Sunday, 29 May 2011

Marx at the movies

A fast and furious chase, full of physical gags and gangsters, with jokes at the expense of American imperialism. A hallucinatory horror, where ordinary objects take on a life of their own, scripted by a literary theorist. A bed-hopping love triangle, simmering in a cramped flat. A big-budget science fiction spectacular, full of futuristic sets and bizarre, revealing costumes. A workers' strike, depicted via special effects and pratfalls. A film about film-making itself, with no plot, no words, no narrative, which is somehow the most thrilling film you'll ever see. A film about collective farming with full-frontal nudity and inscrutable, poetic metaphors. A film about mutinous sailors that manages to accidentally invent the action film as we know it.

This is Soviet cinema in the 1920s. An almost entirely state-run cinema, devoted to propagating communist doctrine by the most nakedly propagandistic means, and subject to heavy intervention from the Soviet bureaucracy. One might suspect a Soviet, socialist cinema to be a grimly bureaucratic thing itself, a jargon-laden matter of boy meets tractor, devoid of excitement or drama, with everything subordinated to the political message. Or you might expect a school of film that repudiates the commercial, blockbuster cinema in favour of didactic accounts of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. Yet although numerous directors talked of the "dialectical film", it was never any such thing. You might expect something humourless and leaden, only to find films which resemble Buster Keaton far more than they anticipate Jean-Luc Godard. Soviet film in its first decade and a half managed to set the pace for world cinema, and its formal innovations are still being digested 80 years later.

The Russian Film Pioneers section of the British Film Institute's Kino season, running until 30 June, is a rare chance to explore this seemingly paradoxical world, where a series of still extraordinarily watchable popular films were made wholly without the intervention of the market. What is especially striking about them is how little the Soviet films of the 1920s resemble the common models of left-wing, activist (or any kind of "art-house") cinema. There's not the slightest hint of the worthy, socially engaged realism of Ken Loach and those he has inspired – the characters in these films are cartoons, and the scenarios are often fantastical, joyously so. And although Godard invoked the Soviet heritage when he started making collective films in response to May 1968 as the Dziga Vertov Group, there's nothing further from his brackish, deliberately stilted and oppressive approach to political cinema than the fast-paced, panoramic, sweeping, playful Bolshevik documentaries of Dziga Vertov himself. For films that are so influential on filmic technique, especially in their development of fast-cut montage, they have had surprisingly few direct successors. ...

The Guardian

Friday, 27 May 2011

Vladimir Khotinenko: 72 Metres -72 метра (2003)

Director: Vladimir Khotinenko
Writers: Aleksandr Pokrovsky (novels), Valeri Zalotukha,
Stars:Sergey Makovetskiy, Marat Basharov, Andrey Krasko


Best film Golden Eagle awards, Russia, 2005
Best music Golden Eagle awards, Russia, 2005

72 m (2004)

A Soviet military factory is being converted—that is, it needs to turn swords into plowshares. A decision is made to manufacture vacuum cleaners, an especially peaceful consumer good. The workers try with all their might, huffing and puffing, but instead of vacuum cleaners, machine guns keep rolling off the conveyor belts. This old anecdote about the enormous power of habit is grounded in something specific. Today Russian cinema is also grounded in something specific: in restoring the pride of Great Russians, which in the view of many patriotic circles has been abused, demeaned, and ridiculed during the years of the so-called perestroika and the ensuing troubled times of Yeltsin.

72 Meters has been mistakenly and groundlessly categorized both as a heroic action film based on American models ("our answer to Harrison Ford") and as an existential thriller akin to Luc Besson's The Big Blue (1988). Yet neither of these comparisons is appropriate. The steering wheel of the submarine Slavianka takes it into completely different waters, waters that are epic, legendary, sacred.

Marat Bashar, Dmitri Ulyanov

The film has long been awaited in Russia. The tragic loss of the submarine Kursk, which stunned all of Russia, has become a litmus test for humanity, a test that the Russian military high command resoundingly failed. Vladimir Putin, the president and commander-in-chief, demonstrated indifference to the fate of the military men who found themselves in danger. He didn't even return from his vacation during those critical hours when the sailors trapped on the Kursk might still have been alive. The commanders of Russia's naval forces were inexplicably tardy in organizing a rescue mission, while offers from foreign governments to provide outside assistance became bogged down in bureaucratic negotiations. ...

Reviewed by Oleg Sulkin (Novoye Russkoe Slovo) ©2004 in KinoKultura

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Alexander Melnik: Terra Nova - Новая земля (2008) Full movie with English subtitles

Director: Alexander Melnik
Cast: Konstantin Lavronenko, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Marat Basharov, Sergey Zhigunov, Andrey Feskov, Sergey Koltakov

The year is 2013 and, thanks to the abolition of the death penalty, prisons are overflowing across the globe, presenting something of a problem for the authorities. The solution? Ship a consignment of them to a far-flung, freezing “god-foresaken place” and let them colonise it.

Among those sent from a Russian jail are Ivan Zhilin (Konstantin Lavronenko), who, despite his pussycat-like manner, has apparently killed more than 20 men, and his psychopathic cellmate Nikolai (Andrei Feskov). They find themselves on a huge transport ship, which proves a perfect device for introducing the rest of this motley mob and for setting up tensions, particularly between the Russians and Chechens. ...

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Sergey Govorukhin: Nobody but Us - Никто, кроме нас… (2008)

Director:Sergei Govorukhin
Writers:Sergei Sharkhel (screenplay), Antonida Tropinina (screenplay)
Stars: Sergei Shnyryov, Mariya Mironova,Sergey Makhovikov

In Sergei Govorukhin’s Nobody but Us, a dying war correspondent in a cancer ward emphatically reminds the film’s main character Evgenii Levashov (played by Sergei Shnyrov) of his moral duty to continue documenting the dangerous border war in Tajikistan. “This is a just war. The country must know about it. Film it,” the correspondent compels his young colleague. Levashov, who has just found his true love Natasha (played by Mariia Mironova) in his brief two weeks in civilian life, indeed chooses to return to the conflict as witness to the fighting. The weight of this moral responsibility, endlessly underscored throughout the film, almost costs Levashov his life in an Afghani ambush. Nonetheless, the single-mindedness of this imperative gravely compromises Nobody but Us from an artistic standpoint, which sadly fails as both as a war film and a romantic story of star-crossed lovers.

Sergei Govorukhin’s recent career appears singularly dedicated to documenting “forgotten wars” and paying tribute to the heroism and patriotism of Russian troops, past and present. He has produced and directed the documentaries, Cursed and Forgotten (Prokliaty i zabyty, 1997) on the Chechen war and Composition on a Vanishing Subject (Sochinenie na ukhodiashchuiu temu, 2001) which juxtaposed some disinterested, partying youth on Victory Day both with actual war footage and the stories of World War Two survivors. His first feature film, Nobody but Us (which he wrote, directed, and produced) proves no exception to this trajectory. Son of the distinguished director Stanislav Govorukhin and a former Duma deputy, Govorukhin abandoned a privileged civilian life to serve in the Russian army. As a war correspondent, he saw action in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, and Chechnya, where he was seriously wounded in 1995 and subsequently lost a leg. At home, he has created the Rokada Charity Foundation for disabled war veterans and has been an active member of the Russian Federation’s Commission for Human Rights. His personal and professional courage is without question, justly earning him both state decorations for his military service and humanitarian awards for Nobody but Us. [1] In this film, Govorukhin turns his lens on the (admittedly unfamiliar) conflict along the Afghan-Tajik border in the 1990s, when the Russian military fought rebels in order to protect the former Soviet republic from disintegration.

Reviewed by Susan Corbesero © 2009 in KinoKultura

Monday, 23 May 2011

Alexei Uchitel: The Edge - Край (2010)

Edge (2010)

Director: Aleksei Uchitel
Writers: Aleksandr Gonorovsky (story), Aleksandr Gonorovsky
Stars: Sergey Garmash, Aleksei Gorbunov, Vyacheslav Krikunov

The arrival of a decorated war hero takes a Siberian labour camp by storm. After assuming control of the region’s only steam engine, he sets out to find a ghost engine on a nearby island populated by an undead girl with a railway obsession.

Alexei Uchitel is one of the most notable contemporary Russian film directors. A gifted possessor of numerous cinema awards, he continues doing wonders on screen, which unmistakably appeal to lovers of high-grade drama films.

Alexei Uchitel was born on August 30, 1951 in Leninrgad (St.-Petersburg). In 1975 he graduated from VGIK (All-Union State Institute of Cinematography). Later he works at the Leningrad Studio of Documentary Films and at Lenfilm Studio. In 1990 he founded his own studio 'Rock'. He is the laureate of numerous international cinema festivals and Russia's Honored Art Worker. His films develop the tradition of Russian documentary cinema, one of the creators of which was his father Yefim Uchitel, outstanding film director and People's Artist of the USSR (His documentary 'Leningrad in Struggle' (1942) is known all over the world).

