Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Most Profitable and Unprofitable Russian Movies of 2011

Experts have conducted small research and defined ten most profitable and most unprofitable movies of 2011. Altogether last year Russian film industry produced 63 movies and spent 243 million dollars on them. The most profitable of them is the animated cartoon film How Not to Rescue a Princess (Tri bogatyrya i Shamakhanskaya tsaritsa), which has collected 19.1 million dollars, whereas its cost was 3 million dollars. The second-best film is Inadequate People: with the budget of only 100 thousand dollars it has collected 600 thousand dollars. Pregnant Man with the 2 million dollar budget has collected almost 7.5 million dollars and so ranks 3rd. Yolki-2 by Timur Bekmambetov has taken the 4th place. The hits are followed with the films All Inclusive or Vsyo vklyucheno, Office Romance. Our Time, Vysotsky: Thank you for Living, Shadow fighting 3: The Final Round, Lyubov-morkov-3 and Lucky Trouble (Vykrutasy). To the biggest box-office failure of 2011 is Siberia, Monamour which cost its producers 3.5 million dollars and collected only 22 700 dollars. The list of film failures also includes Mantikora 3D, House, Target, Innocent Saturday, Once Upon a Time There Was One Woman, Burnt by the Sun 2: Citadel, You and Me, The key is Salamander and The Real Story, due to which Sergey Bezrukov met a substantial loss. ...

Monday, 30 January 2012

Ilya Averbakh: The Monologue - Монолог (1972)

Director: Ilya Averbakh
Writer: Yevgeni Gabrilovich
Stars: Mikhail Gluzsky, Margarita Terekhova, Marina Neyolova

One of the first and few films to address the generation gap in the Soviet Union, Monologue is the story of a prominent scientist, Prof. Sretenski (Gluzsky), who years ago was left with a granddaughter to raise alone by his deeply troubled daughter. Unexpectedly, the prodigal daughter returns one day, a new husband in tow, hoping to become part of her daughter's life once again; for her part, the girl is beginning to experience her own emotional crises. Gluzsky finds just the right emotional pitch for his character, creating a man whose personal life was dominated by routine and order but who begins to feel the need to finally express his own long-hidden emotions. ...

You can watch film here.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Zvyagintsev film Elena grabs Golden Eagle

Russia’s filmmaker Andrei Zvyagintsev has received the Golden Eagle Award of the Russian Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for his film Elena, which was named the best film of the year. Zvyagintsev was also honored with a Golden Eagle merit award for best directing.
In May last year, Elena, Zvyagintsev’s latest film, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival where it won the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard section. Throughout the year, the film was named the best at a variety of international festivals all over the world. In Russia, Elena was recognised as Best Picture by the Guild of Film Critics. Having been nominated for 10 Golden Eagle Awards, the film’s creators walked off with three. Elena is based on a fairly common story: a wife kills her old but wealthy husband for money. Although devoid of passion or any special effects, the film is permeated with a particular magic which has a mesmerizing effect on both the audience and professionals. The director, who took part in writing the script, wants to convey to the public the extent to which moral degradation has permeated contemporary society. Andrei Zvyagintsev says that he personally was slow to notice this change in society.
"Society has undergone change over the past 20 years and we’ve all been witnesses to this change. Many of our acquaintances and friends have changed beyond recognition. Elena exposes and dissects this change. It has become common for us to commit an unseemly act. But we used to be different. Humanistic ideas have been tapering to the limit, both in Russia and elsewhere."
A Golden Eagle Award also went to The Three Bogatyrs and Shamakhansky Tsaritsa, a cartoon by Sergei Glezin. Commenting on the cartoon-making process, the director said that cartoons are funny when you see the end product but the filmmaking process is hard work. The Three Bogatyrs, based on a number of Russian fairytales, reached the number one spot on the Best Cartoon charts across Russia and was named the 2011 box-office hit. Karen Shakhnazarov, President of the Mosfilm Studios, told a Voice of Russia correspondent that it was little wonder that animated cartoons were becoming more and more popular.
"Children like cartoons, they like going to the cinema, and their parents go with them. Cartoons have much more potential than feature films. It’s no wonder they are gaining more and more popularity."
The majority of film lovers prefer watching movies at home. This explains the growing popularity of various TV series. The Golden Eagle for the Best TV Series went to Dostoyevsky, which talks about one of the greatest Russian authors whose books continue to captivate readers' interest 140 years after his death. Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech, which won multiple Academy awards, has been named the best foreign language film in Russia. ...

Friday, 27 January 2012

Ekaterina Grokhovskaia: The Devil's Flower - Цветок дьявола (2010) - trailer

Director, Scriptwriter: Ekaterina Grokhovskaia
Cast: Marina Golub, Andrei Kharitonov, Ol’ga Khokhlova, Sergei Krapiva, Irina Kupchenko, Elena Levkovich, Natal’ia Naumova, Roman Pakhomov, Natal’ia Rudova , Oleg Sukachenko

In the months before its release, fans anticipated that Katia Grokhovskaia’s Devil’s Flower would be the Russian answer to the Twilight saga. Looking at the two films’ promotional materials, which are almost identical, it is clear that Russian publicists hoped to capitalize on the enormous success of the American blockbuster. In reality, production for Devil’s Flower began well before the teen vampire epic, but because of various set-backs was not completed until 2010. However, comparisons are not entirely unwarranted; there are certainly similarities between the two enterprises. Like Twilight, Grokhovskaia’s film centers around a young woman swept into a supernatural world and forced to choose between an ordinary boy and an otherworldly lover. However, aside from some additional aesthetic similarities and a certain amount of wooden acting, the likeness ends there. Despite its beautiful young cast, moody cinematography and alternative rock soundtrack, Devil’s Flower did not attain box office success and was widely panned by critics and audiences alike.

