Saturday, 21 January 2017

The 5 most anticipated Russian movies in 2017

1. Paradise

This is the story of Helmut, a senior SS officer, who arrives at a concentration camp to investigate corruption allegations. There he runs into the love of his youth, an aristocratic Russian émigré named Olga who has been incarcerated for joining the French Resistance and harboring Jewish children in her house during the Nazi occupation of France.

2. Anna Karenina: The Vronsky Story

As the title suggests, Shakhnazarov’s adaptation provides a male perspective on this classic story, with Count Vronsky at the center of the movie. Here Vronsky is not depicted in his traditional role of the shrewd seducer, but rather is portrayed as a complex and multifaceted character. Anna Karenina: The Vronsky Story. Source: Kinopoisk.ru


This big screen adaptation of the classic Russian novel by Leo Tolstoy comes from prominent Russian filmmaker Karen Shakhnazarov, who is best known internationally for The Assassin of the Tsar starring Malcolm McDowell.

3. Journey to China: The Mystery of Iron Mask

Directed by Oleg Stepchenko, this sequel to the 2014 film Viy (which was based on the novel by Nikolai Gogol) was initially set to hit the screens in 2016. However, the deadline was pushed back when the project’s Chinese partners, who apparently had unconditional faith in the film’s potential for success, insisted that the script be revised and the budget increased.

4. Guardians

The authors describe this film as the Russian answer to Marvel Animation's Avengers trilogy. The script for this comic movie about Soviet people with superpowers was written on the fly as it was already being shot. A team of Soviet superheroes (including a bear-man named Ursus) rescue the country and the world as a whole from the threat of apocalypse.

5. Arrhythmia Boris Khlebnikov is regarded as one of the most significant Russian directors of the 2000s. He gained worldwide recognition for his movies Koktebel and A Long and Happy Life, which won acclaim at a variety of international film festivals. In 2013, Khlebnikov suddenly switched his focus to working on television. This is his first major movie in recent years, meaning that 2017 will mark Khlebnikov's return to the big screen. Read more >>>

Monday, 12 December 2016

Sergey Mikaelian: Love by Request - Влюблен по собственному желанию (1982)

Lovers on their own stills

Director: Sergey Mikaelyan
Writers: Sergey Mikaelyan, Aleksandr Vasinsky
Stars: Oleg Yankovskiy, Evgeniya Glushenko, Vsevolod Shilovskiy

Awards :
Best actress Yevgeniya GLUSHENKO , Berlin International Film Festival : Berlinale, Berlin (Germany), 1983
Premier prix et prix du meilleur travail des acteurs au Festival de l'Union soviétique, 1983
Prix du meilleur travail des acteurs au Festival de Berlin, 1983

Lovers of their own accord (1982)

Two people: Igor, an ex-athlete aimlessly living and chasing rubles to get drunk and Vera, an ugly duck librarian, try to find their luck by planning to fall in love with each other based on 'psychological conditioning'.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Pavel Lungin: Queen of Spades - Дама пик (2016)

Queen of Spades

Director: Pavel Lungin
Cast:Kseniya Rappoport, Ivan Yankovskiy,Igor Mirkurbanov

Opera diva Sophia Meyer after years of exile returned to Russia. The singer intends to put the "Queen of Spades" by Tchaikovsky on the stage, where he once made its debut. The play, no doubt, will be an event of the season, and all the actors posing wake up famous. About fame and money dreams of a young singer of opera troupe Andrew, and "Queen of Spades" for him the chance to achieve the desired. He is ready to do anything to get the role of Germany, and it realizes Sophia, who left for the role of the Countess. Opera diva begins a brutal game that will play all the participants involved.