The documentaries by Alexei Uchitel transcend the limits of conventional perception of nonfiction cinema. He has always been most interested in creation of a vivid composition of images rather than in mere reflection of facts. In his famous film 'Rock' he does not simply film chapters on musicians but tells stories highlighting their personalities. The focus of attention is on the intimate inner world, the 'kitchen' realm where music and lyrics take birth. As a result there appears an original and fascinating film, recreating the atmosphere of the creativity of those people and other characters of the Perestroika epoch. These were the first experiments in using poetic metaphors in documentaries instead of matter-of-fact narration. This approach obviously predetermined Uchitel's transition to feature films.

He never fails to elaborate the image composition, find surprising montage solutions and experiment with sound. The veracity of documentary and the fancy of fiction interweave in his works generating inimitable atmosphere.

He made his debut in full-length feature cinema in 1995 with 'Mania Zhizeli' (Giselle's Mania) telling the story of vertiginous career and life drama of the great Russian ballerina of the 20th century Olga Spesivtseva, nicknamed 'Red Giselle' by her contemporaries. ...

Uchitel's works as film-director: 2005 - 'Kosmos Kak Predchuvstvie', aka Dreaming of Space (feature film) 2003 - Progulka, aka The Stroll (feature film) 2000 - Dnevnik Ego Zheny, aka His Wife's Diary (documentary feature film) 1997 - 'Elite' (documentary feature film) 1996 - 'Mania Zhizeli', aka Giselle's Mania (feature film) 1993 - 'Butterfly' (documentary feature film)Works by Uchitel at the Leningrad Studio of Documentary Films: 'Obvodny Kanal'(documentary feature film) 1988 - 'Rock' (documentary feature film) 1986 - Planet Natasha (documentary) 1983 - Aktsiya (documentary) 1983 - The Earth is Entrusted to You (documentary feature film) 1982 - "Who is for? (Three episodes on a contemporary theme) (documentary) 1980 - How many faces does the disco have? (documentary feature film) 1978 - Starting Up. Portrait of an Event. (documentary) ... more

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Elena admired at Cannes

A cinematic virtuoso, Russia's Andrey Zvyagintsev, has picked up a Special Jury Prize for his latest drama Elena, which was screened at the world's most prestigious film festival, at Cannes.

­Elena invokes emotions and moods that lie within human nature and can be hard to cope with or withstood. It is a work of art with worldwide appeal, reflecting on fears, senses and morals.

The Russian film relates to a middle-aged couple, Elena and Vladimir, coming from different walks of society. He is a well-off businessman. She is a former medical worker, now a housewife. Each has children from previous marriages: Elena's son is permanently unemployed, with a wife and two children living off Elena's donations from her pension and her husband's support. Vladimir's daughter Katya is also quite hard to deal with – she has a tough character, living her life to the full. Having met quite late in their life and now ten years into the marriage, Elena and Vladimir still seem to share some common language. Experience, however, means conflict, and conflict means drama.

Alexander Seryj: Gentlemen Of Fortune - Джентльмены удачи (1971)

Director:Aleksandr Seryj
Writers: Georgi Daneliya, Viktoriya Tokareva
Stars: Evgeni Leonov, Georgiy Vitsin, Radner Muratov

The film was the leader of Soviet distribution in 1972 having 65.02 million viewers.

Sergei Eisenstein: Ivan The Terrible - Иван Грозный, Part 1 (1943)

Directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein.
Starring Nikolai Cherkasov, Lyudmila Tselikovskaya, Serafima Birman.

Sergei Eisenstein's operatic saga of the 16th-century Russian hero Czar Ivan IV is given a charismatic performance by Nikolai Cherkasov and a brilliant score by Sergei Prokofiev. Part One deals with Czar Ivan's beginnings as the ruler of Russia, Ivan's coronation, and his marriage to Anastasia Romanovna (Lyudmila Tselikovskaya). Ivan suddenly becomes gravely ill and then mysteriously recovers. When a group of conspirators poison his wife, Ivan becomes more wary of his retainers and announces that the will of the people demands his return from Alexandrov to Moscow. Ivan endeavors to preserve his country in the face of all the internal and external conspiracies. ...

Ivan The Terrible is a two-part film about Ivan IV of Russia made by Russian director Sergei Eisenstein. Part 1 was released in 1944 but Part 2 was not released until 1958 due to political censorship. The films were originally planned as part of a trilogy, but Eisenstein died before filming of the third part could be finished.

Read Ivan the Terrible Parts I and II by Andrew Grossman in Senses of Cinema.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Karen Shakhnazarov: A Rider Named Death - Всадник по имени Смерть (2004)

Director:Karen Shakhnazarov
Writers:Aleksandr Borodyanskiy, Boris Savinkov (novel)
Stars:Andrey Panin, Kseniya Rappoport,Artyom Semakin

At the beginning of this century, Moscow experienced first-hand the destructive violence that has for years besieged the Russian Federation’s peripheral republic of Chechnya. Ordinary Muscovites have been profoundly shocked and outraged at the cold-blooded terrorist assaults on their peaceful lives. The attack on the Dubrovka Theater (23 October 2002) became Russia’s “9/11,” in the sense that it brought home the geographically and psychologically remote hostilities, importing the war into the very heart of Russia. The wave of suicide bombings that followed in 2004 has left almost everyone in the country with the sense that no place is safe and that no one is immune from terror. As the Russian government trumpets its successes in “normalizing” the situation in Chechnya and wages war on “international terrorism,” Russians continue to live in a state of constant fear that further generates ethnic intolerance and hatred. The tragic reverberations of this new socio-political phenomenon have recently spawned a number of cinematic responses by Russia’s leading directors, such as Egor Mikhalkov-Konchalovskii’s Anti-Killer 2: Anti-Terror (2003), Karen Shakhnazarov’s A Rider Named Death (2004), and Valerii Todorovskii’s My Stepbrother Frankenstein (Moi svodnyi brat Frankeshtein, 2004).

Among these, Shakhnazarov’s Rider stands out as a historical production, set in Moscow in the mid-1900s, when a series of carefully planned terrorist attacks on high governmental officials seized the minds of the Empire’s ordinary citizens and the ruling elites alike. The filmmaker views these acts of violence that ushered in the “century of destruction,” as a prelude to the “apocalyptic” twenty-first century (see his interview for Itogi). Rider is the veteran director’s second film―after The Killer of the Tsar (Tsareubiitsa, 1991)―that explores contemporary mores through the lens of traumatic events from the Russian past. The film’s narrative is based on V. Ropshin’s short novel Pale Horse written and published in 1909. Ropshin is the penname of Boris Savinkov, a prominent Socialist Revolutionary and a leader in the party’s Combat Organization, who in 1904-5 organized and guided a series of anti-governmental terrorist acts, most notably the killings of the Russian Minister of Inner Affairs, Viacheslav Plehve, and the Governor-General of Moscow, Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich Romanov.

Reviewed by Elena Monastireva-Ansdell in KinoKultura

Friday, 20 May 2011

Rustem Abdrashitov :The Gift to Stalin - Подарок Сталину (2008)

Directed by Rustem Abdrashitov.
Starring Ekaterina Rednikova, Nurzhuman Ikhtymbayev, Bakhtiar Khoja.

Grand Prix International Film Festival in Belgrade, Serbia, 2009
Grand Prix International Film Festival 'East-West Classic and avant-garde ", Russia, 2008

Rustem Abdrashev's The Gift to Stalin feels like a throwback to another era—and that's got nothing to do with the film being set during the lead-up to the USSR's celebration of Stalin's birthday in 1949, when ethnic and political undesirables were shipped off to remote regions like that of Kazakhstan. Surprisingly, this historical epic contains a very-'70s, spare-no-expense-for-art studio aesthetic (its Kazakh producer is an oil and gas man with a private film company) and an engagingly slow-moving, highly detailed narrative that isn't very much in vogue these days. It's a movie a guy like Terence Malick would appreciate—one that lulls rather than forces us into another time, a different world.

"Only his fear gave him a feeling of life," the off-screen narrator says in voiceover about his younger self, a Jewish boy named Sashka (Dalen Schintermirov) who is shipped off to a no-man's land with his grandfather, who dies along the way. When the sardine-tight cattle car makes a stop to deposit the dead, Sashka is hidden away among the bodies—and subsequently rescued by the railroad worker Kasym (Nurzhuman Ikhtimbaev in a riveting performance), a gentle giant of few words tasked with corpse collecting and who resembles what Tom Hardy's Bronson might have looked like had he been dug up from a graveyard himself. The Jewish Sashka is soon adopted into the Kazakh (Muslim) Kasym's makeshift family, which also includes the Russian (Christian) Verka, the wife of a political traitor, and the Polish (Jewish) Yezhi, a doctor. ...

By Lauren Wissot in Slant Magazine

Svetlana Proskurina, Remote Access - Удаленный доступ (2004)

Director:Svetlana Proskurina
Writer:Svetlana Proskurina
Stars:Dana Agisheva, Aleksandr Plaksin, Vladimir Ilin
A wintry landscape. The voice of a young man tells the story of an accident, during which he—aged seven—was rescued from the river by his father, while his mother and sister drowned. At the same time, an old woman tells a story about her dog and its death. The two narratives overlap and often sound simultaneously. Neither of the speakers is present in the frame. As Svetlana Proskurina seems to be telling one story on-screen, she cedes the voice-over narrative to her sound director, Vladimir Persov, known for his year-long work with Aleksandr Sokurov.

