Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Yevgeni Tashkov: Crime - Преступление (1976)

Director: Yevgeni Tashkov
Stars: Igor Ozerov, Yelena Gabets, Vitali Yushkov

Eugene Tashkov died on Feb. 15th.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Stanislav Rostotsky: White Bim the Black Ear - Белый Бим Чёрное ухо (1977)

Director: Stanislav Rostotsky
Writers: Stanislav Rostotsky, Gavriil Troyepolsky (book)
Stars: Vyacheslav Tikhonov, Valentina Vladimirova,Mikhail Dadyko

Russia's popular actor Vyacheslav Tikhonov plays Ivan Ivanovich, an ill and aging World War II veteran, who comes into possession of an eager and lovable puppy, whom he calls Bim. Because Bim has a black ear, which is not part of his breed's accepted physical conformation, Ivan is unable to obtain a pedigree certificate for him, a fact which causes him endless trouble. Though most of his neighbors are too feeble to be concerned, a few of them hypocritically criticize any deviation from "correctness," including Ivan's dog, his boon companion. Bim is, in fact, Ivan's only close friend. Bim wins friends in Ivan's housing project when the dog alerts neighbors to illegal activities by those same obnoxious hypocrites. ...

* Grand Prize ex aequo at the Karlovy Vary IFF, 1978.
* Oscar nomination for Best Foreign-Language Film, 1978.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Gosfilmofond brings old movies back to life

Russia’s Gosfilmofond, one of the world’s largest film archives opens its storage at least once a year to showcase retro films, including movies of all time, unknown or lost films which have been restored with the help of the latest technology. All these rarities have been included in the Belye Stolby festival of archival movies which was held in Moscow in early February. It was named after the suburban train station where the archive is located. The festival shows how hard the archive’s staff works to restore old films, magazines and newsreel to bring them back to modern movies database with the help of IT. This year, the festival’s theme was centenaries, namely 100 years of Russian animated films. The audience was fascinated to see restored pre-war cartoons which appeared to be in color and the artists’ work was really outstanding. In the late 1930s, operator Pavel Mershin created a three-color technicolor film shooting to get a color picture. 70 years after, colored cartoons made at Soviet Mosfilm, Lenfilm and Soyuzmultfilm studios were raised from oblivion, The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish by Alexander Ptushko was lost in January 1940 with only fragments of color-separated imprints and phonogram left. Film expert Nikolai Mayorov began a complicated digital restoration of the original color. The original cartoon couldn’t even be viewed as machines for three-colored cartoons were no longer available. It was also hard to scan the bleached film to convert it into a different format but the cartoon has finally been restored. The Russian film industry witnessed many revolutions in the past 100 years – the invention of sound, color, computer animation and 3D . Some breakthrough inventions are unfortunately known only by specialists, says movie historian Nikolay Izvolov “What is so bad about cinema? A great number of inventions depends on technologies which are not passed over to the next generation,” Nikolai Izvolov said. Pre-war colored animated cartoons, Soviet stereo movies of the mid-20th century –all this is now lost, says movie expert Nikolai Mayorov “The only country with a steady development of stereo cinema was the USSR. We demonstrated such films in 1941 and after 3 years of war continued to show them. We were the only country where stereo films could be viewed without glasses on a duplex screen,” Nikolai Mayorov said. Today the audience has a chance to see unique stereo movies restored from original colored imprints. One film brings us to forever lost Moscow landscapes of the last century. A restored movie The Park Alleys filmed in 1952 invites us to stroll across the Soviet Gorky Park. Another invention which was a matter of cinema pride in the 1960s was panoramic cinema. In the USSR it was first on screens in 1961 while in the US it appeared a year later. First, it seemed impossible to restore such a movie, says Nikolai Mayorov. “A contemporary film-viewer will see nothing special in such movies but the USSR was the fist with its equipment, technique and actors to have filmed the world’s first three-film panoramic action movie,” Nikolai Mayorov said. ... .

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Sergey Govorukhin: Land of Men - Земля людей (2011)

Director: Sergey Govorukhin
Writers: Vadim Bochanov, Sergei Karandashov,
 Stars: Aleksandr Ratnikov, Anna Taratorkina, Tatyana Kolganova


 Sergei Govorukhin, the director, writer and producer of Land of Men, and the son of the director Stanislav Govorukhin, died on 27 October 2011, having been admitted to hospital ten days earlier following a brain haemorrhage. He was fifty years old, and had made his name in the 1990s as a war reporter in Chechnya, where he lost a leg. His film Land of Men had premiered just a month before. Sergei Govorukhin was also a writer, and his last film is based on his own novella Mutnyi materik, which translates as ‘Murky Mainland’, but is the name of a village in the Komi peninsular in the far north of Russia. It is in the wintry north where the films begins, as the hero, the budding writer Aleksei Komarov, agrees with his work boss to take his annual leave. He returns to Moscow, where he has an apartment, having struck up a relationship with the languorous Tamara on the train journey. Just as Aleksei is trying to find a publisher for his work, so Tamara is looking for roles in the theatre. Through the agencies of Evgeniia, who graduated from the film school course he had abandoned, Aleksei’s script is accepted by a film-maker and he is given a handsome advance payment. After her first role as a teapot in a TV commercial, Tamara is then accepted for a part on a TV show hosted by Evgeniia. Aleksei refuses to compromise on his screenplay with the director Orekhov and returns the advance. He and Tamara separate, and she reveals her love and sadness on Evgeniia’s show. As Aleksei walks home at night he is attacked and stabbed by a gang of thugs. ...

