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Anya Taylor-Joy is back with the director of The Queen’s Gambit. They will adapt Nabokov’s novel

“Laughter in the Dark” is a story of madness and destruction, the action of which takes place in the Weimar milieu of silent film stars, artists and aspirants. Albinus, an elderly film critic, falls victim to his own desires for a young, cynical girl. This belated feeling, blind to all signals, becomes a life disaster for a man. Before the film hits Netflix, read an excerpt from the book.

Albinus was never very successful in matters of the heart. A handsome, quiet-looking man from a good family, but somehow he could not take practical advantage of the fact that women liked him, because he could also undoubtedly like his pleasant smile and gentle expression of blue eyes, which widened slightly whenever he was thinking hard about something (and since his mind was a bit sluggish, it happened more often than it should). He spoke easily, stuttering a little, with that slight stammer that only adds charm to the pronunciation, for it makes the most weathered phrase sound fresh. Not without significance (Albinus lived in petty-bourgeois Germany) was also the fact that his father had left him a sensibly invested fortune; and yet every romance that came his way soon lost all its flavor.

In his student days, Albinus had a dull heavyweight love affair with a sad, elderly lady who later, during the war, sent him purple socks, tickling woolen underwear and long, passionate letters on vellum paper, written with crazy speed, in crazy, illegible handwriting, to the front. Then he approached the wife of the Herr Professor, whom he had met on the Rhine: when viewed from the right angle and with the right lighting, she might have been attractive, but she was so cold and shy that he soon gave up on her. And finally, in Berlin, just before his wedding, he met a thin, plain-featured, hideous woman who visited him every Sunday evening and used to tell him all her past in great detail, repeating the same accursed bore over and over again, sighing wearily in in his embrace, and always summing up the story in the only French phrase she knew: “C’est la vie.” Mistakes, groping, disappointments; Cupid serving him was evidently a receding left-handed man with no trace of imagination. girls Albinus had dreamed of but never met; they flitted past, leaving him for days with the hopeless sense of loss that made beauty what it is: a distant lonely tree against a golden sky; absolutely elusive.

He had married, but while he loved Elisabeth in a way, she did not give him the thrill he had longed for. She was the daughter of a well-known theater manager, a limp, petite, fair-haired girl with colorless eyes and pitiful pimples just above her nose in what English novelists call a retroussée (note the second ‘e’, ​​added in safety). On her delicate skin, the slightest touch left a pink, a slowly fading spot.

He married her because it happened. Their relationship was mostly the result of a trip to the mountains together, assisted by her fat brother and her extremely athletic cousin, who had finally, thank God, sprained her ankle in Pontresina. Elisabeth had a certain elegance about her, a certain airiness, and she laughed so kindly. They got married in Munich to avoid the crowds of friends from Berlin. The chestnuts were in full bloom. In some forgotten garden, a lamented cigarette case has been lost. One waiter in the hotel knew seven languages. It turned out that Elisabeth has a delicate scar – a trace of an appendix operation.

She was a clinging, docile and gentle soul. Her love, though of the lily type, burst into flame from time to time, and Albinus swarmed at such times that he needed no other mistress.

When she became pregnant, there was an empty contentment in her eyes, as if she was contemplating this new inner world of hers; a careless gait gave way to a concentrated shuffle; she greedily devoured the handfuls of snow she collected when no one was looking. Albinus tried to take good care of her; he took her on long, slow walks; he saw to it that she went to bed early and that household appliances with awkward corners were gentle to her as she circulated among them; but at night he dreamed of a young girl lying splayed on a hot and deserted beach, and in that dream he suddenly feared that his wife would catch him. In the morning Elisabeth looked at her bloated body in the mirror in the wardrobe door and smiled smugly, mysteriously. One day she was taken to the maternity clinic and Albinus lived alone for three weeks. He couldn’t find a place; drank a lot of brandy; two dark thoughts tormented him, in two different shades of darkness: the first that his wife might die, and the second that if he were a little bolder he would find some kind girl and bring her to his empty bedroom.

Will this baby ever be born? Albinus paced up and down a long, white, white-enamelled corridor with a nightmarish potted palm at the top of the stairs; he hated this place, its hopeless whiteness, he hated the rustling, red-cheeked, white-headed little sisters who tried to chase him away again and again. Until at last a junior doctor came out of the delivery room and gloomily announced:

– It’s over now.

Albinus began to see a dark drizzle before his eyes, something like the flickering of a very old movie (1910, a brisk procession with angular movements moves its legs too quickly). He rushed to the maternity ward. Elisabeth happily gave birth to a daughter.