The discrepancy between sound and image announced in these first few minutes of Remote Access permeates the entire film, and it is never resolved—in the sense of achieving harmony. The reason for the dislocation of the disembodied voices and speechless images emerges only gradually in the film. At a later point, an old woman tries to get into a car, just to sit for a moment. The car she chooses is Sergei’s, whose voice-over told the story of his mother and sister drowning, and who is waiting for his friend. The woman continues the story narrated by her voice-over at the beginning. Her story about losing her dog is audibly and visually tangential to Sergei’s words and images, and when their paths cross they have nothing in common. The woman disappears; Proskurina continues to explore Sergei’s childhood trauma.

Proskurina’s film posses an extremely fragile and subtle structure, which is not viewer-friendly by any means. The film holds diametrically opposed elements in suspense: it moves constantly from winter to summer (partly because it was shot in different seasons); it juxtaposes water (rain, river, puddles) and fire (heat, sun, the explosion); and it criss-crosses between the present and the past. The seasons, the temperature, and time acquire symbolic significance: the past is associated with a frozen state (although the accident happened in the summer) and the image of water—swirling in a vortex, streaming from a lock, and welling into the river—all signal flux rather than stasis. Water gives and takes life; it cools and chills. The ambiguity of the symbols remains carefully unresolved.

On the level of plot, the film explores the relationship between an adult couple, Vera (Elena Rufanova) and Timofei (Vladimir Il'in), and between two teenagers, Vera’s daughter Zhenia (Dana Agisheva) and the young traumatised Sergei (Aleksandr Plaksin). Vera’s relationships with her husband and her daughter are not easy: Timofei is a businessman who loves her, but has a demanding job; Zhenia is a “difficult child” at a “difficult age,” who suffers from asthma and is absorbed with herself, even as she tries to find something useful to do with her life. To this end she starts work for a telephone sex agency, where she receives a call from Sergei, with whom she develops a virtual relationship over the phone. Sergei lives with his friend Igor', whom he helps with an illegal deal; Sergei dies when Igor'’s car explodes after an explosive has been planted by his business rivals.

Reviewed by Birgit Beumers©2005 in KinoKultura

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Alexander Alov, Vladimir Naumov: Pavel Korchagin - Павел Корчагин(1956)

Based on Nikolai Ostrovskii's novel.

Directed by Aleksandr Alov, Vladimir Naumov.
Starring Vasili Lanovoy, Elza Lezhdey, Tatyana Stradina

Pavel Korchagin is a cinematic rendition of Nikolai Ostrovskii’s socialist-realist classic, How the Steel Was Tempered (1934). The entire narrative of the film is delivered as a flashback of the blind and paralyzed hero­­­—identified with both Ostrovskii and his fictional image—who has recently completed his novel-memoir about the Revolution and who has just learnt that the only manuscript of the book has been lost in the mail. Thus, the meta-diegetic frame opens with despair and, after the mnemonic journey of the film’s main part, closes at the end with Korchagin-Ostrovskii’s resolution to begin writing the novel anew. The addition of the Ostrovskii plot to the Korchagin plot of the novel produces a completely new textual structure—a circular line of a potentially eternal return: the reenactment of Pavel’s life narrative in memory (and on screen) justifies and triggers a return to writing, so that after Pavel’s story ends on the screen, it begins on the page (but when all pages are written, they will be lost again, and the reel of reminiscence will have to be spun anew). The relation between past and present is one in which the past restores identity that, in the present, is threatened by disintegration (this is a relation essential to Thaw culture as a whole). But this operation would have been impossible if the past told a story of how Pavel came to be what he is, if it offered him nothing but a succession of earlier, transcended “selves” (as do the vitae of all typical socialist-realist heroes). Instead, Pavel searches in the past for one constant self that needs to be reaffirmed in the present, and it is this fixity of self—not its dialectic historicity—that unites the two temporal planes.

Picture 2 of 3558

Lodged within the hero’s personal past, the Revolution loses its status as a socio-political event, a kernel in an ongoing historical narrative. It designates, rather, a plateau of experience that displays the highest manifestations of human self, a realm of ultimate being. There is nothing historical about this realm, nothing in it that is subject to “pastness.” The panorama of social change, the antagonism of classes and ideologies characteristic of a given stage of historical development are marginalized in Alov and Naumov’s film. The Revolution is deliberately “localized” in a singular, isolated enterprise: the building of a narrow railroad siding to a storage area for firewood somewhere in the Ukrainian countryside. This construction project has no connection whatsoever to the main course of events associated with the Revolution; it does not participate in a larger, overarching social project. The railroad that is its result is also its emblem: after it fulfills its singular mission, it becomes obsolete; once the supply of wood is exhausted, the road ceases to lead anywhere; it remains suspended in emptiness, outside the organized traffic of society and history. But it is precisely this dead-end road that leads Pavel Korchagin back to himself. Returning home, where, within a year, complete paralysis and blindness await him, Pavel gets off the train intent on putting an end to his life. It turns out that the place he has chosen for his suicide is none other than the Boiarka train station—the site of that same railroad construction in which Pavel had taken an active part and which is, to a large extent, responsible for his present physical decrepitude. The encounter with the landmarks of the past has the effect of spiritual rebirth (thus duplicating the narrative movement of the film as a whole): it is a return to a former, yet perennially valid, sense of self.

Picture 7 of 3558

It is precisely the traditional Marxist reading of history that had led Pavel to disorientation and thoughts of suicide: minutes earlier (while still on the train), he had seen himself as an outsider, an obsolete presence in the new society engendered by the Revolution. His interrupted train ride is, in this sense, a symbolic act: Pavel steps aside from the future-oriented movement of history, acknowledging his inability to be a part of it. But in Alov and Naumov’s film, the main railroad, on which the train of historical events takes the individual and society through time, moving according to a (supposedly) reliable schedule, is the road that leads to confusion.[ii] The real road of history in the Thaw is the road that does not move toward any destination: it is a blind alley that, instead of leading man to ever higher forms of social consciousness and interaction, displays to him the ever same essentials of his existence. ...

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Kira Muratova: Melody for a Street Organ - Мелодия для шарманки (2009)

Director: Kira Muratova
Cast: Olena Kostiuk, Roma Burlaka,

For the first time since (arguably) Among Grey Stones (Sredi serykh kamnei, 1983), [1] Muratova offers us two fully formed, psychologically legible human beings. Muratova's Alena (Olena Kostiuk) and Nikita (Roma Burlaka) are two small runaway step-siblings in search of their respective fathers. Glancing backward at Muratova's work over decades, we cannot help but recall her portrait of the children Vasia, Marusia, and Valek in this earlier film. The similarity is reinforced by the thematics of homelessness, separation through death, and endless journey. In Among Grey Stones, that journey is primarily a symbolic one to the "center of the earth," as its citation of Jules Verne's 1864 science-fiction novel seems to suggest.[2] In Melody, the journey is literal as well as symbolic. Its literal journey—a story of how the children move from place to place to seek Alena's father, then (failing that), Nikita's father—is in fact merely the staging ground for the retrospective unfurling of the film's backstory. In that symbolic journey, we learn how the mother had died, how the children had ended up in a children's home; how the staff had planned to transfer them to separate, distant institutions; how on Christmas Eve the two children bolted so as to avoid their impending separation.

In contrast to the pathos of these vulnerable and wholly intelligible children, Muratova pits the rest of—what we call, out of habit—humanity: thieves, delusional god-seekers, shady salesmen, petty crooks, alcoholics, larcenous mothers, two-bit gangsters, gambling addicts, flimflam artists, grifters, casino barflies, juvenile gang members, cold-hearted civil servants, jaded security guards, indifferent shopkeepers. Cumulatively, they may be recognized as Muratova's "happy and restless marionettes" (Mantsov 9), those fragmented and eccentric clusters that the filmmaker herself has referred to as "my characteristics" (Muratova, "Iskusstvo rodilos'" 94).

Reviewed by Nancy Condee © 2009 in KinoKultura

Monday, 16 May 2011

Vladimir Kott :Fly - Муха (2008)

Director:Vladimir Kott
Stars:Evgeniya Dobrovolskaya, Aleksandr Golubkov, Aleksey Kravchenko

Vladimir Kott’s debut film Mukha was released in Russia in June 2008 and was praised by many international film critics. It received a number of awards at different international festivals, among which are the Special Prize of the International Expert Jury for European Debuts at the International Festival for Children and Youth Cinema in the Czech Republic (2008), the Best Film Award at the 11th Shanghai Film Festival (2008), the Best Debut at the 18th International Film Festival in Germany (2008), and the People’s Choice Award at the Festival of Russian Cinema Univercine in France (2009). ...

Mukha is the debut feature film by 35-year-old Vladimir Kott, who previously directed several television serials, including NTV's Family Exchange (Rodstvennyi obmen, 2005) and Channel One's eight-episode Hunter (Okhotnik, 2006). According to the director, Mukha—The Fly is about his own thirty-something generation, a cohort that Kott characterizes as “infantile” and “irresponsible” (Chistikova). Interpreted from this perspective, the film offers a broader metaphor for individual self-discovery and personal growth in today's Russia. With more than a hint of melodrama, Mukha's narrative framework involves multiple threads that ultimately stem from a portrayal of a teenage girl's surrogate family and her relationship with the man who might be her biological father.