The film tells the story of Polina, a college student with a 1970s sense of style and ethereal good looks. Polina is suffering from nightmares in which she stands before the gates of a dark castle confronting a huge glowing red flower. Wearing a white medieval gown and a look of faint consternation, Polina is drawn into the heart of the blossom by feathery tendrils.

Disturbed by this dream, she contacts her friend, Nastia. Fortuitously, Nastia has a strong interest in the occult and lives in an appropriately sinister and isolated cabin. Upon hearing about the strange dream, Nastia goes into a trance and discovers that there is a useful book located in a secret archive of the city library. This archive, full of unlabeled and seemingly un-catalogued books, might be the scariest part of the whole movie. Luckily Nastia was guided by otherworldly forces to a book with the image of the devil’s flower on its spine.

Meanwhile, in another part of town, some of Polina’s more mainstream friends are partying with the local polo team. Unsettled by her trip to the library, and haunted by the uneasy feeling that she is being watched, Polina decides to attend the party. There she meets chisel-jawed star of the polo team, Sasha. The excruciating nature of their interactions must be seen to be believed. Theirs is a relationship made up of few words, and each one is delivered with an astonishing paucity of feeling. Whatever the case, Polina and Sasha soon find themselves galloping on horses through lush fields and exchanging long glances in slow-motion.

Back in her sylvan retreat, Nastia has made progress with the mysterious book. She has translated a message from Latin, revealing that to him who tastes the flower, “the Forbidden Gates will be unlocked and he shall be embraced by the Abyss of Eternity.” With that cleared up, she further discovers that six pages of the book are blank. However, when she accidentally bleeds on one of the pages, an image appears. ...
Reviewed by Emily Hillhouse © 2011 in KinoKultura

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Marlen Khutsiyev: July Rain - Июльский дождь (1966)

Director: Marlen Khutsiyev
Writers: Anatoli Grebnev, Marlen Khutsiyev
Stars: Yevgeniya Uralova, Aleksandr Belyavskiy,Yuri Vizbor

"July Rain is the one-film Soviet New Wave. A unique blend of idealism and realism, heavily influenced by Antonioni, nothing like it was ever again achieved - or attempted - in the Soviet cinema as far as I know. The virtually plotless story of a young unmarried couple's involvement and eventual break-up is told as a series of finely-observed episodes which together form almost an encyclopedia of the time and the place. Among other things, it is a priceless portrait of a somewhat fantastic city which no longer exists.

The film was made in 1966, soon after Nikita Khrushchev's downfall, when the new conservatives started to dismantle the small creative liberties won after the death of Stalin (and little used, particularly in the cinema). Although the film was not banned, it got only a token release on something like a hundred prints (drop in the sea at the time). The invitation from the Venice Film Festival was declined, and the film was little seen in the West, if at all. Even in Russia, although its reputation is now high, and it has thankfully been restored (sort of), relatively few people have actually seen it." ...

The heroes of July Rain who came out of the recent [film by Khutsiev] Lenin's Guard, are not simply three years older-they went through an entire historical cataclysm, the cataclysm which is all the more terrifying because it seems not to have happened at all, at least not officially, on the surface, in the public sphere.
July Rain marked the beginning of a different cinema, far less joyful and optimistic, which lost (or was loosing throughout the decade) illusions and light ideas about reality, cinema ruthless to any illusions and ideas of yesteryear. This cinema was hiding the pungency of its social diagnosis under situations that, on the surface, seemed trivial, everyday, and neutral.
— Miron Chernenko, Marlen Khutsiev, pp. 17-19

If it were not for Moscow, Khutsiev's July Rain would be three times shorter. I don't know any other film where a space the role of which within the plot should be secondary, would be so independent. Moscow here is like a sea, and you can't get used to it or get enough of it.
The utilitarian nature of Moscow's transfers, escalators, and tunnels is fictional, improvised by some dilettante architect only to fill the space of life of these thirty-year-olds, who, instead of making money and career, read Pasternak's poetry until four in the morning.
— Petr Shepotinnik, Iskusstvo kino [Film Art] 8 (1997), p. 55.

Looking back at the Soviet cinema of the Sixties could perhaps induce nostalgia or a sense of superiority. But in fact it is more likely to elicit admiration, and a realization that the aesthetic ferment of that decade was much richer and more profound than any Western New Wave, including France's. — Ian Christie, Film Comment 36.6 (Nov-Dec 2000), p. 42.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Karen Shakhnazarov to Release a New Film by his 60th Birthday

The head of Mosfilm Studio Karen Shakhnazarov wants to release his new film White Tiger by his anniversary to be marked in July. Shakhnazarov worked the entire last year round on that film, based on Ilya Boyashev’s war story Tankman, or the White Tiger. Well-known Russian film director Karen Shakhnazarov, who will turn 60 on July, 8th, is sure that the film has got “distribution potential”. The film is set during the Great Patriotic War and tells about the struggle of a miraculously survived soldier and a German tank-phantom known as the White Tiger. Shakhnazarov co-wrote the film scenario together with the screenwriter Aleksandr Borodyansky. ...