Reviewed by David Gillespie © 2012 in KinoKultura

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Igor Mozzhukhin: Vovochka - Вовочка (2002) Trailer

Director: Igor Mozzhukhin
Writer: Igor Mozzhukhin
Stars: Maxim Yemelyanov, Aleksey Guskov, Mikhail Porechenkov

This film has been labeled a Russian "Home Alone", and on one level provides similar entertainment, but the cultural subtext is a very rich one. Its intent is far more serious social commentary than in a typical American comedy -- something that a non-Russian-speaking audience may have difficulty catching. "Vovochka" - the quintessential "Dennis-the-Menace" type, fantasizes about being praised for his heroism by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who shares his name (Vovochka, being a nickname for Vladimir) as does Vladimir Lenin. Unfortunately, his fate (or "karma", as the poet-alcoholic-on-the-dissident fringes explains to him) is to be constantly a free spirit and an irritant to the authorities. This adult character bears the name "Alexander Sergeevich," the name of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, whom he quotes constantly and in ironic ways. He is played by Yuri Shevchuk, a very popular contemporary rock musician from the band DDT. Shevchuk is a Bob Dylan type in contemporary Russian culture. ...

Thursday, 16 February 2012

From despair to mercy - "Siberia Monamour," a film by emerging director Slava Ross

Russian director Slava Ross returned to his native Siberia for his second feature film and the result is a crafted, atmospheric meditation on the darkness of the average soul and the strange possibilities for redemption. The blunt brutality of the film is coupled with an endearing compassion that has garnered the attention of audiences and critics.

Acclaimed French director Luc Besson has acted as a midwife to the arthouse film, titled “Siberia Monamour.” Besson performed final edits and purchased the distribution rights for 20 years. As producer, he is also promoting the film abroad in time for film festival markets.

Besson has worked on 50 films as writer, director or producer in the last 25 years, and his role gave the film just that much more legitimacy within the international film community. “Siberia Monamour” has been screened in New York and is now making the festival circuit.

The work was a decade-long odyssey that culminated in filming from makeshift villages on the taiga with feral dogs and a cold—and at times disgruntled—crew. Ross was finally rewarded with rare praise from American and European critics for his strong direction and arthouse potential.

"Miles away from the absurdist theatrics of his debut feature, "Fat Stupid Rabbit," Ross convincingly depicts various country folk fighting to survive both in and around the ironically named hamlet of Monamour," The Hollywood Reporter wrote, adding that "Performances are strong across the board, and the young Protsko [Lyochka] is particularly touching without ever seeming cute."

“I was born in Siberia and lived there 33 years, and I know about it from my personal perspective,” Ross said after a Moscow screening at the Film Library. “I wrote all this, but of course the scenario resembles real life, from what I’ve seen and known.”

At the center of Ross’s story is a young orphan, Lyochka, and his grandfather, who is played by Pyotry Zaichenko, who heralds from Pavel Lungin’s signature 90s film, “Taxi Blues.” The two live in the otherwise abandoned old village, in the kind of disrepair that is one step from destitution. In their case, they are one forest away from help, and the denizens of the nearby town cluck and gossip about the grandfather’s refusal to move closer to modern amenities. Their only protection is an ancient icon they pray to each night by candlelight. A troubled Army officer and his grunt soldier abuse but then ultimately find a surprising solidarity with a teen prostitute and their path eventually leads them to Lyochka. The neglected village was constructed for the film. “With the art director we found a glade with a remarkable and amazing backdrop,” Ross said. “Our art director created the village, but we didn’t build it from new materials. All houses were purchased, disassembled, transported and recreated to make a new place.”

But the real village Monamour exists as well. Cossacks experienced Paris after the War of 1812, and then returned to the Ural Mountains and to Siberia. French names were given to many places that still exist. The village Monamour exists as well, but it is a forgotten place. ...


Vasily Sigarev: To Live aka Living - Жить (2012) trailer

Director: Vasily Sigarev
Cast: Yana Troyanova, Olga Lapshina, Alexei Filimonov, Alexei Pustovoitov, Anna Ukolova, Irma Arendt, Konstantin Gatsalov, Dmitri Kulichkov, Evgeny Sitiy, Yana Sekste, Marina Gavrilova, Sasha Gavrilova.

Russians have a reputation for painting the bleak reality of everyday life in art. The latest is a film about death entitled “Living” directed by up-and-coming Russian filmmaker Vasily Sigarev.
His drama is vying for top honours at the Rotterdam International Film Festival.
The creator of the award-winning social drama Wolfy, Sigarev's second feature is set in the middle of nowhere, in a wintry Russian province.
The movie revolves around several characters. A mother who wants to reunite with her twin daughters, a young newly wed couple, and a boy looking to see his estranged father, despite his mother's protests. Each of these characters experiences death of loved ones and has to learn to live without them. ...