Mukha's plot is relatively straightforward. Fedor Mukhin (Aleksei Kravchenko), a womanizing, long-haul truck driver, receives a telegram in which a woman called Mariia declares her love for him and asks him to drive immediately to her home town of Barabash. Although he does not seem to recall who Mariia is, Fedor takes off for Barabash only to discover upon his arrival that Mariia has just passed away. As he is about to depart from Barabash, Fedor learns that Mariia has bequeathed to him all her earthly possessions, including a teenage daughter named Vera (played by Aleksandra Tiuftei). Vera, who bears Fedor's last name, Mukhina (nicknamed Mukha, hence the title of the film), is the town's female hooligan who has a penchant for pyromania. Just prior to Fedor's arrival in Barabash, Vera was arrested on charges of arson and assaulting a local tycoon. Presented with the choice of either allowing the girl to be sent to jail or paying off the tycoon, Fedor makes the decision to come to the aid of his “newly-found daughter.” Since he has no cash on hand, Fedor decides to stay in Barabash and wait for his truck driver comrades to wire him the requisite funds. In the interim he finds work in the town, first as a driver of a septic service truck, and subsequently as a physical education instructor at the local high school. He also moves into Vera's and her deceased mother's house.

Sharing narrative (and in part, visual) tropes with such seminal perestroika era films about “difficult” teenagers as Mikhail Tumanishvili's Avariia—Cop's Daughter (Avariia—doch' menta, 1989), Isaak Fridberg's Doll (Kukolka, 1988), as well as Juris Podnieks's documentary Is it Easy to be Young? (Vai viegli but jaunam?, 1987) the tension of the father-daughter relationship ultimately shapes the compositional framework of Kott's film. Mukha (with a nod to Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, 2004) spends most her free time at a boxing gym and, when not in the ring, she participates in gang fights alongside her male classmates. The girl also appears to reject her newly found father. Her bursts of anger directed against Fedor express themselves in acts that range from the petty to the criminal: a daily ritual of breaking his toothbrush, obliging him sleep in the barn, or spiking Fedor's tea with a sleeping pill and then—while he is fast asleep inside the house—setting the structure ablaze. While some of these acts are supposedly provoked by Mukha's refusal to accept Fedor as her father, others stem from the girl's jealousy of his “popularity” among the town's female citizens (including teachers and girls from Mukha's own high school). The scenes where Mukha cries herself to sleep when her “father” does not come home at night, or grills him with questions the following morning, or when she appears topless in front of him—all suggest an ambiguous erotic tension between the two characters. In one of the film's closing scenes Fedor explicitly claims that he had never actually met Mukha's mother in the flesh and only knew her from an epistolary distance. It therefore is ultimately left to the viewer to decide if Fedor is indeed Mukha's biological father and whether this film is an idealized “parable” of a reconstructed (albeit highly dysfunctional) family. ...

Reviewed by Olga Mesropova© 2008 in KinoKultura

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Vladimir Khotinenko: 1612: Chronicles of the Dark Times - Хроники Смутного Времени(2007)

Director:Vladimir Khotinenko
Writer:Arif Aliyev
Stars: Pyotr Kislov, Artur Smolyaninov, Michal Zebrowski

Promoted with a 300-style poster and a media campaign that branded it “patriotic cinema,” Vladimir Khotinenko's 2007 film 1612 blurred the lines between present-day uses of the past and the political uses of cinema. Set during the Time of Troubles, 1612 is more about the 1990s than the 17th century and more about contemporary political concerns than adhering to historical accuracy.

The events that ultimately established the Romanov dynasty certainly have provided fertile grounds for artistic exploration. Between 1598 and 1613 the Muscovite state experienced political instability, a famine that killed nearly one-third of the population, a powerful uprising from within, a pretender to the throne who became Tsar Dmitrii, an invasion by the Polish and Swedish states that resulted in the occupation of Moscow and the near-complete collapse of the state, and finally a resistance that first threw the Polish occupiers out and then elected a new dynasty for the realm. And that's just the highlights. Given all that happened in this short time, it makes sense that afterwards, these events became known as the Time of Troubles, or smutnoe vremia.

The Time of Troubles have captured the attention of political figures, priests, artists, and producers of folklore ever since. The events of 1612, the climactic point of the Time of Troubles when the Poles occupied Moscow and the legendary forces raised by Dmitrii Pozharskii and Kuzma Minin expelled them, provided rich story lines for writers and historians. This era appeals precisely because it is so difficult to explain and yet so decisive to the history of Russia. For Romanov propagandists, the Time was a clear indication that God frowned on weak dynasties and illegitimate rulers like Boris Godunov, who seized the throne in 1598 and who ruled during the 1601-03 famine. After Napoleon's invasion of 1812, 1612 became the subject for a renewed retrofitting where, in the words of Nikolai Karamzin, Godunov was a 17th-century Napoleon who suffered from “an immoderate, illicit thirst for power (Pipes, 113)” and the true heroes of Russia were the patriotic butcher and prince from Nizhnii Novgorod, Minin and Pozharskii, or even mythic serfs like Ivan Susanin, who allegedly saved Mikhail Romanov and sacrificed himself for the future tsar. As Karamzin had it, “their [Minin and Pozharskii] faith, their love of native customs, and hatred of alien rule engendered a general glorious uprising of the people” (Pipes, 117). During the Soviet era, the official story about the Time was made to fit with the Marxist viewpoint of history, where all the violence could be explained as an early form of class warfare and where Glinka's 1836 patriotic opera “A Life for the Tsar” was renamed “Ivan Susanin” in order to stress the little man and not the oppressive autocracy (accordingly, the chorus “Glory, glory, to our Russian tsar” became “Glory, glory to our Russian land”).

These dominant narratives did not go unchallenged when they appeared. The popularity of the false Dmitrii lingered in Russian folklore, the social unrest and civil wars that dominated the Time of Troubles bubbled up again and again, poets like Pushkin and Lermontov challenged Karamzin's views, and opera goers in the Soviet Union didn't soon forget that “Ivan Susanin” was a dressed-up version of the tsarist-era staging. In other words, the Time of Troubles and its part in Russian historical memories represented something of a memory overload, the meanings of which were constantly present and constantly contested. Perhaps the only thing that can be said definitively about the multitude of popular prints, songs, oral stories, novels, plays, poems, paintings, operas, and statues about 1612 (again only a few means that memory was expressed) is that the only things missing from them are ghosts of Spanish swordsmen, Gandolf-like wizards, and unicorns. ...

Reviewed by Stephen M. Norris© 2008 in KinoKultura

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Grigori Chukhrai: The Clear Sky - Чистое небо (1961)

Directed by Grigori Chukhrai. 
Starring Nina Drobysheva, Yevgeni Urbansky, Natalya Kuzmina.

Grigory Chukhrai directs this dramatic story of love, trust, and courage starring Yevgeny Urbansky. Test pilot Alexei Astakhov was taken prisoner during WWII. Upon his return home, the hero of the Soviet Union was expelled from the Communist Party, fired from his job, and deprived of all decorations. For years he has been unable to go back to the work he loves. Gradually, Astakhov loses faith in himself and begins to drink. But the love of his wife saves him and inspires him with hope for justice.

This 1961 film takes on Stalin with its blend of politics and romantic drama. After being a war prisoner in World War II, a Soviet pilot doesn't get a soldier's welcome when he returns to his native land. Instead, everyone turns their backs on the would-be hero, and he turns to alcohol. His only solace lies in the love of his wife, as she challenges him to right the wrongs done to him. ...

Vasily Livanov: Great Russian Sherlock Holmes

Apart from the actor’s talent Vasily Livanov is gifted in other ways as well: as a scriptwriter, a film director, a writer and an artist. Many cult personages of classical Russian animated cartoon films speak with his voice. Yet, Livanov’s most legendary film role is that of Sherlock Holmes in the film series about the famous detective – even British critics called this image one of the best cinematic portrayals of this popular character of Arthur Conan Doyle.
Vasily Borisovich Livanov was born on July 19, 1935 in Moscow into the family of the notable actor Boris Livanov and the professional artist Evgenia Kazimirovna Livanova. His father was a leading actor of the Moscow Art Theatre and also starred in the popular films Dubrovskiy (1935), Minin and Pozharsky (1939), Admiral Ushakov (1953), and others.
In 1954 Vasily Livanov finished Art School at the Academy of Fine Arts and passed entrance exams to the Surikov Art Institute, but then changed his mind in favour of becoming an actor like his father. In 1958 he graduated from the Shchukin Theatre School and was admitted to Vakhtangov Theatre yet did not work there for more than a year. In 1959 he was invited to play one of the leading roles in Mikhail Kalatozov’s film Neotpravlennoye pismo (The Letter That Was Never Sent) (1959).
After the filming was over the famous film director Yuli Raizman advised to the beginning actor: You will be very much in films. Very much. I am telling it to you from my experience as a film director. So if you are not very much engaged in theatre, then leave it. Vasily Livanov followed the advice by moving to the Film Actor’s Theatre-Studio, which he also left soon, in 1964 – he had lot of work, just like the master of national cinema had predicted.
Close on the heels of his film debut Vasily Livanov starred in Tatyana Lukashevich’s drama Slepoy muzykant (Blind Musician) (1960) (after the same-name novel by V. Korolenko). It is the only picture where Vasily chanced to play together with his father Boris Livanov.
The talented actor soon turned very popular and was often invited to play the leads. In the sci-fi film Sud sumasshedshikh (Judgment of Fools) (1961) he starred as a young scientist, Professor Johannes Werner who discovers life-giving power rays. In Aleksey Sakharov’s picture Kollegi (The Colleagues) (1962) Vasily Livanov together with Vasili Lanovoy and Oleg Anofriyev played young doctors. It is interesting to note that later he happened to play doctors not once. For example in the comedy Zelyonyy ogonyok (The Green Flame) (1965) he got a small role of a surgeon.
In 1963 Vasily Livanov splendidly handled the complicated role of Felix Dserzhinsky in the historical picture Sinyaya tetrad (The Blue Notebook) directed by Lev Kulidzhanov. ...