Alexey Uchitel: His Wife's Diary - Дневник его жены (2000) - trailer

Director: Aleksei Uchitel
Writer: Dunya Smirnova
Stars: Andrey Smirnov, Galina Tyunina, Olga Budina

Aleksei Uchitel's film His Wife's Diary reveals the private side of the life of the great Russian writer Ivan Bunin, a side which is unknown to audiences.

Living in immigration in France, separated from Russia and deeply worried about his homeland during World War II, Bunin cannot find peace in his own family. This complicated love drama, involving Bunin, his wife Vera, his lover, young poet Galina Plotnikova, and opera singer Marga Kovtun, for whom Galina leaves Bunin, is strikingly frank. Bunin's story, as told by Aleksei Uchitel, contradicts the widespread beliefs about the writer.

As the main goal of the film is not to follow historic truth, the director has concentrated on Bunin's personality. He is not afraid of showing the Russian classic from a side which is usually not mentioned in literature textbooks. In the film, Bunin is tortured and indecisive, and harrowed by passions. Dramatic scenes give the audience a full sense of the atmosphere of personal catastrophe experienced by this great man. ...

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Alexander Sokurov: The Stone - Камень (1992)

Director: Aleksandr Sokurov
Writer: Yuri Arabov
Stars: Pyotr Aleksandrov, Leonid Mozgovoy

Susan Sontag chose Stone as one of the ten best films of the nineties. Employing the flow and fugitive feeling of a half-remembered reverie—full of mysteries, portents, inexplicable happenings, and chimerical objects—the film, set in the Chekhov Museum, centers on the relationship between a young museum guard and an older visitor who seems at different times to be a lover, a doctor, or a surrogate father. Shot in evanescent black and white with a sound track of silences, breathing, natural sounds, and fragments of classical music, this rarely screened work is a haunting and enigmatic evocation of the dream state. ...

The film is a severely obscure meditation on pre-revolutionary Russia in the form of an encounter between a ghost from the past and the ghost's present-day guardian. In fact, the two characters seem to be the shade of Anton Chekhov and the young man who tends a Chekhov museum in the Crimea, though that is never made explicit.

A lot of other things remain inexplicit, at least in part because the black-and-white photography is mostly so medium-gray that the images are not easily understood. There's no way of telling how much of this is intentional. The old man, who resembles photographs of Chekhov, wanders through the museum like someone who has been a long time away. He seeks the familiar touch of a piece of furniture. He plays the old piano. He makes doctor-sounding comments, telling the young man that he needs to eat more iron. At one point he states flatly: "Tolstoy was wrong. A patch of land is too little."

The young man doesn't have much in the house to feed his guest, but they make do with what's at hand. They drink ink as their table wine. The old man puts on his evening clothes, as if preparing for the opera. Toward the end they walk across the chilly hills.

Mr. Sokurov occasionally uses an anamorphic, or squeeze, lens, though he doesn't unsqueeze the images for the finished film, thus creating the same effect one sometimes sees in the opening credit sequences in videos of CinemaScope movies. Everything looks tall and skinny. There are other times when the dimness of the images prompts one to wonder whether the characters within the film have the same difficulty seeing each other, or whether this is just a poetic effect.

This print of "Stone" asks more questions than maybe even Mr. Sokurov intended.

Russian Elena wins in Norway

Elena, a film drama by Andrey Zvyazintsev which has garnered international acclaim over the past year, has won the main prize at the 22nd TIFF festival – Norway’s biggest film event. Zvyazintsev’s film won the festival's Aurora prize, awarded by Tromso International Film Festival for the best film in the Competition Program at the closing ceremony on Saturday night. The prize includes around $17,000 to fund screenings of the picture across Norway. The film also scooped the FIPRESCI award from the international board of film critics. The jury of the festival described Elena as a “very Russian film” where personal conflicts are played out with alarming realism. The jury also praised the brilliance of the actors and the unexpected turns in the story, heightened by the stylish setting and Philip Glass’ unnerving score. The competition program featured a total of 11 films, including works from France, Germany, Belgium, the USA and China. As well as Elena, Russia was represented by Aleksandr Sokurov’s Faust, which won the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Festival. Altogether, the Tromso festival screened around 100 films. Several Russian films were also screened on the fringes of the festival over the course of the week. Among them were Viktor Ginzburg’s Generation P, Innocent Saturday by Aleksandr Mindadze, Dmitry Povolotsky’s My Father is Baryshnikov, Nikita Mikhalkov’s At Home Among Strangers, A Stranger At Home, and a documentary about the murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya, A Bitter Taste of Freedom, by Marianna Goldovskaya. ...

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Vasily Sigarev: Wolfy - Волчок (2009) - trailer

Director: Vasili Sigarev
Writers: Vasili Sigarev (play), Vasili Sigarev (screenplay)
Stars: Andrei Dymshakov, Veronika Lysakova,Polina Pluchek

A directing debut by award-winning playwright Vasilii Sigarev, Wolfy focuses on the traumatic relationship between a mother and her daughter. Early in the film, a seven-year-old girl (Polina Pluchek) breaks a jar of milk over the head of her mother’s violent lover. This episode suggests the tradition of chernukha, recalling the films of the early 1990s, with its presentation of the unrelenting darkness of everyday reality. This scene, however, acquires unexpected lyricism when, alone in the room, the girl plays with the specks of blood in the puddle of milk. The combination of lyricism with the unmitigated harshness of existence is characteristic of the film as a whole. While the film does not focus on contemporary social problems, the disintegration of society is indicated by the mangled language, personal alienation, and the disappearance of family ties. However, even the broken language of its protagonists at times acquires lyrical and incantational qualities. The film’s lyricism is also enhanced by the soothing voiceover of the narrator and the indirect camera shots.