An operatic thriller about the staging of an opera in contemporary Moscow, The Queen of Spades feels at times almost like a Russian-language remake of Darren Aronofsky’s lurid ballet-themed psychodrama Black Swan. Director Pavel Lungin co-wrote the screenplay with David Seidler, who earned an Oscar for The King’s Speech. They borrow their title, key characters and selective plot elements from two related sources: Alexander Pushkin’s supernatural short story, first published in 1834, and Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s 1890 opera of the same name.

Peak Lady (2016)

A film festival regular and one-time best director prize-winner in Cannes, Lungin has penned librettos for operas and orchestral pieces before. His musical passion clearly shines through during the film’s operatic sequences, which are staged with great panache and energy. Premiering this week in the main competition strand at Black Nights Film Festival in Tallinn, The Queen of Spades is hardly subtle, but its juicy combination of technical polish, bloodthirsty action and lusty romantic melodrama could well lure a curious niche audience globally. Its next scheduled festival stopover is next month in Macau.

After decades in self-imposed exile, legendary soprano Sofia Meyer (Kseniya Rappoport) returns to Moscow to rebuild her reputation by directing and starring in The Queen of Spades, the Tchaikovsky opera which made her famous. To help realize her grand schemes, she recruits wealthy oligarchs, shady gangsters and her grudgingly cooperative twentysomething niece Lisa (Mariya Kurdenovich). Sofia also sees potential in Lisa’s broodingly intense boyfriend Andrey (Ivan Yankovsiy), an amateur tenor who has idolized the diva all his life.

Peak Lady (2016)

Gifted with the freakish ability to shatter glass with his powerful voice ever since he was pushed into a frozen lake as a child, the obsessive Andrey slowly insinuates his way into the playing the male lead in The Queen of Spades. A Machiavellian manipulator with a heart of ice, Sofia initiates her young disciple into a glamorous late-night shadow world of illegal high-stakes casinos, where he soon develops a gambling addiction and unwisely makes Faustian deals with brutal gangland godfathers. Sofia then seduces Andrey in full view of Lisa, creating an explosive sexual tension which reaches its murderous crescendo when all three are onstage during the climactic opera scenes.

The Queen of Spades has a kind of fruity, oversaturated, borderline-camp mania that feels all too Russian at first. The opening act will test viewer endurance with its soapy emotional dynamics and broad-bush archetypes, especially Sofia, a cackling femme fatale who appears to be channeling Cruella de Vil. But Lungin is no amateur, and the torrid tone starts making more sense as the story evolves beyond realism into something more artfully stylized. Recurring flashbacks to Andrey’s nightmarish plunge into the icy lake and a scene involving the jealous Lisa smashing up a gallery of mannequins are strong visual set-pieces.

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Saturday, 10 December 2016

Alexey Krasovsky: Collector - Коллектор (2016)

Collector stills

Director: Alexey Krasovsky
Cast:Konstantin Khabenskiy, Polina Agureeva (voice), Valentina Lukashchuk (voice), Kseniya Buravskaya

Awards : 
Best actor Konstantin KHABENSKY , Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2016 
Best Cinematography Denis FIRSTOV , Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2016 
Prix du Conseil Régional de Normandie, meilleur premier film Honfleur Russian Film Festival, Honfleur (France), 2016 
Prix François Chalais du meilleur scénario Honfleur Russian Film Festival, Honfleur (France), 2016 

A lithe and lean one-man show, “Collector” is a crackling little high-wire act only sent tumbling to earth by its very final one-twist-too-many. Up to that point, it’s a kicky pleasure, a triumph of sharp scripting, shooting, editing, and acting over the obvious limits of time and resources. A canny first film from Russian director Alexei Krasovskiy, it was shot in one single week, almost entirely in one single location, with just one single actor, so it’s a pretty singular achievement all round. And to deliver a credible genre-inflected thriller in that mold takes not just a gapless, unflagging screenplay, but inventive camerawork and a massive central performance, to keep us all from fidgeting in our seats. But that’s exactly what Krasovskiy brings with “Collector,” a movie that makes no claims to being high art, but should be admired for its artfulness nonetheless.

