to the heady mix of fragility and fire in the performance of newcomer Elena Sofonova. Mastroianni races to Russia and finds his love; both make plans to leave their spouses. And then...No more should be revealed here except to praise the way Soviet director and co-screenwriter Nikita (Oblomov) Mikhalkov has combined several Anton Chekhov short stories into a seamless union of hilarity and heartbreak. One image will remain indelible: Mastroianni standing in a wagon hurtling through the Russian countryside. The promise of finding love at last has rid his body and spirit of the weight of age. The moment is fleeting, but it holds a lifetime. On the face of this glorious actor we have seen paradise gained and lost. (In Italian with subtitles; not rated)

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