Friday, 27 December 2013

'Stalingrad' Tops Russia’s Box Office for 2013

Stalingrad Poster

It's the first time in the country's post-Soviet period that a local film has beaten out Hollywood to lead the year-end list. 

Fyodor Bondarchuk’s Stalingrad has become Russia’s top-grossing movie of 2013, outdoing the third installment of the Iron Man franchise. It's the first time in the country's post-communist period that a local film has beaten out Hollywood blockbusters to lead the year-end list. 

According to the local research group Movie Research, Stalingrad grossed $50.8 million (1.66 billion rubles), topping Iron Man 3's $42.2 million (1.38 billion rubles) Russian total. 

The two leaders were followed by Thor: The Dark World ($35.6 million) and Despicable Me 2 ($35.5 million). Earlier, Stalingrad was celebrated as Russia’s all-time box office champion among local movies, as it outperformed Ironiya Sudby. Prodolzheniye (The Irony of Fate. Sequel), a 2007 release from by Timur Bekmambetov’s Bazelevs. The producers of Stalingrad attribute the movie’s success to the "spectacular way" it depicts the WWII Battle of Stalingrad, which helped to attract younger audiences, who normally opt for Hollywood action movies. The film had a budget of $30 million. 


Read also: ‘Stalingrad’ Producer Alexander Rodnyansky Ramps Up Russian Production Slate

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Vladimir Khotinenko: Makarov - Макаров (1993)


Director: Vladimir Khotinenko
Actors: Sergei Makovetsky, Yelena Majorova, Irina Metlitsky, Vladimir Ilyin, Sergei Parshin, Viktor Smirnov, Yuliya Rutberg, , Leonid Okunev, Eugene Steblov, Ilya Rutberg, Ivan Agafonov, Sergey Gazarov, Arseny Gorshakov, Tatiana Popova

Grand Prix, Festival "Window onto Europe", Vyborg, 1994


This provocative Russian drama provides a disturbing examination of the post revolutionary values and philosophies of the country as a poet must decide which has more importance: his poetry, or his gun? The film's title has a double meaning. Makarov is the protagonist's name, but is it is also the name of a powerful Russian handgun. Makarov, the main character, is a poet suffering from writer's block. On his way home one night he encounters a black market arms dealer who asks if he'd like to buy a Makarov. The poet pays all of the money he received from his latest poetry volume, 10,000 rubles for the gun. He must now conceal the gun from his family. At home his wife reads him a poem about a bullet. Makarov hides the gun. Throughout the film, other characters continue to recite poems about guns, and this causes Makarov to look deeply at his values. Eventually the gun wins. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi

Ivan Pyriev: Idiot - Идиот - Настасья Филипповна (1958)

Directed by Ivan Pyryev.
Starring Yuriy Yakovlev, Yuliya Borisova, Nikita Podgornyj.

Screen version of the novel of the same name by F. Dostoevsky. The film is based on the first part of the novel «Nastasia Philippovna».


The film plot is as follows: prince Myshkin having come back to Russia from Switzerland gets acquainted with Nastasia Philippovna, a most beautiful woman and love-mate of landlord Totsky. Totsky is going to get married to another woman and offers Nastasia Philippovna a compensation of 75000 rubles and marriage to official Ivolgin. Rogozhin, a merchant, is ready to give 100,000 rubles for her. Prince Myshkin wants to save the beautiful woman from the evil circle of sale and purchase and proposes to her. But Nastasia Philippovna considering herself fallen and dishonoured throws money into the fireplace and leaves with millionaire Rogozhin who loves her.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Abram Room: A Severe Young Man - Строгий юноша (1936)

Director: Abram Room
Cast: Iurii Iur'ev, Ol'ga Zhizneva, Dmitrii Dorliak, Maksim Shtraukh, Valentina Serova, Georgii Sochevko, Irina Volodko

Strict boy (1935)