'Collector' Review

And speaking of artful, our main character here is quite the dodger, a fast-talking, quick thinking, utterly amoral Muscovite debt collector, and the largely autonomous star operator in his company (“I make more money in a day than your whole department does in a month,” he snarls to his boss at one point). Artur (Konstantin Khabenskiy) is a master manipulator, a flawless liar, and apparently a heartless bastard, impervious to threats or entreaties, certain there is no sob story he hasn’t heard a million times before, and none that he has ever fully believed. Artur is not just good at his evil job, he enjoys it, relishing the inevitable capitulation of his victims as a lion does its kill.

Yet this is a subtler, more psychological method of debt collection than the old kicking doors and cracking skulls model that more readily springs to mind as the cinematic archetype. From atop a modern high-rise, in a sleekly furnished office with a plate glass window overlooking a terrace and the lights of the metropolis beyond, Artur gets even the most incorrigible creditors to cough up using no implement more threatening than a telephone receiver.

We always hear both sides of the conversation, and that, along with the conceit of assistant Liza (Polina Agureeva) and security guard Evgeny (Kirill Pletnyov) talking to him from adjacent rooms, we get the impression of a film a great deal more populous that it really is — similar to the trick that the nearest touchpoint, Steven Knight’s “Locke,” managed to pull off. And the dialogue is so crisply written and gamely performed that we get a sense of them all as people anyway. 

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‘Luna Park’s’ Pavel Lungin Plans ‘Esau’ Adaptation, Gulag Epic

Image result for pavel lungin

Pavel Lungin (“Taxi Blues,” “Luna Park”), one of the key filmmakers of the new Russian cinema that emerged in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is currently developing two new projects: an English-language project based on Israeli writer Meir Shalev’s 1991 novel “Esau,” and a film about a Soviet gulag labor camp.

 “Esau’s” story is about two brothers. One left Israel and lives in the U.S. and then tries to rediscover his brother.

“Since I am Jewish, this story touches me a great deal,” Lungin explained at this week’s Marrakech Film Festival, which he attended for a country tribute to Russia.

He went on: “I think that Shalev is a wonderful writer. It doesn’t make sense to set this story in Russia. The question posed by the story is can you be Jewish when you’re living outside Israel and at the same time if you go to Israel, do you become Israeli rather than Jewish.”

The second film is a high-budget project about a gulag forced labor camp during the Stalin dictatorship.

“Stalinism had certain parallels with Ivan the Terrible. I want to make a film about how people lived in the gulag, how it was possible that innocent Russians could incarcerate each other. The guards and prisoners were innocent and had to survive in terrible conditions.”

Lunging said that he doesn’t want to base the story on better known accounts such as that by Solzhenitsyn, and is currently researching real-life stories and personal memoirs.

The key issue that interests him is the force of will of the survivors: “How can you survive, how can you find a reason to live in the midst of such suffering? he asked.

He went on: “The secret of survival. The power of love. The importance of human relations. I think that despite the awful suffering of the gulag, the ability to survive also revealed something profoundly optimistic in human nature. We are not beasts.”

Lungin’s most recent movie, “Queen of Spades,” a contemporary operatic thriller based on a short story written by Alexander Pushkin, was initially developed with David Seidler, screenwriter of “The King’s Speech,” and then by Steven Walsh, since Lunging initially planned to make the film in English. The movie had its world premiere at November’s Tallinn’s Black Nights Film Festival where it won the Audience Prize.

The story turns on a famous soprano singer who returns to Moscow after decades in self-imposed exile, and attempts to recapture her past glory by directing and starring in the Tchaikovsky opera of the same name that once made her famous.

The depiction of a casino-style world set against a high culture setting has been interpreted by some as a metaphor for modern Russia. Lungin explained that what attracted him to the original nineteenth century short story was that it’s about someone who doesn’t believe in justice and therefore either steals or plays cards to achieve success.