Seeing red - Soviet cinema had a brief but remarkable flowering in the 1920s.

The Russian Revolution is as dead as Lenin and its remains are a lot harder to see. Mostly, they exist in negative space: the buildings that the Soviets pulled down; the people who died in famines and purges (and their never-born descendants); the leaders who are now oligarchs, seemingly intent on emulating the top-hatted capitalist pigs of old propaganda cartoons.

For an inkling of the world-altering energy, idealism and creativity that were rife before Stalin pooped the party, you have to look to the cinema. In the 1920s, the young, still-silent medium and the younger, noisier society made for a sparkling, if never untroubled, alliance. The result was a brief golden age, lasting roughly from 1925 to 1929. These are the rare films showing this month at BFI Southbank; the Barbican also has a gala screening of Dziga Vertov's wonderful 1929 'city symphony', Man With a Movie Camera, on 29 May.

Even to an audience jaded by sound and colour - or especially so - most of these films are exceptional. Those advances made film-makers lazy, but directors such as Sergei Eisenstein, Vertov, Lev Kuleshov, Alexander Dovzhenko and Vsevolod Pudovkin were still thrilled by the possibility of motion pictures, and their exhilaration shows. Despite financial assistance from a government that saw cinema as an ideological tool, film stock was always sparse, but these men were profligate with the scissors: Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925) is made up of over 1,300 shots and the result is as consistently surprising as a series of electric shocks. This was partly artistic rigour, partly the internalisation of dogma: just as the films juxtaposed the terrors of the tsarist past with the optimistic present of the Bolshevik regime, so the editing set ideas side by side for contrast.

None of these directors doubted that one could "build" a film. They were, after all, building a society.

Why are these films so far off our radar? Eisenstein is the exception because, accord­ing to the BFI season's curator, Ian Christie, his acknowledged greatness unintentionally squashed the others' international reputation, but some clashed with British primness and suffered the consequences. Abram Room's marvellous Bed and Sofa (1927), about a ménage à trois, was banned here into the 1950s because it mentions abortion; Dovzhenko's superb Arsenal (1928), a symbolism-steeped meditation on the pity of war, manages to encapsulate more of the horror, loss and emotional and physical breakdown of conflict in its first five minutes than any government gearing up for another world war would willingly show its able-bodied young men in a year.

These Russians knew violence. An element of the films that throws the modern viewer back in time is the sense, watching the vicious reaction to a factory strike in Pudovkin's Mother (1926), that those beatings aren't so much choreographed as remembered. Potem­kin was made for the 20th anniversary of the 1905 revolution. The auteur and his team would have remembered the mutiny and real massacres like the (fictional) one depicted on the Odessa Steps the way you and I remember events that happened in 1991.

That a crazy experiment in communism managed to produce such a cinematic advancement at all is a great achievement, particularly given the leadership tussles of the 1920s. But Lenin (who died in 1924), Trotsky and Stalin all agreed on film's importance to the revolution. Agitki - short "film leaflets", intended to educate the peasantry in citizenship and revolutionary duty - were produced from early on, often in unheated studios, with minimal cash and equipment. They were excellent training for tyro directors and even urban intellectuals who, as the film magazine Ekran pointed out, knew more about prehistoric life than about Russia's peasants.

But then, the leadership was hardly in tune with the peasantry, either.

Film directors who placed stylistic experimentation above content alienated their viewers, but others ran into trouble with their masters for trying to entertain peasants and workers to the detriment of the ideological message. Kuleshov's 1924 The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr West in the Land of the Bolsheviks, for example, is a charming caper about a couple of Americans in Moscow, but the delighted audience could be forgiven for missing the good Bolsheviks among the tangle of thieves and con artists who populate the narrative. Room's Bed and Sofa portrays its two workers as fools and wife-stealers; one wryly admits that they are both scoundrels. These are hardly the words of a hero of the revolution. ...
New Statesman

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Egor Konchalovskii (ed.): Moscow, I Love You - Москва, я люблю тебя (2010 Trailer

Moscow, I Love You, Russia, 2010
Color, 110 minutes (18 short films), 100 minutes (15 short films)
Directors: Aleksandr Kasatkin “Mosca ti amo”, Artem Mikhalkov “Job”, Andrei Razenkov “He and She” (On i ona), Ėlina Suni “Barada / Unpleasant situation” (Barada / Nepriiatnaia situatsiia), Ekaterina Kalinina “A Midsummer Night’s Smile” (Ulybka letnei nochi), Ivan Okhlobystin “Real Life” (Nastoiashchaia zhizn’), Georgii Natanson “Letter to Granny Uyna” (Pis’mo babushke Uine), Georgii Paradjanov “Valerik”, Nana Djordjadse “Highrise” (Vysotka), Ekaterina Dvigubskaia “In the Middle of the GUM by the Fountain” (V tsentre GUMa u fontana), Vasilii Chiginskii “Etude in Light Hues” (Ėtiud v svetlykh tonakh), Oleg Fomin “Line Disconnected” (Abonent nedostupen), Egor Konchalovskii “Muscovites” (Moskvichi), Alla Surikova “The Queen” (Koroleva), Vera Storozheva “The Violinist” (Skripach), Aleksei Golubev “The Taxi Driver” (Taksist), Iraklii Kvirikadze “Nikitskie Vorota”, Murad Ibragimbekov “Object No.1”
Creative Producer: Egor Konchalovskii

The title of the film almanac Moscow, I Love You promises a declaration of love to the Russian capital. And, without wishing to pre-empt the outcome, the 18 shorts fail to entirely fulfill this promise. Unlike its predecessors, Paris, je t’aime and New York, I Love You, the Russian film lacks charm and interest. However, if we ignore for the moment the lack of internal coherence that marks this series of micro-sujets and instead resign ourselves to the largely conventional narrative form of these episodes, it is certainly interesting to raise the question of the vision of Moscow depicted in the almanac.

The individual episodes of Moscow, I Love You are each five minutes long and bring to the screen a panoply of mini-dramas, amorous entanglements and grotesque sketches. The scope of atmospheric coloring ranges from lively comedy to meaningful allegory. The artistic form of the narrative miniature is not achieved by all of the directors, and moments when a piece of “authentic” Moscow life shines through are rare.

So what kind of Moscow are we confronted with? The opening credits show a spinning roulette wheel, with Moscow at its center. The ball does not land on a number, but rather on a point on the map, which determines the location of the action whence the camera zooms. These locations are always in the inner circle of the city rather than on the periphery. Two associations are made here: that of the randomness of the episodes (whereby the lack of connections between the individual “Moscow stories” is disguised); and that of the chance of the game. In one scene the question is raised directly: “To Moscow? For the sake of happiness?”.The protagonists may find their personal luck in Moscow: the young woman from the provinces in search of the fairy-tale prince in the capital in “Line Disconnected;” the two lovers who find back to each other in “He and She;” the job applicant in a foreign company in “Job.” The quiet happiness of the woman who works in a night-time cleaning crew on the Moscow metro and sketches watercolors of the city in empty metro stations in “Etude in Light Hues;” the familial joy of the bank employee Anton from “Nikitsky Gates,” who replies in a telephone conversation with his mother’s request that he move away from Moscow with the argument that he loves the city, his job, and his wife. Moscow is presented here as a series of tacky postcard views and panning shots of the Moscow sky, but ironic snippets of dialogue also abound, including such gems as: “We absorb private capital and grind it down. In our own way, in the Moscow way;” or “Moscow is a large bed: Everyone sleeps with everyone else and everyone lies.” Here, in particular, the spotlight is on the contemporary spirit of the city and its inhabitants. It is hardly surprising that the episodes are rarely concerned with friendship, but rather with individual happiness and individuals seeking to make their way in/to Moscow, or who have already made it.