Wolfy begins dramatically with policemen pursuing a pregnant woman across a snow-covered field. She is finally captured, and gives birth to a daughter. Imprisoned for jealousy-induced homicide, the mother meets her daughter seven years later. To the girl, brought up by her grandmother in the bleak outskirts of a provincial town, the mother appears extremely beautiful and alluring, and inspires unconditional love. The girl’s obsessive attachment to her mother is contrasted to the mother’s absolute indifference to her, punctuated by occasional abuse. ...

Friday, 20 January 2012

Pyotr Todorovskiy: Encore, Once More Encore! - Анкор, еще анкор! (1992)

Director: Pyotr Todorovskiy
Writer: Pyotr Todorovskiy
Stars: Valentin Gaft, Irina Rozanova, Yevgeny Mironov

A 1992 post-war eccentric tragi-comedy set at the end of the Forties and the beginning of the Fifties.
The film has won 5 awards, including The Best Film Nika Award, 1993. ...

Shooting, trailer and poster of Karen Shakhnazarov's film "White Tiger" - Белый тигр

The Second World War is in its last stages. A Red Army unit comes across the charred remains of a tank battle, including a burned-out Soviet tank and its occupants. Initially believing the tank driver to be dead, they discover he is alive even though he has suffered burns on 90% of his body. The tankist survives, but cannot remember his name or any part of his past. Despite his wounds, he heals completely. Neither his doctors nor his military superiors can explain his full recovery and refer to his condition as “a rare case of retrograde amnesia.” The tank driver is renamed Ivan Naidenov and sent back to the front for, as his superiors note, “warriors do not need a memory.” Back at the front, Naidenov (played by Aleksei Vertkov) reveals he has powers beyond healing: he can hear what tanks say and use this information to determine what happened in battle. Moreover, Naidenov affirms rumors circulating at the front that a mysterious German tank dubbed “The White Tiger” materializes out of nowhere, destroys entire Soviet tank battalions, and disappears. The only thing that Naidenov recalls is his ability as a tank driver: “I remember that I am a Russian tank driver,” he tells his superiors, “what else do I need to know?” General Georgii Zhukov gives a Soviet commander, Colonel Fedotov (Vitalii Kishchenko), the task of forming a tank crew that will find and destroy the White Tiger. Fedotov puts Naidenov in charge of the mission and appoints two more soldiers to the crew, Kriuk (Aleksandr Vakhov) and Berdyev (Vitalii Dordzhiev). They are given the new T-34-85 tank to command, an experimental tank with increased armor and weaponry. The crew tracks the mysterious tank, engaging it on a couple of occasions as the Red Army advances into Europe. By the end, the war is won, but Naidenov insists that the White Tiger has not been defeated.

Reviewed by Stephen M. Norris © 2012 in KinoKultura

  White Tiger (2012)

Director Karen Shakhnazarov
Actors Alex Vertkov, Vitaly Kishchenko
Script Alexander Borodyansky, Karen Shakhnazarov

Shakhnazarov’s next film, the World War II action drama White Tiger, is scheduled to be released this year.

White Tiger (2012)

World War Two is drawing to a close. Furious and prolonged fighting is exhausting both the Soviet and the fascist troops. The more decisive the advance of the Soviet army, the more often White Tiger, a huge, indestructible fascist tank, appears in the battlefield. It relentlessly emerges from the smoke of combat, ruthlessly destroys the adversary and swiftly vanishes. No one can either verify or refute its existence. However, the Soviet military command decides to build an extraordinary tank – a special version of the T-34. The crew of this tank is headed by a man with a remarkable past, a tank crewman who was almost burnt alive in combat and doomed to death. Contrary to all expectations, he survives, recovers and returns to the ranks. He does not know his own name, he does not remember anything from his past, but he has acquired the unusual ability to understand the language of tanks. He is sure that the elusive fascist tank exists and must be destroyed, because White Tiger is the embodiment of war, its terror and its blood. The pursuit of the mystic monster begins. Who will win in this duel?

Roman Tikhomirov: Eugene Onegin - Евгений Онегин (1958)

Director:Roman Tikhomirov
Cast: Vadim Medvedev, Igor Ozerov, Ariadna Shengelaya

Soviet opera film, produced by Lenfilm Studio. The film is a screen version of the famous opera "Eugene Onegin" by Pyotr Tchaikovsky based on the novel in verse by Alexander Pushkin.

...Although it still clings to some of the mannered and static posturings and declamations of the opera, "Eugene Onegin" is still a strong illustration that the unregenerated purists can be wrong and that the arts and mechanics of the movies and lyric theatre may be blended into lifelike, musical and convincing form.

Since the eighty-year-old "Eugene Onegin," which, with "Pique Dame," is perhaps Tchaikovsky at his operatic best, it would be foolhardy to argue that the story, as taken from Pushkin's celebrated long poem, is an overly simple, somewhat musty and archaic affair. As a tragic tale of star-crossed lovers and unrequited love, it is better tucked away with the past, along with faded, sachet-scented letters.

But the production team at the Lenfilm Studios in Leningrad, as well as the principals, the soloists, choruses, orchestras and dancers of the Bolshoi and Leningrad Theatres, have used color, music and movement to transport Onegin, his beloved Tatiana and their coterie of early eighteenth-century landed aristocracy as far from the proscenium arch as possible.