This outlook was very dear to Pushkin and is now returning to Russia after a more optimistic period in the late 20th century after the fall of Communism.

“My country has changed a lot in recent years,” said Lungin. “We don’t yet understand where it’s heading. People are now much more pessimistic. The great Russian empire, before the 1917 revolution, was like our grandmother, the Soviet Union was like our mother and the new Russia is a bit like a daughter. But she’s still in her adolescence and is working out who she is. Everyone is a bit confused.”

Lungin initially made his name with “Taxi Blues” and “Luna Park,” More recently, he has directed pictures with a strong religious and metaphysical dimension, including “The Island” and “Tsar.” He also shot several episodes of TV series “Rodina,” a Russian political thriller based on Israel’s “Hatufim” – the basis for the American TV series “Homeland.”

Like any period of adolescence, Russia is caught in a highly emotional state of mind. Lungin’s early films were made in a period of great change, where there was tremendous optimism throughout the whole world, the director said, adding that he was interested to show the new movements and new types of characters that were emerging.

Now “Russia isn’t dead, there continues to be debate, but the questions are now perhaps more metaphysical, as people try to work out Russia’s identity.”

Lungin said that this led him to films that worked at a more deeper personal level, exploring more spiritual aspects, such as “The Island” and “Tsar.”

“Tsar,” about Ivan the Terrible, was a metaphor for Joseph Stalin, although some think it depicts Putin, Lungin stated.

“I was interested in exploring the mania of the strong man, the moment when someone in power sees himself as God. Some powerful figures stop at a certain point. But other powerful people have no limit,” he commented.

Lungin believes that there is a long historic tendency in Russia for rulers to become an almost godlike figure. In modern Russia, there are some groups and advisers that are trying to push Putin in this direction and make him a kind of dictator figure, Lungin contended. But he said that he believes that Putin doesn’t want that.

His recent TV series “Rotina,” like the US series “Homeland,” also deals with issues of political skullduggery, but is set in 1999, which some critics said demonstrated cowardice to address problems in Russia under Putin.

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Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Russian war film set to open amid controversy over accuracy of events - Panfilov’s 28

Directors: Kim Druzhinin, Andrey Shalopa
Writer: Andrey Shalopa
Stars: Aleksandr Ustyugov, Aleksey Morozov, Amadu Mamadakov

A still from Panfilov’s 28

Every Soviet schoolchild was taught about the heroic feats of the last 28 members of Ivan Panfilov’s division, which in late 1941 fought to the death to stop a Nazi tank assault on Moscow in one of the best known episodes of the Soviet war effort.

“Russia is vast, but there is nowhere to retreat – Moscow is behind us,” one of the Red Army soldiers, armed at the end with just Molotov cocktails and grenades, said as the attack was halted.

But as a film about the events, Panfilov’s 28, opens in Russia this week, controversy rumbles on over the fact that many of the details of that last stand – both in the film and versions pre-dating it – appear to have been invented.

Arguments over the upcoming film and the mythology around the episode in general began last spring, when Sergei Mironenko, the director of Russia’s state archive, gave an interview stating that while there had indeed been a bloody battle outside Moscow, not was all as many had understood it.

His words provoked such outrage that over the summer the archive posted online a 1948 internal Soviet military report into the events, which came to the conclusion that a journalist from the Red Army’s newspaper had made up the particulars of the story, inventing quotes and ignoring the fact that some of the soldiers had survived and one was believed to have surrendered to the Germans.

The legend was cooked up to fit in with the Soviet demand that soldiers should fight to the death rather than surrender.

Vladimir Medinsky, the culture minister, reacted furiously to the intervention, saying it was not the job of archivists to make historical evaluations, and if Mironenko wanted to change professions, he should do so. Shortly after, Mironenko was fired.

The nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky said in recent weeks that he had called at a government meeting for Mironenko to be fired. He claimed his uncle had fought in Panfilov’s division and said those griping about the exact numbers were missing the point. “It’s unacceptable for someone from the archives to start telling the whole country that there were no Panfilov heroes,” he said.

Medinsky later went further in his defence of the film and his disgust for those who questioned the story.

“It’s my deep conviction that even if this story was invented from the start to the finish, even if Panfilov never existed, even if there was nothing at all, it’s a sacred legend which it’s simply impossible to besmirch. And people who try to do that are total scumbags.”

Medinsky said he would like to send such people, who “poked their dirty, greasy fingers into the history of 1941” back to the war period in a time machine and leave them in a trench to face Nazi tanks armed with just a hand grenade.

Panfilov’s division included many central Asians, and last month Putin and Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbayev watched the film together.

Under Putin, victory in the second world war has become the main building block of modern Russian identity, and criticism of the Red Army or mentions of the darker sides of the war effort are unwelcome.


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Saturday, 12 November 2016

Sergey Snezhkin: Maringolds in Flower / Cvety kalenduly - Цветы календулы (1998)

movie poster

Director: Sergey Sniezhkin 
Cast:Era Ziganshina, Marina Solopchenko, Kseniya Rappoport,

Of all the national cinemas in the world, that of Russia has the most fruitful relationship with literature. This extends beyond the dull and plodding genre of the literary adaptation or the more general "book of the film" treatment to any novel whose widespread success uninspired directors want to cash in on. Russians filmmakers have managed to be inspired by literature in the artistic and spiritual sense rather than just finding a plot idea which will bring in the punters.

As such, literature is a point of departure for many Russian filmmakers and not something whose content merely can be replicated in another medium. This has produced a number of adaptations which seem to merit consideration independently of the text on which they were based, including Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg's Shinel' (The Overcoat, 1927), Andrei Tarkovsky's Soliaris (1969-72), Alexei German's Moi drug Ivan Lapshin (My Friend Ivan Lapshin, 1983) and much of Alexandr Sokurov's oeuvre.

However, the influence of literature extends far beyond using books as a direct source. Sergei Sniezhkin's Cvety kalenduly (Marigolds in Flower, 1998) is a film which takes its inspiration from the great Russian dramatist and short-story writer Anton Chekhov without its plot being directly based on any of his published works.

The action takes place in a dacha just outside St Petersburg some time shortly after the collapse of Communism. The removal of the tyrannical regime has done nothing to relieve the ills of the Protazovs and it has if anything made them worse. Georgia Protazov was a poet who collaborated heavily with the Party and in return was feted as a national hero. However, with the coming of perestroika his reputation was re-evaluated and murky truths dug up from his past. What is more, the MTV generation now has little interest in poetry and literature, least of all Protazov.

This humiliating fall from grace is too much for Protazov's widow, Seraphima, who had her heart set on a place in posterity, rather than infamy, for her husband. If that wasn't bad enough, she has to battle with her family over what to do with the inherited dacha. She wants to create a museum to her late husband, while her three bitchy granddaughters would rather sell up and move to the city for a more adventurous life.

In the midst of this set of mutually antagonistic personalities, arrive two men who offer more money to spend the night in the spare room than can possibly be refused, even if it is the night of carnival-style family celebrations for Seraphima's birthday. However, they have more in mind than just staying the night in the dacha.

Sniezhkin, who co-wrote the screenplay with Mikhail Konvalchuk, certainly has the keen eye for the minutiae of human behaviour necessary to pull this kind of film off. With the action rarely extending beyond the walls of the dacha, Sniezhkin has to rope in all the attention to the details of character he can without going overboard and making his characters overly stylised. This he manages to achieve with only occasional lapses of judgement.

Not only that, Konvalchuk and Sniezhkin have attempted a brave plot which tackles both specific issues of the post-perestroika period and more timeless observations. As the production notes rightly say: "A century has passed [since Chekhov's time] and Russia hasn't changed much, despite revolutions and wars."

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