The selection principle of the episodes is readily explained by a headline from the newspaper Izvestiia: “17 friends of Egor Konchalovskii declare their love of Moscow and the Muscovites”. The creative producer Egor Kochalovskii has assembled a posse of Russian directors, mostly of his own generation and including the offspring of the Mikhalkovs, Konchalovskiis, Paradjanovs, Ibragimbekovs, and Bondarchuks. One may view this with indifference; but one may also wonder why other directors were not involved. In addition to these, a few younger colleagues also had a chance and were joined by veterans such as Georgii Natanson, now over eighty years old. The fact that many of them know each other is apparent not only in the overlaps in the list of names in various co-operations. Egor Konchalovskii appeared for a few seconds in “The Taxi Driver” by Aleksei Golubev, for example. On the other hand, Ekaterina Dvigubskaia’s episode “In the Middle of the GUM by the Fountain” seems almost like a family reunion. As well as directing, Dvigubskaia also plays the main role of the ice-cream seller and invited her mother, Natal’ia Arinbasarova, to appear in the episode, from whom she requests an autograph. Dvigubskaia’s half-brother Egor Konchalovskii also makes a guest appearance as a Kazakh tourist who thanks the coquette ice-cream seller in his native language for the privilege of photographing her. The carousel continues with Konchalovskii’s wife and daughter, Liubov’ Tolkanina and Masha Mikhalkova, cousin Artem Mikhalkov and his wife Dar’ia Mikhalkova, and even Dvigubskaia’s husband Aleksandr Gotlib. The round is completed by the familiar faces of heartthrob Dmitrii Diuzhev, a smattering of showbiz starlets and old stars Al’bert Filozov and Natal’ia Fateeva. This pulp leaves a hollow aftertaste. ...

Reviewed by Sylvia Hölzl © 2011 in KinoKultura

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Aleksandr Rogozhkin: Peculiarities of the National Hunting - Особенности национальной охоты (1995)

Director: Aleksandr Rogozhkin
Writer: Aleksandr Rogozhkin
Stars: Ville Haapasalo, Viktor Bychkov,Sergey Russkin

The first and most notable "Russian national comedy". As soon as it was released in 1995 it became a nationwide success in Russia, the leader at the Russian box office. It won the Nika Award and Kinotavr awards. ...

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Nikolai Dreiden: Angel's Aisle - Придел Ангела, Trailer (2008)

Director: Nikolai Dreiden
Scriptwriter: Nikolai Dreiden
Cast: Aleksei Morozov, Emiliia Spivak, Mariia Reznik, Tapani Perttu, Aleksandr Bargman, Artur Vakha, Vitalii Kovalenko, Dmitrii Lysenkov, Vladimir Matveev, Khel’ga Fillippova, Vitas Eizenakh, Oleg Riazantsev

Awards :
Diploma Window to Europe Film Festival, Vyborg, Russia, 2008
First prize Film Festival : "Luchezarnyy angel", Russia, 2008
First prize Historical Film Festival, Russia, 2008

Since its August premier at “Window to Europe-2008,” Angel’s Aisle has attracted considerable attention. In Vyborg it received the Rostotsky Prize for best debut film, in November it won the Grand Prize at Moscow’s “Radiant Angel” Festival and in December earned its director, Nikolai Dreiden, a top prize at Novgorod’s Historical Film Festival “Veche.” In October 2009, the movie placed third in the International Orthodox Film Festival “Pokrov” held in Kiev, behind Vladimir Khotinenko’s Priest (Pop, 2010) and Pavel Lungin’s Tsar (2009). Were we to judge the film by the company it keeps, we might expect yet another pretentious hagiopic that has, of late, come into favor. Fortunately, this proves not to be the case: Angel’s Aisle strikes this reviewer as an interesting and honest attempt to create an engaging feature film that promotes spiritual values and personal responsibility.

Billed as a dramatic thriller, Angel’s Aisle unfolds in 1924, after Lenin’s death. We are introduced to a young Chekist (Aleksei Morozov), who demonstrates his commitment to the Bolshevik cause by executing a priest when all around him fail to do so. The operative, himself the son of a priest, is next instructed to pose as a postulant at the Konevsky Monastery and there await his next target. Under the alias of Maksim Proshin, he embarks on a journey outside of Soviet space in pursuit of much larger prey: the Regent of Finland, Carl Gustav Mannerheim (a role Tapani Perttu has often interpreted for Finnish audiences both on stage and screen).

In Karelia, Maksim encounters the youngster assigned to take him across the border into enemy territory. The generous, noble Zhenia (a remarkable performance by the then six-year-old Masha Reznik) serves as Maksim’s geographical guide and moral compass, forcing him to reevaluate his beliefs and behavior, a process that only intensifies when the two enter the monastic community’s life on an island in Lake Ladoga. For some the venue and the murderer-protagonist have prompted comparisons with Pavel Lungin’s Island(Ostrov, 2006). While the twenty-something director demurs, he archly suggests that he approached the issue of sin and redemption from a distinctly Petersburg perspective. Dreiden has consciously built his tale of crime and punishment upon Dostoevsky’s original, complete with revelatory dreams, the trope of illness and the transformative power of faith and repentance. ...

Reviewed by Arlene Forman © 2010 in KinoKultura

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Nikita Mikhalkov: Burnt by the Sun 3 - Утомленные солнцем 3 (2011) - Official Trailer

Avangard Leontiev

Director: Nikita MIKHALKOV
Writer: Nikita MIKHALKOV

Friday, 6 May 2011

Lev Kuleshov: By the Law - По закону (1926)

According to the law (1926)

Director: Lev Kuleshov
Writers: Lev Kuleshov, Jack London (story)
Stars: Aleksandra Khokhlova, Sergei Komarov, Vladimir Fogel

"By the Law" is a melodrama that takes place in a remote area in the Yukon during the gold rush at the turn of the century. A group of five gold prospectors -- Michael an Irishman; Hans Nelson, the Swede leader of the expedition; his English wife Edith; a Dutchman named Dutchy; and Harky. They have been unsuccessful, and, deciding to move to another location, they order Michael, who does most of the manual work in the camp, to dismantle their prospect equipment. While dismantling the sluices, he discovers a large amount of gold nuggets, and they decide to remain and work their claim. The months move by into winter, and Michael begins to resent the fact that, although he located the gol,d he still continues to do the cooking and the manual labor around the camp while the others mine the gold. When winter sets in, he goes mad and, returning from a hunt, he shoots and kills the Dutchman and Harky. After a savage fight, Michael is subdued by Edith and Nelson. Nelson wants to kill the Irishman, but Edith takes the shotgun away from him and says, "You can't kill him - only the law can punish him."

A critical success

When exported, the studio was amazed at its reception and the critical opinion in Europe, although the film did not have all the normal ingredients of the films being shown at that time. It was unique that it had neither a villain nor a hero, and the film surprised and attracted the advance guard Parisian filmgoers who had been attracted to the Thomas Ince and William S. Hart films just a few years before.

The director

Lev Kuleshov (1899-1970), born in Tambov, Russia, was the first aesthetic theorist of film art and one of the first cinema directors under the Bolshevik regime. At fifteen he was a student at the Moscow School of Painting, Architecture and Sculpture. Two years later he was a set designer and was occasionally acting in films at the Khanzhonkov Studio in Moscow. At the studio he worked with Yevgeni Bauer and had a role in Bauer's film "After Happiness." Upon Bauer's death, he completed the film. In addition to making films, many of these fledgling directors issued "manifestos" stating their opinions on all sorts of ideas. After the overthrow of the Czarist government, Kuleshov joined the Bolshevik army and served on the Eastern Front with a camera team. Returning to Moscow with the defeat of the Czarists armies, he was recruited as an instructor in the State Film School and given his own "workshop." Kuleshov admired the work of D.W. Griffith and Mack Sennett, especially the use of crosscutting in editing. He developed what came to be known as the "Kuleshov effect" in which, through montage, each shot acquired a different shade of meaning according to its place in the sequence. To produce his montage, he filmed the face of a popular actor and juxtaposed it upon clips of archival footage containing a wide variety of objects. Although the actor's face remained the same, the feeling of seeing the same face superimposed over various objects gave each scene a different feeling. Kuleshov and Sergei Eisenstein disagreed on what the so-called "montage" was, and it's amazing that D.W. Griffith produced "The Birth of a Nation" and "Intolerance" without using the word. Kuleshov married Alexandra Khokhlova, one of his students at the workshop. She went on to collaborate and star in five of his films. One of the first films that Kuleshov's "group "produced was the witty parody "The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviksz" (1924), and two years later his most popular film, "By The Law." Most of the films produced by Kuleshov's group were fairly successful with the public, but they often met with government disapproval for not containing enough propaganda.

Goskino, the government cinema agency that assigned special projects and provided the funding, wasn't pleased with Kuleshov's work ,and they gave him a final chance to redeem himself with a minimum amount of money. Kuleshov and his literary advisor sought a story with few characters, few sets and no elaborate costumes. They finally chose Jack London's grim tale, and they added a few scenes of their own, notably the birthday party from a scene in Dostoyevsky. It was one of the least expensive film made by the Soviets, and it was well-received at home and in Europe, but, at home, he was again criticized for not including enough propaganda. The government finally withdrew most of the funding for his workshop, and, leaving the producing and directing part of the cinema, he remained as an instructor in the film institute during the remainder of the silent era. The film was not shown in the English speaking countries until 1939, and Kuleshov was finally allowed to make films again during WW II. ...