Living, Russian filmmaker Vasily Sigarev’s second feature, tells three stories of contemporary Russian misery in a chilly province. In one, a young couple tries to navigate everyday violence; in another, an older woman deals with the consequences of her alcoholism on her daughters’ lives; and in the third, a young boy pines for his missing father.

They might seem to add up to a critique of contemporary social malaise, but Sigarev says – through a translator – that “I was not thinking about society. These stories could have happened a hundred years ago, three hundred years ago, the same as now. But a hundred years ago there was a different understanding of death. (Russian) people’s attitude to the death of those around them has changed. Now, it’s more like in European society, where there are small families, with perhaps one child, and people don’t notice what happens in families near them. Their neighbours could lose someone and they don’t see it.”

Death is seldom far away in Living, which is in the running for a Tiger Award. In more than one story, Sigarev has some characters appear to others after their death. “It’s not a fantasy,” he clarifies. “It’s the psychological reaction of the people in the circumstances. It’s inside these people’s heads, a subjective view.” An expression, perhaps, of the kind of despair that was also part of his debut feature, Wolfy (2009), in which a young girl pursues the mother who has abandoned her.

Sigarev began his career as a playwright but seems not to miss theatre – or, indeed, ever to have had much affection for it. “For now, I’m not working on the stage,” he smiles. “I’m taking a rest in the movie industry.” And would he be happy to work only in cinema from now on? “Of course,” he laughs. “I dream of that. I don’t like to go to the theatre. The first time I went to the theatre was to see my own play… and I didn’t like it.” How does his approach to film work differ to his approach to stage work? “There’s no difference in my approach, it’s just a question of whether it’s a script or a screenplay.” And what is it that he prefers about working with the camera? “I don’t know how to explain why, it’s just more interesting. I love movies more than theatre.”

For his next project, Sigarev plans a new departure but also to remain consistent. “I’m trying to find the money for a comedy,” he says. “Only the genre will change, not the style of work, the sensibility or the feelings.” ...

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Anton Bormatov: Cinderella- Золушка -Trailer (2012)HD

Director Anton Bormatov
Cast:Christine Asmus, Yuri Stoyanov, Sergey Burunov

A love story of modern Cinderella.

Russian film center coming soon to Hollywood

Russia is to acquire its very own film hub in Hollywood. State-backed company Roskino is opening an LA branch to promote Russian movies, seek co-operation with Hollywood and last but not least, welcome Russian filmmakers visiting the US.

The new Russian Film Commission will be based in Beverly Hills.

Besides establishing ties with US distributors and promoting co-productions, the commission will also offer Russian grounds as filming locations, The Chicago Tribune reports.

The commission will host screening programs, discussions, and eventually a Russian Film Week to present the latest and brightest artistic and commercial achievements of Russian cinema.

"Russia is becoming a very strong market, with many global distributors choosing [it] to premiere their movies, and with a Film Commission … in Los Angeles we expect to facilitate further conversations with both independent filmmakers and the studios going forward," The Chicago Tribune quotes Roskino CEO Ekaterina Mtsituridze as saying. ...

Monday, 13 February 2012

Vladimir Kaplunovskiy: Captain’s Daughter - Капитанская дочка (1959)

Director: Vladimir Kaplunovskiy
Writers: Alexander Pushkin (novel), Nikolai Kovarsky
Stars: Iya Arepina, Oleg Strizhenov, Vladimir Dorofeyev

Based on the last novel written by Alexander Pushkin, this well-wrought tale of political daring and intrigue is set at the end of the 18th century during the reign of one of Russia's greatest rulers, Catherine the Great. The story centers on a young soldier, Peter Griniev (Oleg Strijenov), who has been banished to a distant outpost because of his drinking habits. The post's Captain Mironov Vladimir Dorofeyev has a lovely daughter by the name of Masha (Ia Arepina) who captures the heart of young Peter just as he is recovering from a duel with another soldier. In the meantime, the Cossacks are rising up in revolt, and their leader, Pugachev (Sergei Lukianov) has a special relationship to Peter -- the young soldier had once saved his life. As Pugachev and his peasant followers approach the outpost, the drama reaches its moving climax. Ironically, Pushkin wrote this story in 1836 and was killed the following year in a duel (a practice he rails against in his stories). ...

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Lev Atamanov: The Snow Queen - Снежная королева (1957)

Director: Lev Atamanov
Writers: Hans Christian Andersen (story), Lev Atamanov
Stars: Vladimir Gribkov, Yanina Zhejmo, Anna Komolova


1957—Venice Film Festival: Golden Lion in the animated film category
1958—Cannes Film Festival: First prize in the animated film category
1958—Rome: First prize
1958—Moscow Film Festival: Special prize
1959—London (Festival of festivals): Prize for best film of year

Dubbed in English here.