The baby was red at first and wrinkled like a balloon at the end of its career. Soon, however, his face smoothed out, and after a year she began to speak. Now she was eight years old and much less talkative, having inherited her mother’s reserved disposition. Her gaiety was also like her mother’s, for it was a gaiety that was curiously discreet: just a quiet delight in her own existence, with a hint of amused astonishment at the fact that one is alive at all; indeed, that was her tone: deathly gaiety.

And all these years Albinus remained a faithful husband, but the duality of his own feelings amazed him greatly. He felt that he loved his wife sincerely, tenderly – as much as he was capable of loving a human being at all; and he had no secrets from her except that secret, stupid desire, dream, lust that burned his life through. Elisabeth read all the letters he wrote or received, and she liked to know the details of transactions, especially if they were old, gloomy paintings with cracks in the paint that showed a white horse’s hindquarters or a twilight smile. They had made some delightful trips abroad and spent many delightfully gentle evenings at home, sitting on the balcony above the blue streets, and as the chinese inked wires and chimneys crossed the sunset, Albinus found himself actually happier than he deserved.

One evening (a week before the talk about Axel Rex), while going to a coffee shop to meet a client, he noticed that the watch went crazy (and not for the first time), giving him a free hour as a gift. Of course, there was no point in going home to the other end of town, but he had no desire to sit and wait: the sight of other gentlemen with girlfriends always unnerved him. He wandered aimlessly until he came to a small cinema, the lights of which cast a crimson glow on the snow. He glanced at the poster (it showed a man craning his head up to the window, where – as if in a passe-partout – a child in a nightshirt was sitting), hesitated – and bought a ticket.

No sooner had he entered the velvety darkness than the oval of electric flashlight glided towards him (as it usually does on such occasions) and, with the same speed and fluidity, led him down the dim and slightly sloping passage. As soon as the light fell on the ticket he held in his hand, Albinus saw the girl’s bent face, and then, following her, he distinguished in the darkness a slim figure with measured, agile, impassive movements. Moving sideways to the chair, he looked at the girl and saw again the crystalline gleam of her eye as it caught the light, and the melting outline of a cheek that looked as if it had been painted by a great artist against a rich, dark background. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, after all: such things had happened to him before, and he knew it was unwise to dwell too much on them. The ticket agent moved away and disappeared into the darkness, and he was suddenly bored and sad. He came towards the end of the movie: a girl was backing through the overturned furniture in front of a masked man with a pistol in his hand. He had no interest in observing events that he could not understand since he had not seen them begin.

When the light was turned on during the break, he immediately saw her again: she was standing at the exit, next to the horribly purple curtain she had just pulled back; spectators passed her on their way out. One hand was in the pocket of a short embroidered apron, and the black dress hugged her shoulders and breasts tightly. He stared almost in horror at the girl’s face: pale, gloomy, painfully beautiful. She must have been eighteen, he thought.

When the cinema was almost empty and the new viewers moved sideways to their seats, the girl circled the hall and several times passed quite close to Albinus; but he looked away, it was such a painful sight, and he couldn’t forget how many times beauty – or what he called beauty – had passed him and disappeared.

He sat in the dark for the next half hour, his bulging eyes fixed on the screen. Then he got up and left. As she drew back the curtain in front of him, the wooden wheels clattered softly.

Oh, I’ll just take another look, he thought angrily.

He thought her lips twitched slightly. She let go of the curtain.

Albinus stepped straight into a blood-red puddle; the snow was melting, the evening air was damp, the bright colors of the street lights blurred and merged. “Argus” – a good name for the cinema.

After three days, he could no longer pretend to himself that he did not remember her. He was grotesquely excited when he entered the same room again – in the middle of the action, just like the first time. Everything repeated itself exactly: the gliding flashlight, the oblong eyes of Luini, the brisk walk in the darkness, the graceful movement of the black-sleeved forearm as she drew back the curtain. Any normal man would know what to do, thought Albinus. The car sped down the smooth road, taking sharp turns between the cliff and the precipice.

As he left, he tried to look her in the eye, but failed. It was pouring rain outside, the pavement glowing purple.

Had he not gone there a second time, he might have been able to forget that mere shadow of adventure, but now it was too late. So he went a third time, determined to smile at her – and what a desperately lascivious grimace it would be if Albinus did it. But his heart was pounding so hard that he missed the opportunity.

The next day Paul came over for dinner, they talked about the Rex case, little Irma was eating chocolate cream, and Elisabeth was interjecting her questions.

“Did you fall from the moon?” Albinus said, then tried to cover up the roughness with an untimely chuckle.

As they sat side by side on the wide couch after dinner, he would lightly kiss his wife as she was looking at dresses and other outfits in a women’s magazine, until he thought ponderously, “Damn it all, I’m happy, what else do I need? This creature gliding in the dark… I want to crush her beautiful neck. Well, it’s almost as if she’s already dead, because I won’t go there again.”

Source: Gazeta


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