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Russian Elena set to seize Cannes

One of the most trailblazing contemporary directors, the creator of The Return, Andrey Zvyagintsev, will have his latest film, Elena, premiered at the world’s largest and most-influential film festival, at Cannes.

The plot of the movie has been kept secret. What is known is that it revolves around a middle-aged woman in the thick of complicated relationships with her son, husband and daughter-in-law.

The 47-year-old Siberian-born director, Zvyagintsev, was a professional theater actor before he began making films. Authenticity on stage, on screen, has always come first to the actor-tuned-director who did not let his actors read the entire script of his film in order for it to be convincing.

His low-budget debut drama The Return was a runaway success in Russia and overseas, having picked up more than 40 international awards, including two Golden Lions at Venice in 2003.

His second feature, The Banishment, received the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007.

Elena is Zvyagitsnev’s third feature, and according to the director, his most realistic film to date.

Both previous films focused on the psychology of human relationships as cinema for Zvyagintsev is “a means of making breakthroughs, discoveries about myself and others.”

The discovery of the Russian drama on the French Riviera is scheduled to take place on May 21st, at the closing ceremony of Un Certain Regard program.


Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Mikhail Kalatozishvili: Wild Field - Дикое Поле (2008)

Director: Mikhail Kalatozishvili
Actors: Oleg Dolin, Daniela Stoyanovich, Yuri Stepanov, Roman Madyanov, Alexandr Korshunov, Irina Butanayeva

Wild Field (2008)

Wild Field is a quiet film, shot amongst the greenish-brown rolling hills of the Kazakh steppe where, in a former hospital lost in the middle of nowhere, there lives a young handsome man, the regional doctor. A man of very few words, the doctor, Dmitrii Vasil'evich Morozov, or Mitia (Oleg Dolin), weathers his days collecting herbs, reading, and treating as best as he can his occasional patients, substituting the endemic lack of medications and facilities with ingenuity and compassion, outlining in few broad strokes a rather bleak picture of life on the social, geographical and historical margins. This is not surprising since the script, religiously followed by director Mikhail Kalatozishvili [1] was written by the connoisseurs of the Soviet okraina (outskirts), the late Aleksei Samoriadov (1962-94) and Petr Lutsik (1960-2000), who penned the scripts for some of the most unusual Russian films from the 1990s, including Diuba-Diuba (1993, dir. Aleksandr Khvan), Children of Iron Gods (Deti chugunnykh bogov, 1993, dir. Tamás Tóth), Limita (1994, dir. Denis Evstigneev), Outskirts (Okraina, 1998, dir. Petr Lutsik). Their high-strung metaphorical style is marked by the tragi-comical approach to fundamental questions of post-Soviet existence, where satirical, even grotesque profanization of official constructs and their pundits, is elegantly countered by subtle sacralization of ordinary folks and their natural wisdom.

In the tradition of Children of Iron Gods and Outskirts, Wild Field uses peculiar spaces and the vagueness of time to set poignantly realistic portrayals of people and lives in the high relief of poetic allegory. As in Children of Iron Gods, the absence of any and all official authority, the sporadic references to an unidentified, but complete political and economic breakdown in the past, and anticipation of a looming disaster in the future places the narrative outside history, in the dystopian realm of universal survivalist mythology. Left to their own devices, the characters are cast in situations alternating between the allegoric and the purely anecdotal, borrowed from Russian folklore, urban myths, and literature. The sparse but witty verbal exchanges balance between worn-out colloquial clichés and aphoristic wisdom.

Fleeting, mostly ironic references to vestiges of power like the Kremlin, Moscow, American Humanitarian Aid, and other scarce time indicators—Mitia's white jeans and the nature of the physical and psychological ailments he is confronted with—loosely anchors the story into the past two decades. The extant privation and tangible lawlessness, with all the ensuing consequences, is a sad reminder that those are still topical, in spite of the fact that the script is more than fifteen years old... Indeed, a radio announcement towards the end of the film places the events in August 2007 by playing pieces that were launched by the Americans into space precisely thirty years ago as ‘Earth symbolic musical messages'. The concrete severity of time and its problems are, however, tampered by the mystique of the open vistas and the elegiac pathos of a story that gradually grips our attention and our emotions…

Wild Field is divided into eleven segments: Prologue, Epilogue and nine Episodes, separated by Interludes, with each segment introducing a new situation and new “contrasting characters,” equally effective in revealing “the main action in different ways,” since their “‘disagreements” bring dramatic tension to the “all the Episodes” (Fergusson, 23). Therefore the careful selection of actors for contrasting characters is of fundamental importance here, because it is through them that Mitia's character—predicated on his “existence in and through” the main action, and not on initiating it—is revealed (Neale, 258). ...
Reviewed by Christina Stojanova© 2008 in KinoKultura

Russian Film Symposium - This year's examination: "Other Russias, Russia's Others: Films in and on the Margins"

The annual Russian Film Symposium returns, now in its 13th year. The six-day symposium, co-presented by the University of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Filmmakers, begins Mon., May 2, and will offer 12 recent films, to be shown on campus and at the Melwood Screening Room. This year's theme is 'Other Russias, Russia's Others: Films in and on the Margins.'

As the title suggests, the focus of this year's symposium is on films set outside of Russia's two major cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Symposium organizer Vladimir Padunov, an associate professor of Slavic languages and literatures and associate director of the film-studies program at Pitt, explains this shift. 'I think filmmakers have had their fill of the glamorous world of capitalism, the emerging middle class -- and they're beginning to look at other parts of the country.'

But not without some controversy. 'What tends to be emphasized in such films is the incredible poverty and dilapidation of the countryside,' says Padunov. 'It's almost as if what they're saying: 'Russia is not Moscow, this is what is there.' It's a kind of exposé, but on the other hand, it's a secret to nobody in Russia that the kind of renovation that's gone on over the last two decades has been limited almost exclusively to the two central cities.'

One film, The Stoker, takes place in the area around St. Petersburg, but its titular protagonist is an ethnic Yakut. This, too, is reflective of today's Russia, Padunov stresses. "A huge number of indigenous people from former Soviet republics have moved into Russia to be 'guest workers' -- doormen, cleaners, construction workers. So even when films are set in Moscow or St. Petersburg, the directors have taken an interest in looking at these marginal social and ethnic groupings in the cities."

But for far-flung stories set in very empty places, it's hard to beat the two-man drama, How I Ended This Summer, shot on an Arctic island in the north-east corner of Siberia. That's no Moscow. ...

Eldar Ryazanov: A Railway Station for Two - Вокзал для двоих (1982)

Director Eldar Ryazanov
Cast: Lyudmila Gurchenko, Oleg Basilashvili, Nikita Mikhalkov, Nonna Mordyukova, Stanislav Sadalsky, Aleksandr Shirvindt, Tatyana Dogileva, Mikhail Kononov.
USSR, Mosfilm,
Classics, Comedy.

A melodramatic love story with three main heroes: Vera, a waitress; Platon, a pianist; and... a train station where these two, already not young, people met. The differences in the heroes' characters and professions, the plight that Platon found himself in (he is to be arrested and undergo trial) trigger a host of both amusing and sad situations which serve as a backdrop for their unfolding love. Platon is innocent of the crime he is being accused of. He simply took the blame for his wife's driving over a pedestrian. But this is known only to Platon's wife and Vera in whom he confided. However, after the verdict has been passed, Platon's life is of no interest to his wife, although Vera is ready to wait for his release...

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Aleksey Uchitel: Captive - Пленный (2008)

Captive (2008)

Director: Alexey Uchitel
Cast: Tagir Rakhimov, Dagun Omaev, Sergey Umanov, Andrey Feskov, Larisa Shamsadova, Oleg Mazurov, Ivan Kosichkin, Irakly Mskhalaia, Petr Logachev, Yulya Peresild, Aleksey Bobrov, Raisa Gichaeva, Vyacheslav Krikunov.

Aleksei Uchitel’’s film, The Captive, based on Vladimir Makanin’s 1995 story, “The Captive of the Caucasus”, is the latest in a long line of stories, both literary and cinematic, which attempt to portray and even explain Russia’s long and still troubled relationship with its southern neighbors. At the same time, its depiction of the futility and tedium of war deliberately evokes not only the Vietnam film, but also works both of cinematic and literary traditions which stretch back to World War I, or even Tolstoi’s Sevastopol Stories (In fact, the film was shot in the Crimea). (And Pechorin was, of course, fighting Chechens in A Hero of Our Time, as long ago as 1840.)

On one level the film’s plot is very simple. The two main characters, Rubakhin (Viacheslav Krikunov) and Vovka (Petr Logachev) capture a young Chechen fighter (unnamed in Makanin’s story, and ‘The Youth’ in the cast list for the film, but referred to as Djamal in dialogue: played by Iraklii Mskhalaia) to help them find their way back to their company trapped in a ravine. On the way they think about rescuing another captive, their comrade Boiarkov (Andrei Fes’kov), but he is sadistically killed by the local forces. After a night spent out in the open, the two Russian soldiers happen upon two bands of Chechen fighters joining forces. As they hide from the enemy who are no more than a few feet away, Djamal attempts to summon his comrades, and Rubakhin kills the young man. The film ends as it had opened, with Rubakhin and Vovka inside an APC driving along narrow mountain roads, seemingly heading nowhere very fast.