"Faust" or how man tempts devil

After the Moscow and St. Petersburg premieres, Alexander Sokurov’s film “Faust”, which earned him the Golden Lion in Venice this autumn, is hitting movie screens across Russia. In Moscow, it plays in 40 venues, drawing huge crowds contrary to the expectations of Sokurov, who was skeptical that “Faust” would ever get a big screen run in Russia and who earlier said in an interview that perhaps Russia did not need his films at all. “Faust” is the fourth film in Sokurov’s tetralogy about 20th -century rulers, which also includes “Taurus” about Vladimir Lenin, “Moloch” about Adolf Hitler and “The Sun” about Japan’s Emperor Hirohito. Based on Goethe’s famous drama, Sokurov’s “Faust” focuses on the relationship between a scientist, who craves knowledge and power, and the Satan, who is shown as a pawnbroker. The film is in German with a Russian voiceover done by Sokurov himself. Scriptwriter Yuri Arabov thinks both the philosophic message and stylistics of “Faust” could prove too complicated for the average viewer. The film doesn’t, in principle, change anything. There are several thousand people in Russia, or maybe several tens of thousands, who follow and watch Sokurov’s films. And I feel great responsibility to those people, who appreciate what we have been trying to do and say. Such films should screen in special art theaters for special, advanced audiences. Writer Nikolai Kofyrin has held a blitz poll among “Faust” viewers. Asked which of Sokurov’s films they liked most, the majority of them said “all”.

Photos from here

Reactions to “Faust” ranged from admiration to complete rejection. One viewer said: “I am not sufficiently educated to understand all the things Sokurov meant to say, but this is my own drawback, not Sokurov’s”. Another viewer described it a “fresco painted by a great artist”. Still others said that the film was overly dark and sinister with not a streak of light. The finale sparked the greatest controversy. Sukorov threw out the traditional finale in which Faust beats the devil, or allegorically, defeats the evil, says Yuri Arabov: "Instead, Sokurov showed a small devil being pelted with giant stones. Compared to the evil incarnated in Faust, the devil looks like a fleck of dust on the cultural and mythological stage. And suddenly I realized that we made a film about a breakup between modern man and metaphysics as such. Compared to medieval people or people of the Renaissance, we are just a flat sheet of paper, because when we completely break away from metaphysics, we lose our spiritual essence. We may position ourselves as humanists or as Orthodox Christians. But our hearts are empty and devoid of love. I made a script about how a man tempts the devil, or pawnbroker, how the pawnbroker cooperates with the man, how the notions of duty and kindness change, and how, by striking a deal, the man betrays those notions. As long as the world is divided into the good and the evil, mankind is doomed to live with the Faust syndrome”. ...

Andrei Proshkin: Minnesota - Миннесота (2009)

Director: Andrei Proshkin
Writer: Aleksandr Mindadze (screenplay)
Stars: Sergey Gorobchenko, Anton Pampushny, Andrey Averyanov

With his fourth feature film, Minnesota, Andrei Proshkin, son of the well-known director Aleksandr Proshkin, continues to explore the problems facing the younger generation in contemporary Russia. His previous film, The Soldiers’ Decameron (Soldatskii dekameron, 2005), focused on the army; the present feature shifts focus to another testosterone-charged environment: the world of ice hockey.

The film is based on a screenplay by the acclaimed veteran scriptwriter Aleksandr Mindadze, written several years earlier and published in Iskusstvo kino in 2005. Its original title, Otryv (“Breakout”, or “Soaring”), suggests a deeper philosophical problematic typically explored in films based on Mindadze’s scripts. However, Mindadze ended up taking the title for his own directorial debut, released in 2007.

At the center of Minnesota is the intense relationship between two brothers, fellow hockey players, which spills into dysfunctionality. The two are stars of the local minor league team in a provincial Russian town, and appear to be very close. Yet their personalities could not be more different. The older brother, Mikhail, is fond of the bottle, freely goes back and forth between his wife and mistress, and is physically aggressive in his cruel teasing of his younger brother, Igor’, who overall comes across as essentially an earnest idealist. Igor’ is approached by a scout with an invitation to play for a team in the US (hence the title), yet the offer is extended to him alone. He is torn by the idea of being separated from his brother and initially insists the two of them be transferred together. However, Mikhail’s impulsive behavior continues to sabotage every opportunity for the two to shine together on ice in front of the scout. Mikhail also habitually chips away at his younger brother’s self-esteem, repeatedly referring to him by a feminizing nickname, “Chepchik” (‘bonnet’), and bluntly asserting, “Without me, you are nothing.” Yet all this abuse is not part of some Machiavellian plan—it is just a twisted mess of affection, rivalry, and jealousy.

Minnesota offers a thoughtful commentary on one of the key paradigms of masculinity in contemporary Russia. The screenplay’s main focus is on the moral dilemma Igor’ faces and the opportunity he ultimately loses to become fully his own person. He is torn between a genuine devotion to his brother and the promise of a new life, between hope and desperation, between a drive to succeed and a dash of the drive to self-destruct that he appears to possess, just like his brother. In the final part of the film, Igor’ draws closer to fully independent selfhood, yet this self becomes ever more damaged in the process. His brother, however, seems to turn increasingly delusional. The resolution of the film’s in truth irresolvable conflict is delivered through a deus ex machina device and makes one wonder whether the filmmakers’ imagination failed them. ...

