Friday, 1 April 2011

Igor Zaytsev: High Security Vacation - Каникулы строгого режима (2009)

Director:Igor Zaytsev
Stars:Sergey Bezrukov, Dmitriy Dyuzhev, Elena Babenko

Russian Internet Movie Awards “Georges” :
Best Russian Comedy Movie for 2010

Can a family-oriented summer comedy “work” if its action takes place in a penal colony and its main protagonists are escaped, murderous recidivists let loose in a children’s camp? Released on multiple screens at the end of August 2009, Hard Labor Vacation was pitched as family entertainment, and is genuinely funny in parts, but it is a most peculiar comedy. It is fuelled by warm-hearted sentiment, a delicate love and a sunny retro homage to Soviet era comedies. And then—unexpectedly—a shocking and violent twist turns this mythical tale into a tragedy punctuated by a hail of bullets. The film seeks to strike a delicate balance between the realistic violence essential for a prison film and a witty, fish-out-of-water tale full of children’s pranks. But the huge twist to the genre, in which the expected optimistic, heroic conclusion is hijacked by a “typically” Russian unhappy ending, redefines the family comedy subgenre as tragicomedy to make the outcome appear plausible for Russian audiences.

Russian film comedies have been slowly reemerging as domestic box office success stories after twenty savage, bleak and unfunny years of attempting to escape the dual burden of a trailer-load of taboos and the sticky influence of juvenile toilet humor. The body-switching comedy, Lovey-Dovey (Liubov’-Morkov’, 2007), made $11.6 million; its 2009 sequel earned $17.9m, and the 2008 scatological domestic parody mix, The Best Movie (Samyi luchshii fil’m, 2008), grossed $30m at the box office, validating the mainstream taste for comedy developed on the small screen. Hard Labor Vacation was the third most popular film at the domestic box office, taking in $17.6m. It was the second most profitable film of the year, earning $3.45m after a production budget of some $4-$5m and an advertising budget that was even higher (“Glavnym blokbasterom…”).

After the absurd and original satires of the early perestroika period, the prevailing focus of post-Soviet comedy was on juvenile, scatological and black comedy with a veneer of postmodern knowingness, steb, and the uneasy cheap laughs of barely concealed self-consciousness. Yet the Soviet era classics (Leonid Gaidai, El’dar Riazanov, Georgii Daneliia among others) have remained the benchmarks of quality family comedy. It is therefore surprising that this subgenre of light, funny family entertainment has until now remained underdeveloped.

Get That Girl (Otdamsia v khoroshie ruki, dir. Novik, 2009) is a clear example of playing by the genre rules of family-oriented comedy. Its treatment of criminal themes is more farcical, teen sexuality is represented as burlesque, and the low-level violence tends towards slapstick in a fast-paced action adventure with a likeable blue-eyed leading young lady. In contrast, Hard Labor Vacation lurches between adult and family entertainment. The prison camp is presented with a naturalistic energy and violence. The celebration of criminal romanticism and prison slang as markers of masculinity prevails. It is only the absurdity of the prisoners’ staging Pushkin’s folk tale in Kabuki style and some uncanny performances that saves the opening scenes from disappearing into prison bleakness. While the purple prose veers elegantly away from coarseness, this is not the daffy criminal underworld of Operation Y and Shurik's Other Adventures (Operatsiia Y i drugie prikliucheniia Shurika, 1965). ...

Reviewed by Greg Dolgopolov © 2010 in KinoKultura

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