They move about in lush, green meadows and parks studded with silver birch and sparkling lakes, in gracious country houses and in stately St. Petersburg mansions. They sing and dance at vivid sumptuous balls and in pastoral settings of beautiful pastel shades.

Credit must go to director Roman Tikhomirov for keeping his cast, his settings and his score in natural alignment. There are few startling changes from one scene to another and his leading players are, for the most part, at ease and untheatrical in their surroundings.

Since they obviously were only concerned at achieving a top total effect, the producers wisely synchronized professional voices with the talents of some of the more photogenic Soviet actors. To an untutored ear such soloists as Galina Vishnevskaya, who delivers the dulcet soprano tones of Tatiana; Yevgeni Kibkalo, who sings the Onegin baritone arias, and Anton Grigoriev, as the Lensky tenor, sound as professionally striking as any. The same should be said of the orchestral, choral and ballet contributions, which delight both the eye and ear.

Ariadna Shengelaya, as the love-tortured Tatiana, is proof that beauty and ability know no boundaries. The sad brunette is restrained, dignified and believable as the gentle, reflective damsel who never recovers from her first and unfulfilled love.

As the manly but unfettered object of her affections, Vadim Medvedev, is a handsome, Byron-like figure, moody, fiery-eyed and passionate, who cannot forget Lensky, the friend he kills in a duel, or the ardor he has for Tatiana. As Lensky, Igor Ozerov is a properly fragile, poetic type, who is seemingly a mite too gentle for the role. Svetlana Nemolyneva is merely buxom, blonde and overly playful as Tatiana's younger sister, Olga. ...

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Andrei Stempkovskii: Reverse Motion - Обратное движение, trailеr (2010)

Director: Andrei Stempkovskii
Cast: Olga Demidova, Vladislav Abashin, Daria Gracheva, Nikita Emshanov, Aleksandr Plaksin, Georgii Gatsoev

Andrei Stempkovskii’s debut feature length film is a quiet camera drama, ostensibly about the horrors of war. The heroine of the film, Alevtina (Ol'ga Demidova), impatiently awaits news of her son, who is missing in an unspecified combat zone, presented in the brief prologue. In the meantime, Al'ia putters around her apartment, goes to work at her kiosk next to the railroad, and makes weekly visits to the local military functionary to hear no news. Her entrepreneurial friend Lena (Dar'ia Gracheva) opens a kiosk next to Al'ia’s, procuring merchandise from her bandit boyfriend (Nikita Emshanov). To get the kiosk in order, Lena selects a group of non-Russian workers from a large dormitory where they are being exploited and held without papers. While unloading Lena’s truck, a young boy (Georgii Gatsoev), one of those selected, trips, falls, and hurts his hand. Later that evening, Al'ia finds him as she takes out the trash, brings him home with her, and takes him in. Although her motivations are unclear, the boy presumably functions as a surrogate for her missing biological child. Lena immediately misses the boy (having paid for his labor, she wants her money’s worth), accuses Al'ia of harboring him, and warns her not to “get involved.”

Meanwhile, one of Al'ia’s son’s army buddies stops by to tell Al'ia that her son is dead. So: cue the return of the son (Vladislav Abashin). The homecoming is joyless, unsurprising given the lack of emotion in the rest of the film. The “sons” eye one another uneasily, and family dynamics must be renegotiated. For Al'ia, the simplest solution is to restore her biological family unit, and she attempts to abandon the boy in a park. And yet the boy returns home with her, although again, whether this stems from pity, concern, or genuine affection on Al'ia’s part is unclear. The boy’s disappearance means not just an unexpected and unpleasant expense for Lena, but is also a problem for her boyfriend, who pressures her to find him. The boy turns out to be the only witness to a mass-murder perpetrated by the boyfriend and his crew, who are eager to keep him from testifying against them. In one of a number of plot holes, Lena repeatedly declares that she has no idea where the boy is, despite her confrontation with Al'ia and the fact that Al'ia brings the boy to work with her—working in a kiosk twenty feet away, it seems highly implausible that Lena could fail to notice the boy. Her motivation for continuing to conceal the boy’s whereabouts from her boyfriend is similarly inexplicable: given the severity of his legal situation and her callously indifferent attitude toward her “employees,” she has no reason whatsoever to protect the boy. However, Lena’s boyfriend eventually figures out that Al'ia has been hiding the boy and kidnaps him. In a rather contrived dénouement that descends straight into the worst of genre cinema, Al'ia’s son kills the boy’s captors and rescues him before being killed himself for his pains.

Critics often want to position Reverse Motion as a “war” film, one more of so many dealing with the “return of the wounded soldier.” In most cases, the “wound,” whether physical or mental, is made explicit as the soldier comes into conflict with family and friends while attempting to transition back into normal life. But Stempkovskii’s soldiers are less obviously damaged. Although they have clearly been changed by their experiences (Lena’s boyfriend has nightmares and Al'ia’s son is withdrawn and nearly silent), the film is not about their trauma per se, for all of Stempkovskii’s avowed intentions to make a film about the“inner nuts and bolts of the human soul of a person who returns from war and gets involved in the daily course of events.” Similarly, the expected family conflict fails to materialize. Although the son eyes the boy warily and appears slightly jealous of the time Al'ia spends with him, tension is felt only in glances between them rather than erupting into words or actions. ...