Reviewed by Vitaly Chernetsky © 2010 in KinoKultura

Alexander Kott:Two Drivers - Ехали два шофера (2001)

Director: Alexander Kott
Writers: Aleksandr Kiselyov, Yuriy Korotkov
Stars: Pavel Derevyanko, Irina Rakhmanova,Valeriy Ivakov

А nostalgic story about a young driver who drives an old Russian truck along the roads of the Ural region of Russia. He does not take women seriously until he meets a proud and beautiful girl who drives a luxurious Ford. ...

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Tatyana Lioznova: Seventeen Moments of Spring - Семнадцать мгновений весны (1973)

Director Tatyana Lioznova
Stars: Vyacheslav Tikhonov, Yefim Kopelyan, Leonid Bronevoy

Seventeen Moments of Spring is a 1973 Soviet twelve-part television miniseries, directed by Tatyana Lioznova and based on the novel of the same title by Yulian Semyonov.
The series portrays the exploits of Maxim Isaev, a Soviet spy operating in Nazi Germany under the name Max Otto von Stierlitz, depicted by Vyacheslav Tikhonov. Stierlitz is tasked with disrupting the negotiations between Karl Wolff and Allen Dulles taking place in Switzerland, aimed at forging a separate peace between Germany and the Western Allies.
The series is considered the most successful Soviet espionage thriller ever made, and as one of the most popular television series in Russian history. ...

Stanislav Rostotsky: We'll Live till Monday - Доживем до понедельника (1968)

Director: Stanislav Rostotsky
Writer: Georgi Polonsky
Stars: Vyacheslav Tikhonov, Irina Pechernikova, Nina Menshikova

A lonely history teacher falls for an English teacher who was once his former student. Three days in the lives of the two, plus that of a literature instructor, are the subjects of this film that appeared at the 1969 Melbourne Film Festival. The history teacher deals with his wartime memories and takes care of his aging mother in addition to reaching out emotionally to the object of his affections. ...

"We'll live till Monday" won the main prize of the VI International Film Festival in Moscow 1969 and the USSR State Prize in 1970.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Russia in Berlin Fest captions

A co-production film in the main competition, two films in parallel programmes and 17 theme retrospective films represent Russia at the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival which opened in the German capital on the 9th of February.

The Berlin Film Festival has been a ‘happy screen’ for Russian films more than once. In almost 40 years of Russia’s participation in this forum, ‘gold’ and ‘silver’ Berlinale bears were awarded many times to Larisa Shepitko, Gleb Panfilov, Sergey Solovyov and Alexey Popogrebsky. This year, Russian fans have been given a respite, as Russian films are not represented in the main competition. Still, Russia’s participation can be read in the captions, so to say. Out of 18 films on the main competition list, the Hollywood film Jayne Mansfield’s Car is competing for the main prize. Its producers are Russian Alexander Rodniansky and Sergey Bespalov. The film is a life story which takes the audience back to the 1960s and shows difficult relations between people of different generations and different cultures, American and British. Speaking about this co-production project, Alexander Rodniansky highly praised his American colleagues, first of all director and script writer Billy Bob Thornton.

“I’ve made a film together with a man who wrote his script unhurriedly for 10 years, - the producer says. – Billy Bob Thornton is an Oscar prize winner. He wrote about his mother and father and everything he knows about life, he wrote honestly because he wanted to say something important and not just concoct something that would make $3mln more than other films. I find this a very good idea.”

Alexey Mizgirev The Convoy

Incidentally, Alexander Rodniansky also highly appreciated Russian film director Alexey Mizgirev whose film The Convoy, an action film with elements of suspense, has been selected for the Panorama programme at the Berlin Festival. “Mizgirev is a strong, honest and socially-oriented film director whose films are always built in today’s context. He deserves to represent Russia in Berlin,” the producer believes. Well-known film director Pavel Lungin is happy for his younger colleague.

 “It is an honour to be included in the Panorama programme which contains 25 films collected from all over the world. These films go to the international market for all countries to see, which means that the western society will understand some of our domestic problems and everyday life.” As a special programme, the Berlin Festival offers a theme retrospective called The Red Dream Factory. It is almost 20 films made at a Russian-German studio in the 1920s-1930s. The studio, which existed at that time, made a lot of ideological films. The Berlin Festival is not focusing on those films but rather on science fiction, comedies and fairy-tales. Times have changed and the Berlin Festival is keeping abreast.

