.Your mind wanders as you watch the impressively tortured Vladimir Ilyin play a psychologist turned mental patient in this Anton Chekhov update, wondering how the great Marcello Mastroianni (originally attached) would have sashayed his way into madness. No matter: The script, several decades old, has found an absorbing treatment here—a sort of Blair Witch–like collage of interviews, recollections and creepy conversations that scrape the far edge of metaphysical uncertainty. (It’s Russian.)
After some upsettingly authentic interviews with patients confined to a ruined institute (“I know how to cook,” one says sadly), we meet Ragin (Ilyin), staring into the shallow distance on his cot. The movie charts his descent, and it’s the suggestive strength of this material—mainly Ragin’s thoughtful chats with the bitter, brilliant Gromov (Vertkov)—that gets you thinking he might actually be evolving, not unraveling.
The master behind this 1892 short story is being honored in a worthy series, “Celebrating Chekhov,” beginning this Friday. How beautifully this spinner of dark moods translates to the stubbornly unmodern post-Soviet nation. Several of the films screening are worthy adaptations of the famous plays. And Ward No. 6 gets the tone just right.