Too bad the director has not elaborated on the metaphysical concept behind the title. My limited knowledge of Nietzsche can only prompt that it has to do with the return to the innocent state that allows man to get closer to the eternal and frees him from fears of death. I cannot even say whether the source is The Will to Power or On the Genealogy of Morals. However, I was strongly reminded of another meaning of the phrase: the cinematographic effect when the action is played backward. The film seems to be a flashback to the late 1980s or early 1990s, perhaps, when Russian films were full of unhappy people trying to muddle through their unhappy lives among the ruins of the socialist dream. Those films invariably managed to make some larger-than-life statement on why “One Cannot Live This Way.” The Russians may not have become any happier since, but the genre has lost its novelty.

The film’s heroine, a small-time “entrepreneur” named Alevtina (Ol’ga Demidova), is desperately waiting for news of her son who has gone missing in an “armed conflict zone” (read: Chechnya). She deals stoically with the military commissariat functionary who is annoyed by her persistence, and with her best friend’s admonitions. The said friend, Lena (Dar’ia Gracheva), owns a railroad-side kiosk next to Alevtina’s. Lena’s suppliers are bandits “knocking over” trucks to provide her with goods. One day she takes three Tajik migrants (read: slaves) from a squalid “dorm” for illegal workers to help unload a van. One of them, merely a boy, falls, breaks merchandise, hurts his arm, and disappears. He reappears at Alevtina’s, who feeds him, takes him to a private hospital and hides him from Lena and her murderous entourage. Meanwhile, her son’s army buddy (Aleksandr Plaksin) comes to visit—and to testify to his friend’s death.

One day, her son Anatolii (played by Vladislav Abashin, whom we have seen in the war-scene prologue) returns from the dead. The family reunion, however, is far from a happy scene the viewer would have all the rights to expect from a more conventional movie. It appears that the tears and the joy have been left out of the frame on purpose. In fact, the director has on numerous occasions stated his intention to stay away from any open display of emotion, opting instead for long silences and almost dispassionate faces, for showing the aftermath of the event rather than the event itself (see, for example, Khoroshilova, Abdullaeva, Kopchevskaia). It is such a studied, concerted effort that one cannot help wondering who was the inspiration behind this minimalist approach. The Dardenne Brothers? Bruno Dumont? Aleksandr Sokurov? The answer may come two thirds into the movie. The son watches TV. What he is watching is apparently important for our understanding of the story and the style. It is The American Soldier, a 1970 film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The significance is driven home when the return of the hero is announced in the film, “Er ist da!” (He is here).

It is time to stop and contemplate The American Soldier for a moment. One of Fassbinder’s early efforts, it has as its protagonist an expatriate German contract killer who has spent some years in America and even fought in the Vietnam war. Upon return to his native Munich, he sports sharp “American gangster” clothes, drives fast cars, swigs Ballantine’s whiskey, seduces women, and delivers “hits” until, betrayed by his own incestuous and homosexual brother, he dies in a shootout with the police. At first sight, there is nothing much in common with our hero. Fassbinder’s film was, after all, inspired by the American film noir and early Godard. It is a cinematic fantasy to begin with, containing nothing authentic. Why would anyone think of grafting it on present-day Russia? ...

Reviewed by Sergey Dobrynin in KinoKultura

Vladimir Khotinenko: Dostoevsky - Достоевский (2010)

Director: Vladimir Khotinenko
Cast: Evgeny Mironov, Chulpan Khamatova Alla Yuganova, Dmitry Pevtsov, Irina Rozanov, Valentine Talyzina, Alexander Domogarov, Daria Moroz, Elizabeth Arzamasova, Vladimir Simonov, Olga Smirnova, Alexander Samoilenko, Paul Barshak, Ekaterina Vilkova

Dostoevsky is a 2010 8 episode mini-series made for Russian television from director Vladimir Khotinenko

The whole world venerates Dostoyevsky, and the prophet has now been honoured in his own land again. That is, if you call the eight-part, big-budget, primetime, nationally televised biography that concluded last night on Rossiya-1 an honour – which I would. Here’s why.

The lynchpin of a project like this is, obviously, the actor playing Fyodor Mikhailovich: if he can bring it off – that is, capture the essence of an enormously complex and troubled soul whom the entire viewing audience knows intimately (or thinks it does) – then the whole production will be counted a success. If this actor falters, conversely, nothing and no one else can save it.

The big-stakes role here went to Yevgeny Mironov, an excellent choice. First, he is arguably the actor of his generation, a performer whose versatility and craftsmanship make him the post-Soviet Innokenty Smoktunovsky – or as close to such as we’re likely to get. Mironov has done Gogol, Solzhenitsyn and pop-blockbusters with equal facility; even more promisingly, he’d already done a fine Dostoyevsky turn on the small screen, as Prince Myshkin in the excellent 2003 serialisation of The Idiot.

For that TV production Mironov enjoyed a comparative advantage he lacked in this Dostoyevsky: the image of Myshkin most viewers then carried was that of Yury Yakovlev in the 1959 film version – a modestly successful struggle against mis-casting (and light-years behind Smoktunovsky’s famous stage version). Heading into a biographical account of Dostoyevsky, the same viewers harboured a different and far more imposing image: Anatoly Solonitsyn as the writer in Alexander Zarkhi’s 1980 Twenty-six Days in the Life of Dostoyevsky.

How good was Solonitsyn in capturing Fyodor Mikhailovich? As one anxious pre-broadcast speculator put it, “I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed [with Dostoyevsky]. I remember Zarkhi’s 26 Days very well, and Anatoly Solonitsyn’s performance was pure genius.” No argument there – and no question that Mironov also knew that performance well. It took a special kind of self-assurance, which Mironov clearly has, not to be intimidated by it.