 The Voice of Russia

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Aleksandr Medvedkin: The New Moscow - Новая Москва (1938)

Directors: Aleksandr Medvedkin, Aleksandr Olenin
Writer: Aleksandr Medvedkin
Stars: Daniil Sagal, Nina Alisova, Mariya Barabanova

“How can you talk about love when there are experts arriving at any minute?” asks an antsy young Soviet in The New Moscow, who’s been distracted by a suitor from prepping an experimental piglet for an exhibition. Alexander Medvedkin’s 1938 comedy, showing in the reliably entertaining Envisioning Russia series at the Walter Reade Theater, cruises along blithely with a loony charm beyond standard patriotic kitsch, although throwaways about the desire to build and to love never hurt. Also on show, in scenes invariably held a half-beat longer than necessary: buildings demolished for comedy (and progress), spontaneous accordion singalongs, the concussed grins of smitten lovers, an inescapable technophile granny and bear-suit shenanigans by the light of a Stalinist-slash-folk festival.

Strapping designer Alyosha has concocted a neat piece of techno-magic: a dynamic model of Moscow Future that shows the zippy, modernized and de-cathedralized city of tomorrow. But this simulation debuts only later on in New Moscow, during the official unveiling at a giant convention — till then, nutty urban satire, bits of business, slapstick, farce and a hangdog love triangle rule. Alyosha treks into the big city from swampy Siberia for his presentation and falls in love with cutie Zoia, to the dismay of feckless painter Fedia, whose landscapes of Moscow can’t keep pace with the daily disappearances of whole streets. (Not wholly a flight of fancy: more than 50 buildings were outright moved during the creation of Gorky Street, part of Lazar Kaganovich’s actual reconstruction plan for Moscow.)

Medvedkin’s style and satire edges more into giddy excesses in his better-known collectivization comedy, Happiness, which screened earlier in Envisioning Russia. But New Moscow irked some censors enough to be banned after an initial screening — maybe because the director couldn’t resist showing Alyosha’s grand Moscow model malfunctioning. When the console whirs into reverse under untrained hands, the proud city gracefully speeds back in time: traditional houses arise, onion domes re-proliferate, streets narrow. The city-sim’s audience howls, but those premodern drags look comfy and inviting, like a bustling amateur sketch as opposed to the architectural-spec emptiness of the approved utopia.

Yet Medvedkin’s flourishes feel more like reckless exuberance than clandestine subversion. The filmmaker came of age during the Russian Revolution, and in the 1930s ran an “agit-train” — you know, one of those trains that contain an entire film production lab and puff around the Russian countryside shooting critiques and treatises on local issues like improving freight transport. Other head-turning exploits included early Soyuzkino shorts, e.g., “Stop Thief!” “What a Fool You Are!” and “Fruits and Vegetables!” Even back in his cavalry days he put on an evidently humorous awareness-raising play in which horses, or men dressed as horses, reeled off a litany of the ill-treatment they received at the hands of their riders.

Still, the backward moment in New Moscow stings in a system trumpeting a forward historical march, and it reminded me of a playfully instructive reverse sequence in a Vertov Kino Eye reel, tracing bread production back to the bakery and then the grain mill. Of course, Medvedkin, who died just before the fall of Communism, has already gotten the full historical treatment in Chris Marker’s 1993 essay film The Last Bolshevik, devoted to the filmmaker, the 20th century, cinema and the usual sardonically philosophical “Etc.” But even without harvesting its ideological import, The New Moscow can stand on its own two silly feet.

Review by Nicolas Rapold

Monday, 6 February 2012

Anna Fenchenko: Missing Man - Пропавший без вести (2010)

Director: Anna Fenchenko
Cast: Andrei Filippak, Rasim Dzhafarov, Polina Kamanina, Iuris Lautsinsh, Liudmila Geroeva

Missing Man, Anna Fenchenko’s debut feature-length film, is a diptych of sorts—two nearly autonomous narratives shaped by two different settings, with almost wholly different dramatis personae. In one, there emerge the outlines of a story of the fatal and absurd results of combined state interference and incompetence. The Saint Petersburg municipal authorities and the police insist both that a man (Andrei Filippak) move, in connection with what one assumes are the cutthroat real estate wars in Russian cities, and that he not move, so that the police may find him and demand his testimony in the case of a young man who went missing from his neighborhood. In the other, this man, who remains nameless for the greater part of the film but is given the nickname Pasha, joins a ragtag group of people intent on outrunning their pasts and starting new lives on the periphery of the state—Yakutiia, the Far North, and so forth.

Pasha ties the two stories together, not only with his appearance but with his consistent attitude toward the world. Actually, he shares the distinction of appearing in both halves with the original “missing man,” young Volodia. However, the latter functions as a symbol, a transparent signifier of what Pasha himself has become. Pasha, by contrast, performs as a lens; his apprehension of the world around him defines that of the viewer. Pasha’s almost belligerent passivity toward the world around him has a distorting effect on the narrative, as widely broadcast events or commonsensical plans of action take him, and the viewer, by surprise. The motivations of others are inaccessible to Pasha, who does not pay attention to them or attempt to cultivate empathy.

