THE NEW film Onegin is set in the world of the Russian aristocracy in the 19th century. It is based on a novel by Alexander Pushkin-himself a member of the Russian aristocracy-written in the 1830s. Russia was then a backward, rural society where individuals' lives were controlled by patronage and 'fate'. But it was also a world in transition.
The emotional turmoil at the heart of Onegin is the result of the conflicts caused by that transition. At the centre of the film is Tatiana. She believes love and desire should be the basis of marriage. But this view is ridiculed by a society for which marriage is based on duty and property. She is trapped, given a choice between a loveless marriage-a 'good match'-or being a 'burden on the family, a spinster or a courtesan.' Tatiana meets the character of the film's title. Onegin is a world weary Russian aristocrat who ridicules the corrupt lives of his own class through his cynicism and wit. His feelings for Tatiana open up the possibility of another world.
Onegin is ultimately able to experience emotion beyond the shallowness and hypocrisy of the aristocracy. But the love he and Tatiana feel for each other cannot be realised within the oppressive world they inhabit, with tragic results.
Why should socialists care about the traumas of Russian aristocrats in period costume? The Russian revolutionary Trotsky wrote that 'what the worker will take away from Pushkin will be a more complex idea of the human personality, of its passions and feelings.' This beautifully made, moving film is well recommended.