Russian Roulette

Russian playwright and author Anton Chekhov has often seen his dramas brought to the screen, as well as the stage. Yet Daria Geller’s Him & Her dares to bring a twist to one of Chekhov’s lesser-known works, He & She. One of his early short stories, written when he was still a student at the Medical Academy, He & She follows two warring lovers. She’s a singer on stage; he’s “just the husband of a famous singer”. They drink, they smoke, they travel. But as the reader is told, to them, “all the rest of Europe is a boring, pointless province”.

Geller, co-writing with Asia Fix, brings the story to modern day. Told in little over fifteen minutes, it brings with it a waspish humour as we’re introduced to the couple – just listed as ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ in the credits. The singer is played by Miriam Sekhon; the role of the husband is taken by Evgeniy Kharitonov, who previously played Leo Tolstoy is 2018’s Istoriya Odnogo Nazazacheniya. Early on, we see them in bed together; she’s lighting up her latest cigarette and he’s complaining about it.

Shortly afterwards, they’re being driven by car to her latest concert. After a heavy night of drinking, she gets the driver to stop the car – twice – so she can be sick. Then, with her husband relieving himself in the nearby forest, she amusingly gets the car to leave him behind. “You’re out of shape, my dear,” she snidely comments, as he runs in vain after the vehicle, puffing and panting. Voiceover gives us further insight. “She drank away half her career,” he bemoans.

And yet – as much as this might feel like a knife in the heart as we approach Valentine’s Day – Geller’s film is an intriguing portrait of the way love, for all its pain, can bond a couple for life. “When my wife starts to sing, I can feel my restless soul calming down,” the husband intones. As toxic as this couple might appear to outsiders, it’s perhaps a more realistic portrait of matters of the heart. It may not the short film to show your beloved on February 14th, but it has an uncomfortably brazen edge to it.

Him & Her is available here.

James Mottram