And he wasn’t. Mironov took Eduard Volodarsky’s script and Vladimir Khotinenko’s direction and created an impressively original Dostoyevsky, a version of the writer we haven’t seen – or indeed contemplated – before. As intense in his affections as he is in his convictions, this energised Dostoyevsky strides well outside the dark-toned schoolbook mini-biographies today’s rising generation has been raised on. Mironov made the icon breathe. And passionately.

Also facing a serious image-overcoming task in Dostoyevsky was Alla Yuganova as Anna Snitkina, the writer’s second wife. The masterfully nuanced performance as Snitkina by Yevgenia Simonova in Twenty-six Days remains firmly fixed in millions of minds, including this one. But Yuganova went at it gamely, and if her innovations were not on the level of Mironov’s, they were certainly enough to stake out a Snitkina you could believe and appreciate. And I did.

Director Khotinenko is known for skilful risk-taking: Mirror for a Hero (1987) was a painfully perceptive look into the recent Soviet past, and The Priest (2009) had the nerve to offer Russians multiple views of German occupation during World War II. In Dostoyevsky Khotinenko proved himself no less inclined to take “liberties” with established canons – and the final episodes showed just how far a newly-energised Fyodor Mikhailovich could go and remain the icon the world so wants to venerate.

Which he did. This series preserved a classic by reimagining him.

Can TV do anything better?

Russian culture is traditionally very sensitive to anniversaries, even to those that in other countries probably would go unnoticed. This year marks the 190th anniversary of Fedor Dostoevskii’s birth and the 130th of his death. The dates have inspired two biopics, one by Evgenii Tashkov that flopped on arrival; and Vladimir Khotinenko’s mini-series Dostoevskii, commissioned by Rossiia 1 television channel and co-sponsored by the administration of St. Petersburg.

In scope and quality, Khotinenko’s 7-part biopic can be compared to the best HBO and Showtime history dramas, such as John Adams (2008) and The Tudors (2007-2010). The craftsmanship demonstrated by the crew of Dostoevskii is superb throughout, including elaborate set designs, striving for authenticity (many episodes, including those in Western Europe, were shot at the original locations), sophisticated indoor lighting, and cinema-style editing, as well as an overall high caliber of acting. Despite the fact that TV audiences are typically treated with less regard than moviegoers, it is clear that Khotinenko did not compromise on quality and was motivated by more than just professional standards or ratings: his awe for his subject is implicit in every aspect of this film.


Dostoevskii does not cover the writer’s entire life but reconstructs the major episodes of a thirty-year period extending from his 1849 mock execution to the beginning of writing The Brothers Karamazov in 1878. Eduard Volodarskii’s screenplay combines well-known events with episodes that are far more obscure. One such episode is the infatuation of 13-year old Sof’ia Korvin-Krukovskaia (who later became famous under her married name Kovalevskaia as Russia’s first female mathematician) with the writer, who was courting her older sister at the time. Save a few minor exceptions, all of these lesser known events have been historically documented. The main strength of the screenplay is its ability to mould genuine, recognizable characters who convincingly represent various milieus and convey essential conflicts. Thus the superb ensemble of performers was able to work with solid if not brilliant writing, and the result is highly presentable. It is safe to say that the filmmakers have captured major aspects of Dostoevskii’s biography, and only nitpickers can fault them for slight deviations from established facts. Indeed, the loyalty toward documented events comes at a price: a viewer unfamiliar with Dostoevskii’s life—and their number is increasing thanks to the ill-fated reformation of Russia’s educational system—might hardly make sense of certain plot turns. The most appreciative viewers of this film will likely be those who are intrigued by its subject and have heard about some of the tragic events of Dostoevskii’s life but are eager to know more. At least with respect to historical atmosphere and psychological truth, they will be well served.

Reviewed by Peter Rollberg © 2011 in KinoKultura

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Lungin awarded Order of Legion of Honor

Russian moviemaker Pavel Lungin has been awarded the French Order of the Legion of Honor. The creator of “Taxi-Blues”, “The Island” and “The Tsar”, Lungin has just completed his new film “The Conductor”. The previous winners of France’s top award include Director of the St. Petersburg Hermitage Museum Mikhail Piotrovsky, renowned conductor Valery Gergiev, violist Yuri Bashmet and film director Nikita Mikhalkov. (RIAN)

Iosif Kheifits: Asya - Ася (1978)

Director: Iosif Kheifits
Writers: Iosif Kheifits, Ivan Turgenev (novel)
Stars: Yelena Koreneva, Igor Kostolevskiy, Vyacheslav Yezepov

Based on the story of the same title by Ivan Turgenev.

Selected in the following festivals : - Paris Russian Film Festival, Paris (France), 2010 - Retrospective Russian cinema at the "Reflet Médicis", Paris (France), 2009 - Russian films in the cinema Arlequin, Paris (France), 2006

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Russian movie makes it to Film Festival Rotterdam

“Living”, a new film by a young Russian film director Vasily Sigarev has been selected for the main contest program of the Rotterdam International Film Festival.
The festival will be held in Rotterdam on January 25-February 5. The jury is to choose three winners, who will receive Tiger awards and 15,000 euros each.
In total 15 films have been chosen for the main contest.
Sigarev’s first feature “Wolfy” (2009) received four awards in Russia, a special mention at the festival in Karlovy Vary, awards in Zurich and Kiev. ...