As a result, the viewer lacks access to a great deal of situational information—much in the cinematography reflects Pasha’s deliberate closedness to his environment and to others. The vast majority of the shots in the film are centered on Pasha. While the distance varies from long shots to close-ups, the persistent framing—by darkness, by doorways or curtains, by the confines of a small room or car—often precludes situating him in a larger context. When he is not present in the shot, Pasha’s point of view predominates, and prevents the viewer from witnessing key shifts in the attitudes of others, as in the case where a policeman begins weeping inexplicably over Pasha’s lost cat. The most notable points where the camera breaks from these two patterns is in wide shots, such as that of a spookily abandoned bus station, by which the complete absence of connection between man and environment is underscored.

The film, as it develops, suggests that Pasha is much more aware of his shortcomings than he seemed. At first, Pasha resists all identity except that which the state gave him in his passport—a point that is cleverly reinforced by his rebuffs of sexual advances from work associates of both genders. Deprived of his state-given definition in the passport, he is motivated to seek his own self-definition and break the avoidant patterns he had established for himself. Learning to interact with people on new terms is difficult, and the film is littered with failed attempts.

In the history of stories, individuals on the social fringe have been finding places for themselves in collectives for a long time, long enough that Fenchenko has a rich genre tradition with which to contend when she chooses such a man as her central focus. For example, one may take the war film—notable for engendering national cohesion through the development of a unified fighting team—and the road movie, where groups of losers often create their own, alternative communities.

The war film clearly resonates when an unidentified entity with dogs pursues Pasha and other residents of a boarding house for transients. While there is no swell of non-diegetic music to give emotional clues, the slightly slowed motion and enhanced sounds of breathing suggest the heightened awareness of combat. One of Pasha’s comrades stumbles, Pasha turns round, the short fat man gestures, “Go on without me.” Were Pasha to recognize his role properly, this would be a moment of heroism for the sake of another. Pasha goes on alone. Rethinking his decision later, he returns to that spot. His comrade is gone, a sack of potatoes in his place; Pasha clings to this remnant for much of the remainder of the film, as if to a surrogate-companion. ...

Missing Man tells the story of a man (Andrei Filippak) inadvertently caught up in bureaucratic nightmares of ever-increasing absurdity and intensifying danger. After a business meeting at a bus station, our protagonist is approached by the son of one of his neighbors. The boy hurriedly hands him an envelope to be passed on to his mother before hopping on a bus taking him out of town. Our protagonist then delivers the envelope to the mother, who becomes agitated and reveals that she reported her son missing a month ago. She seeks more information, but our protagonist knows nothing. Soon he is visited by investigators, as the mother has informed the police that he has seen and interacted with her missing boy. Our protagonist is now a suspect in this ‘missing man’ case, and he is required to write out a formal statement of compliance to the police that he will not leave town. One night soon after, our protagonist returns home from another business meeting, this time at a dance club, only to find his apartment building being destroyed. He is told that all of his possessions have been relocated to his new home in Polezhaevsk, about one and a half hours on the commuter train away from the center of St. Petersburg. He travels to Polezhaevsk to his new building number, #103, but finds that the buildings stop at #89. When he goes to the local police station to find out what is going on, he is told that he has violated his statement of compliance by having left town. His passport is seized and he is placed under arrest. Another man, David (Rasim Dzhafarov), is brought in under arrest, charges unknown, but he forcefully breaks free, allowing our protagonist to escape alongside him. David and the protagonist are then fugitives, and we follow them as they join with a group of three other rag-tag misfits of varying criminal records in a series of exploits and near-captures. He grows ever more despondent as he eventually loses everything, symbolized by the successive loss of the representative accoutrement of his life before and after—first his satchel, then a sack of potatoes. Throughout all these experiences, the protagonist maintains the same expression: a barely emotive face—both soft and hard, gentle and severe—registering in equal parts bewilderment and resignation. The film serves as a fairly scathing critique of Russian governmental policy and institutional bureaucracy. The tribulations presented within the film seem intended to echo the troubling circumstances of everyday real life. To those with even a passive acquaintance with Russia, it is an all-too-familiar story to witness city residents forcibly relocated from their homes, from run-down apartments in good locations to new, but distant housing at the outskirts of the city. Old apartment buildings are left to rot and decay so that they can be condemned as uninhabitable, thereby allowing legitimate tenants and owners to be evicted. The property can then be demolished, a new, shiny high-rise can be built, and new luxury apartments can be sold—all highly profitable transactions taking place beyond the reach and at the expense of the original owners. However, the attentiveness of the police to the case of the missing boy comes as a surprise. Of course, this misplaced initial attentiveness was for naught, hindering far more than helping. Throughout the film, more typical police responses to the increasingly desperate circumstances of our protagonist range from sleepy yawns to caustic indifference to distracted sobs interrupted only by a request for some vodka. ... Reviewed by Vincent Bohlinger © 2010 in KinoKultura

Friday, 3 February 2012

Lungin's New Film The Conductor to be Released in Russia

One month ahead of the release of his new film “The Conductor”, well-known Russian film maker Pavel Lungin organized the presentation of his film for journalists. The author called his work a “simple story which continues his former film “The Island”

The film “The Island”, which appeared on the screens in Russia in 2006, stirred up Russian film goers because the theme of repentance and expiation for committed sins, which has not lost its urgency for mankind, was revealed there so piercingly that everybody agreed that Lungin’s new film was a big event in the Russian art. Is his new creation - “The Conductor”- also an outstanding work of art that could be compared with “The Island”?