Uchitel’, in fact, seeks to convey his theme more indirectly. There is very little background information given through titles or any other means. The viewer is thus left disorientated, not knowing precisely when or where the action takes place. We assume that we are in Chechnya in the recent past, but we cannot be sure. The film has a kind of circularity, with the closing shots echoing the opening sequences, thereby suggesting that the cycle of futility will continue. After the opening shots, Rubakhin seeks assistance from his commander, Lieutenant Colonel Gurov (Tagir Rakhimov), only to be told that they must find their own captive to guide them through: he has no time to concern himself with their problems, they are on their own. Their subsequent quest for a way back through difficult and dangerous terrain suggests a kind of existential problem, as well as echoing very ancient, even mythological narratives. Waiting to set off, Rubakhin voraciously devours the soup given to them by Gurov’s wife (Svetlana Dorokhina), while Vovka indulges other human appetites with lusty Nastia (Iuliia Peresil’d), these inter-cut scenes reminding us of the core humanity of these men, and their very basic needs. ...

Reviewed by Joe Andrew © 2009 in KinoKultura

Monday, 2 May 2011

Russian Online Film Archive Keeps Growing

For Eisenstein, you can go to Netflix and stream “Battleship Potemkin” or “Ivan the Terrible.” For Dovzhenko, you can stream “Earth” at Netflix or “Arsenal” at Amazon. For Pudovkin, “Mother” is at Amazon.
But what if you’re looking for a more recent, if less familiar, brand of Russian cinema? Like, say, Vitali Moskalenko’s 2002 Volga river-boat comedy, “The Chinese Tea-Set.” Or Emil Loteanu’s 1979 adaptation of the Chekhov novella “The Shooting Party” (original title “My Tender and Affectionate Beast”).
For those, you’ll need to go to the YouTube channel of Mosfilm, the Russian film studio and production company. Over the last month 50 or so films from the company’s library, with English subtitles, have been posted.
Determining exactly how many films are available, or what they are, takes a little work for a non-Russian-speaker, since the site is entirely in Cyrillic. With the help of your browser’s translation function and a little cross-referencing on the Internet Movie Database, it’s possible to identify what you’re looking at.

There are some older, more familiar titles in the mix, like Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Andrei Rublev” (1966) and “Solaris” (1972) and Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1957 film “The Cranes Are Flying.” Perhaps the most noteworthy director represented is Kurosawa, whose Siberian adventure “Dersu Uzala” was a Soviet-Japanese co-production.
Other films, while little known in America, have opened here and won praise, like Mr. Loteanu’s “Shooting Party,” which Vincent Canby of The New York Times called “a fascinating, almost intoxicating experience.”
But American viewers will probably be most interested in what they consider oddities, like Eldar Ryazanov’s “Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!,” a cult comedy in Russia, or “easterns” like “White Sun of the Desert.”
Five films will be added to the channel each week, according to Agence France-Presse, which quoted Karen Shakhnazarov, the company’s director, “The aim is to give users the possibility to legally watch high-quality video material and prevent the illegal use of our films.”

Karen Shakhnazarov: Poisons or the World History of Poisoning -Яды, или Всемирная история отравлений (2001)

Director:Karen Shakhnazarov
Writers:Aleksandr Borodyanskiy, Karen Shakhnazarov
Stars: Oleg Basilashvili, Ignat Akrachkov, Aleksandr Bashirov

As in Full Moon, the filmmakers have once again combined anecdotal incidents with a journey to another time dimension in order to ironically treat the most famous cases of poisoning. The mundane story of an actor named Oleg, whose neighbour Arnold has lured his wife Katya away, becomes phantasmagoric after Oleg unexpectedly meets a pensioner named Prokhorov. The elegant old man begins to hint at ways the jealous husband can poison the adulteress. Prokhorov’s theoretical lessons, which include practical instruction, are livened up with cases drawn from ancient Persia and Greece. After committing a sophisticated murder Oleg, too, will be able to gain immortality and walk among them. But in reality Oleg finds happiness alongside Arnold’s ex-wife Zoya. Later, as an actor, he has success portraying Cesare Borgia whose fate Prokhorov had described to him. Prokhorov decides to become a Ukrainian citizen and moves to the Crimea to spend his last years. ...

"I made a film as I had envisioned it, I can't explain it with words." - says the film director Karen Shakhnazarov. --" It is a comedy. The older I become, the more I believe that comedy is the most difficult genre. To make people laugh without making it silly is quite hard". Director Karen Shakhnazarov.

Karen Shakhnazarov, director, screenwriter here.

Battleship Potemkin – review

Battleship Potemkin
Production year: 1925
Countries: Rest of the world, Russia
Cert (UK): PG
Runtime: 75 mins
Directors: Sergei Eisenstein, Sergei M Eisenstein
Cast: Aleksandr Antono, Alexandr Antonov, Grigori Aleksandrov, Grigori Alexandrov, Midhail Gomorov, Vladimir Barsky

A revolutionary film in form, in political purpose and in subject matter, Eisenstein's 1925 Soviet classic focuses on a naval mutiny in the Black Sea during the abortive 1905 revolution. This great 20th-century icon is up there with Guernica, the work of another communist maverick who put his art at the service of the revolution, though unlike Eisenstein Picasso was never disciplined by anyone resembling Stalin and his philistine cultural commissars.

The film's 75 minute duration is composed of 1,400 takes and is the precise model of its innovatory director's theory of montage. Potemkin is a vital viewing experience that transcends its landmark/milestone status. Its virtuoso technique remains dazzling and is at the service of a revolutionary fervour we can still experience.

The Odessa Steps massacre, invented by Eisenstein and his collaborators, is one of cinema's greatest single sequences, and although the revolutionaries are the collective heroes, the key victims of the tsarist killers are all established as individuals before the shooting starts. It clearly influenced Sam Peckinpah; Francis Bacon drew on it for key paintings; Brian De Palma and others have alluded to it.
The Observer

Battleship Potemkin: No 18 best arthouse film of all time
Still hurtling down the steps of movie history like an abandoned pram, Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 propaganda continues to be debated, analysed, appropriated and parodied. Its straightforward propaganda now seems quaint, and the shock of the new has long evaporated. Now it's referenced in everything from The Godfather to Inglourious Basterds to Naked Gun 33 1/3, and rescored by Pet Shop Boys. But it remains the essence of revolutionary cinema: a film about a revolution, made as part of the revolution, in a revolutionary way.

The revolution in question was the Potemkin uprising of 1905, a key moment in the Russian revolution, when the crew of the battleship turned on their aristocratic officers, then united with the working classes of Odessa in facing the tsarist troops. The film, commissioned to mark the 20th anniversary of the revolution, was violent for its time, with mass shootings and close-ups of bloodstained faces. But, as with so many films since, Battleship Potemkin's violence is more implied than shown, and takes place mostly in the mind of the viewer (no babies were harmed in the making of the famous Odessa Steps sequence). Eisenstein knew this full well. The film was confirmation of the theories on montage he had been developing with Lev Kuleshov at the Moscow Film School.

Today those theories are Film School 101, and Battleship Potemkin's technique is talked about more than its political portent. It's easy to forget this film was once considered powerful enough to actually incite revolution. Its power has been appreciated not just by cinematic provocateurs, from Chaplin to Buñuel to Roger Corman, but also political ones, such as Joseph Goebbels. At various times it has been banned in the US, France, Germany, in Russia itself, and in the UK until 1954, and it was X-rated till the 70s. It is still a potentially incendiary work of art, very much concerned with the tipping point between mass obedience and unstoppable uprising.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Semyon Aranovich: The Year of Dog - Год Собаки (1994)

Director:Semyon Aranovich
Writers:Semyon Aranovich, Zoya Kudrya (screenplay),
Stars:Inna Churikova, Igor Sklyar,Aleksandr Feklistov

Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival 1994

Talk about star-crossed lovers. Sergei Koschin (Igor Skljar), an embittered and sometimes violent criminal, has just been released after a long prison term. He meets a shy, middle-aged spinster named Vera Morozova (Inna Churikova) and embarks on a bittersweet romance that quickly turns into a hellish affair. After Sergei stabs Vera’s hostel warden in a dispute over his newfound girlfriend, the couple flees to the countryside in search of sanctuary. They find refuge in an idyllic village. But the idyll turns out to be an illusion: the hamlet is on the outskirts of Chernobyl, contaminated with radiation and abandoned by its inhabitants. Violent events follow each other relentlessly and it’s hard to escape the sense of doom that enshrouds the characters. St. Petersburg-based Semyon Aranovich is best known for the anti-Stalinist documentaries, TV movies and feature films he made during the Soviet era, including The Personal File of Anna Akhmatova, a Golden Gate Award winner here two years ago. His latest work, which received a Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in February, is a lyrical and ironic story which takes the “outlaw couple” theme and deepens its social implications. Inna Churikova, star of the recent Adams’s Rib and many films directed by her husband, Gleb Panfilov (Mother, 1991, Theme, SFIFF 1987 and May I Take the Floor? 1975) proves herself once again to be one of the world’s most remarkable film actresses. ...