Friday, 13 January 2012

Nikolai Khomeriki: Heart's Boomerang - Сердца бумеранг (2011)

Director: Nikolay Khomeriki
Cast: Alexander Yatsenko, Claudia Korshunova, Natalia Batrak, Alexander Ilyin

Twenty-three-year-old Kostya works for the subway as a train driver’s assistant. One day he goes for a check-up, and the doctor diagnoses a serious heart condition and says that he has to radically change his lifestyle and his job. But Kostya decides not to tell anyone about his illness. Deep inside, however, he re-examines the life he has led until now, and realises that his mother is his only source of stability. He doesn’t really know how to relate to other people, nor does he know where his relationship with his girlfriend is going. The film is played out during the winter months, set in the suburbs of the Russian capital and within the city’s subway system. Cameraman Shandor Berkeshi (Koktebel, Free Floating) skillfully puts its fascinating allure to use in his black-and-white compositions. Hypnotic shots of the trains rumbling through the tunnels seem to reflect the mental state of a hero forced by necessity to take his life into his own hands. ...

One of the first shots of Heart’s Boomerang features an ultrasound image. The ultrasound, (over)used as a celebration of life and a symbol of new hope on the silver screen, turns out to be a harbinger of death in art-house director Nikolai Khomeriki’s existential drama. It reveals a fatal weakness in the heart of the protagonist Kostia (Aleksandr Iatsenko), a 23-year-old assistant to a metro train driver. Kostia leads a completely ordinary existence: he shares a Moscow flat with his single mother (Natal’ia Batrak), has a steady girlfriend (Klavdiia Korshunova), and occasionally goes out partying. He is also perfectly healthy—the doctor informs him—but he can die at any moment of a heart failure.

This is the setup for a narrative Khomeriki has described as being about “loneliness” and “the meaning of life” (Poliakova 2011). It is also a deeply personal project. In an interview, Khomeriki has shared that he grew up knowing that his mother was dying of cancer. After she passed away, the director shot The Two of Us (Vdvoem,2005), a short film about a mother’s last days spent with her son. Heart’s Boomerang was conceived as a retort, a “mirror image” of that narrative—hence the boomerang of the title (Poliakova 2011).

This mirror image is a distorted one, however. In the world of Heart’s Boomerang, there is no togetherness or shared grief. Kostia chooses not to tell his mother about his illness. In fact, he keeps the news from everyone in his life: his long-term girlfriend Ania, the train driver he works alongside every day, his friends. As a result, the majority of his social interactions are tinged with irony and marked by the viewer’s uncomfortable awareness of the pointlessness and relative unimportance—compared to the threat of certain death—of the mundane situations and discussions the protagonist is engaged in. For instance, the attempts of Kostia’s mother to pressure him into marrying Ania and having children sound tragic-comical; this commonplace episode becomes at once absurd and poignant due to the discrepancy between the mother’s expectations and the son’s uncertain future. Likewise, Ania’s melodramatic admittance that, after an argument, Kostia’s failure to pick up the phone caused her “heart to stop” is both a painful reminder of his condition and a comical display of inadvertent insensitivity. ... Reviewed by Mihaela Mihailova © 2012 in KinoKultura

Selected in the following festivals :
- International Human Rights Film Festival, Moscow (Russia), 2011
- Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Karlovy Vary (Czech Republic), 2011
- Moscow International Film Festival (MIFF), Moscow (Russia), 2011
- International Film Festival : Pacific Meridians, Vladivostok (Russia), 2011
- FilmFestival Cottbus - Festival of East European Cinema, Cottbus (Germany), 2011
- Seville European Film Festival : SEFF, Seville (Spain), 2011
- Torino Film Festival, Turin (Italy), 2011
- Sputnik nad Polska, Warsaw (Poland), 2011

Rating of Most Awaited Russian Films Made

In the next 12 months Russian viewers will get a chance to watch the films most long-awaited to be released. Sergei Loban’s film Chapiteau Show ranks first on the list.


 The four-hour film became the major sensation of the 33rd Moscow International Film Festival. The second film in the rating is Dau’s film about the well-known physicist Lev Landau. Lots of people agree, however, that the information on the process of shooting has come to interest viewers much more than the film itself. The top three is completed with the film Spy by director Aleksei Andrianov. It is a screen version of Boris Akunin’s novel Spy. The last works in the top five are disaster movie Subway by director Anton Megerdichev and the film “To Live” directed by the young Russian playwright Vassily Sigarev. ...

Friday, 6 January 2012

Kira Muratova: Long Farewells - Долгие проводы (1971)

Director: Kira Muratova
Writer: Natalya Ryazantseva
Stars: Zinaida Sharko, Oleg Vladimirsky, Tatyana Mychko

Yevgenia, no longer a young woman, struggles to make a living while coming to terms with a restless teenage son who would prefer a home with his (idealized) father in Siberia. Film scholar Ian Christie writes, "Muratova's second film, with a script by leading feminist Natalya Ryazantseva, must be counted as one of the major casualties of bureaucratic censorship during the 'era of stagnation'.. The film's almost unbearable tension is explored in a series of fluid, inventive sequences, which bring a visual sophistication - with acting and music to match - quite exceptional in the often-heavy-handed social issues department of Soviet filmmaking. The apartment the mother and son share, with its territorial placing of furniture, the boy's use of a slide projector to create his own fantasy world, and the climactic workers' concert-party - all these show Muratova streets ahead of her male contemporaries." Like Brief Encounters, Long Farewells was banned, but this time the reaction was so strong that Muratova was thrown out of the Filmmakers' Union and forced to seek other work. ...