A famous conductor goes to Jerusalem with his orchestra to make a guest appearance there. The musicians want to play an oratorio, “Mattheus Passion”, in the Holy Land. For each of them the unusual concert trip becomes a trip deep into their soul. “Regrettably, there’re no films in Russia throwing light on people’s inner life or on the inner life of a family”, Pavel Lungin said in an interview with the Voice of Russia.

“I tried to show that shame and a one-moment feeling of repentance can change people’s lives – no matter whether they are old or young. And my film is just for all those who feel that way”, Pavel Lungin says.

Naturally, in the film “The Conductor” music is on par with the characters. The oratorio “Mattheus Passion” was composed by one of the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church – Metropolitan Hilarion, who got a musical education at the Moscow Conservatoire. “Mattheus Passion” is a work telling us about the earthly life of Christ who came to people to show them what real love is. By the way, the musicians shown in the film are real – a well-known Russian orchestra and a quire who are performing very emotionally. But as it turns out, there’s no place for love in their real life. “Creative people are worthy of respect because they are aimed at culture and spirituality but they can be cruel towards their near and dear and ignore other people’s pain”, the film maker says sadly. The main character is a tough person who is unwilling to compromise and who gives up his son believing that he lives wrongly. And only the death of his son and especially, the note he wrote before his death “Daddy, I love you” sucked out his soul. So we see him going into tears in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. ...

Vitali Melnikov: The Chief of Chukotka - Начальник Чукотки (1966)

Director: Vitali Melnikov
Writers: Vladimir Valutskiy, V. Viktorov
Stars: Mikhail Kononov, Aleksei Gribov, Gennadi Danzanov

Patriotic young man ends up in the on Chukotka right after the civil war, where he intends to spread ideas of justice and equality among the natives. As it happens, instead he learns the local capitalist ways, and he starts profitable fur trading with US, Japanese and other merchants. In the process, he made an enormous sum of money over $ 1 million dollars. Once his outpost is attacked by the Bandits, he runs away and ends up in Alaska Border Station. In order to protect $ 1 Million USD, he travels all over the world, and ends up in Russia (with the $ 1 M intact). ...

You can watch the movie here.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Return to the classics - A love affair between Anton Chekhov and an admirer of his work is the subject of a new film by a local director.

St. Petersburg director Vitaly Melnikov presented the premiere of his new film, “The Admirer” (“Poklonnitsa”), at the city’s Dom Kino movie theater last week. The film is loosely based on a true story, and focuses on 19th-century literary giant Anton Chekhov, one of Russia’s greatest dramatists. Melnikov, an esteemed veteran of the city’s Lenfilm studios, picked a little known episode from the writer’s biography as the basis for his new film. Chekhov, played by Kirill Pirogov, arrives in St. Petersburg already reputed as a literary figure, and meets Lydia Avilova (Svetlana Ivanova), a young writer and an admirer of his work. The two quickly fall in love, but the story cannot be a happy one: He is terminally ill with tuberculosis, and she is married with children. In contrast with modern cinema, their love affair consists of a few meetings, a few exchanged letters and not much else. But a shared understanding of literature and their affection for each other unites the characters until the final frame of the movie. It is no accident that the film was originally planned to be titled “Lions, Eagles and Partridges” — a quote from Chekhov’s play “The Seagull,” devoted to love and art, which in the film are the opposing forces to mediocrity and banality. Melnikov has created a heartwarming story that includes both sad moments and comic episodes. Avilova’ s brother, carried away by the philosophy of Leo Tolstoy, is a source of humor, as is her narrow-minded husband and the insolent circle of literary ladies. The highlight of “The Admirer” is undoubtedly the film’s talented actors, the most famous among whom is Oleg Tabakov, who plays Chekhov’s friend Nikolai Leikin. Tabakov is known for his roles in many classic Russian films, including “War and Peace” (1968), “Seventeen Moments of Spring” (1973) and “Oblomov” (1981). “The Admirer” is the 23rd movie of the 83-year-old director, who rose to fame after his first serious work, “The Boss of Chukotka,” in 1966. His best-known works also include “The Tsar’s Hunt” (1989), “Prince Alexei” (1997) and “Poor, Poor Paul” (2003), which comprise a trilogy of historical films depicting court intrigue and tragedy in the Russian Empire in the 18th century. The fact that a classic filmmaker was attracted to the subject of a classic writer is significant, especially today when, as a rule, only commercial blockbusters catering to modern trends hit the screens. “The Admirer” is in sharp contrast to such films, following instead the style of Soviet cinema, with its deep and nuanced depiction of human relationships. Despite documented financial difficulties faced by the film crew, the visual reconstruction of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is impressively atmospheric. “The Admirer” is a simple, positive film that doesn’t shock, reveal secrets or raise social issues, but its unforgettable depiction of human relationships is certainly a cut above the generic action movies offered by the rest of the contemporary Russian film industry. ...