Kirill Serebrennikov unveils 'Tchaikovsky's wife', homosexuality and fame

"Tchaikovsky's Wife" by Kirill Serebrennikov.

© Bac Films

Text by: Siegfried Forster Follow

5 mins

Tchaikovsky's wife

is an unexpected portrait of the famous Russian composer through Antonina Ivanovna Miliukova, to whom the maestro married at the end of his life.

The Russian director, dissident for a year in Germany, offers us a kind of historical and cinematographic funeral dance encircling little by little the glory of Tchaikovsky and the mad love of his wife.


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It begins like a dark historical film, with a crowd dressed in black lining up in St. Petersburg to bow to the remains of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, national hero and musical embodiment of the Russian soul.

Then appears Antonina, the widow, oddly forced to slow herself down the stairs towards the open coffin deposited on the first floor of the building.

Like a clap of thunder, the deceased then wakes up to insult his wife.

Miracle ?

Hallucination of a woman haunted by her husband?

Welcome to Kirill Serebrennikov's kingdom of puzzles.

The curious fate of Antonina is told in the form of a tragic spiral starting from the end.

A musician with a pure heart and a wealthy family, she fell madly in love with the composer.

But already their wedding party, in 1877, in Moscow, looked more like a funeral than anything else.

And didn't Tchaikovsky (remarkably played by Odin Biron) warn from the first love letter sent by Antonina that he has never loved a woman?

After the brilliant fresco of 1980s rock in Russia,


, with an incredible sense of aesthetic invention, and

Petrov's Fever

, an experimental and metaphysical cinema that goes beyond the reasonable, Serebrennikov

completely renews his grammar with

Tchaikovsky's wife.


During the world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, in May 2022, it was above all the


No to war



in the room of the Grand Théâtre Louis Lumière by Serebrennikov, figurehead of cultural resistance against the Russian invasion in Ukraine, which resonated in the media.

Today, the film's qualities can finally be rightly appreciated.

Tchaikovsky's Wife

, a Deceptively Wise Title

With a camera glued to the character of Antonina (played with crazy intensity by Alyona Mikhailova) and a setting meticulously reflecting the romantic era of the Russian Empire, Serebrennikov plunges us into the throes of a Russian destiny par excellence where genius mingles with tragedy.

A theme that he had already dealt with masterfully as a director with

Le Moine noir

in the Cour d'honneur of the Festival d'Avignon.

Tchaikovsky's wife

stands out as a historical fresco not hesitating to put steps aside by titillating our contemporary sensibilities with the appearance of a woman hitherto very little known or even unknown to the heroic story, but also with the eruption of an openly homo-erotic and kitsch scene.

With a calm that comes from the depths of Russian history, Kirill Serebrennikov creates the different layers of the drama to come.

The deceptively wise title pretends above all to want to pull Tchaikovsky's wife out of the shadows.

In reality, it is rather a pretext to dissect the myth of Tchaikovsky from several angles.

We are far from the musical purity of

Swan Lake


Serebrennikov plunges us into a deeply sick and fatal world.

The themes of confinement and death are omnipresent, even in the way of filming the protagonists.

The film will not be released in Russia

In Russia, until today, it is very frowned upon, even forbidden, to approach the national hero from the angle of his homosexuality.

Unsurprisingly, the film will not be released in Tchaikovsky's homeland.

With his way of telling the story of political and social pressure through marital hell, the Russian director then challenges the authorities of the current regime to bring to light the importance of sexuality in the life of the Russian composer. .

At the same time, it draws a portrait of the grip of power on society and creation, because the threat of his homosexuality being revealed in broad daylight dominates Tchaikovsky's entire artistic career.

Without forgetting that Serebrennikov, always openly gay and activist of the LGBT cause in Russia, also persists in reversing with brilliance the traditional roles of the male executioner and the female victim.

Here, Antonina, obsessed with her boundless love for the great master, declares herself ready to undergo all the vagaries of a relationship with a homosexual man.

But, above all, she never loses sight of what she wants above all else.

Without scruple, she forces him with all the means at her disposal to accept the marriage so dreamed of.

And his harassment pays off.

When Tchaikovsky is overwhelmed with debt, he bows to the financial offer in exchange for a marriage contract which also offers him a shield against rumors harmful to his career.

Unfortunately for both of them, marriage will not be a solution,

Serebrennikov makes his truth dance

Serebrennikov's genius consists in bringing together the different layers of small and large history to bring out a new side of Tchaikovsky and reinterpret a part of Russian history.

The music is the big absence of the film.

The director knowingly deprives us of the material manifestations of Tchaikovsky's musical genius, just as Tchaikovsky was deprived of living his sexuality freely.

Through a homo-erotic dance between virile men dressed as sailors, Serebrennikov makes his truth dance.

Then appears the image of a Tchaikovsky less useful to make him a standard-bearer of a nation, but much richer and more relevant to understand the genius and the fight of a being above all human and passionately venerated by the general public.

► To read also: 

Breathtaking "The Black Monk" by Kirill Serebrennikov at the Court of Honor of the Palace of the Popes


The director and filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov in a word, a gesture and a silence.

© Siegfried Forster / RFI


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