Precious few had seen the film A Severe Young Man when the administration of the Ukrainfil'm studio announced, in the summer of 1936, that the film had been banned for release and distribution. The ban ought not to have come as a surprise to anyone. The official explanations for the decision to shelve the film were vague in their details, but clear and utterly predictable in regards to their fundamental accusation: the film was a self-indulgent exercise in formalist experimentation that utterly failed to adhere to the aesthetic requirements of Socialist Realism. The strict and uncompromising verdict of the authorities provided yet more unnecessary proof that the guardians of Soviet orthodoxy had absolutely no understanding or appreciation of irony. A more accurate translation of the Russian title would be "strict" or "uncompromising," adjectives that can be applied to almost no element of this film save for its protagonist, whose uncompromising character is portrayed with what can only be regarded (at least today) a healthy dose of irony.

Strict boy (1935)

The film was a true collaboration between the scriptwriter, Iurii Olesha, and the director Abram Room for whom the script was specifically written. Both men were extremely talented creative individuals who despite their seemingly earnest attempts could never quite find a comfortable fit between their works and the ideological demands of the times. Indeed, Room made A Severe Young Man in Ukraine not by choice, but because he was working in professional exile from Moscow as punishment for various "mistakes" made in his previous films. Room’s best work was often daringly provocative, and even those of his films that received wide distribution were often vilified by the critics. Olesha, for his part, was a successful playwright and prose writer throughout the 1920s, but his best works, while on the surface ideologically correct, contained in their deeper texture disturbingly discordant notes. His literary output decreased after 1928 and, as a writer, he fell largely silent after 1934. The two men shared a common vision for A Severe Young Man and the resulting film contributed to the shame of both in equal measure in 1936.

Olga Zhizneva

The film’s content makes no concessions to the usual expectations of Soviet audiences of the 1930s. The cast of characters is extremely unlikely in almost every conventional respect. The action involves the household of the prominent Dr. Stepanov and his young wife, Masha, who share their large and richly adorned mansion with the parasitical Fedor Tsitronov, whose presence in the household is given only the most implausible of explanations. Equally implausible is the acquaintance of the family with the young and proud Grisha Fokin, whose leadership role in the Young Communist League is never clearly defined and who is never seen engaged in any work or professional activity. What we see of Grisha’s public activity has as its locus "the stadium," which features, quite unexpectedly, a classically ornate dressing room and a Greek-style hippodrome. The action and conflict of the film is driven by Grisha’s romantic passion for Masha, which is reciprocated by Masha but opposed, for different reasons, by Stepanov and Tsitronov. While these four main characters move frequently and freely between the luxurious mansion and the stadium, all peripheral characters remain denizens of one or the other world.

Read more >> 

 Read also: Abram Room - A Strict Young Man (Strogy Yunosha)

Friday, 20 December 2013

Karen Shakhnazarov: Love in the USSR - Любовь в СССР (2012)

Любовь в СССР (2012)

Director: Karen Shakhnazarov
Writers: Evgeniy Nikishov, Sergey Rokotov
Stars: Egor Baranovskiy, Armen Dzhigarkhanyan, Ivan Kupreenko

For the past twenty years, Russian directors have been hard at work to imagine and re-imagine the Soviet past. They began by wrestling with the darkest of Soviet periods, garnering international attention by addressing Stalinism in productions such as Nikita Mikhalkov’s Burnt by the Sun (Utomlennye solntsem, 1994) and Pavel Chukhrai’s The Thief (Vor, 1997). In the past decade, the Thaw years have also received publicity at home and abroad with Pavel Chukhrai’s movie A Driver for Vera (Voditel’ dlia Very, 2004) and especially with Valerii Todorovskii’s musical Hipsters (Stiliagi, 2008). It seems that the Russian movie industry is now moving up the chronological ladder to recapture the not-too-distant Brezhnev-era years of “Stagnation.” However different in genre and tone, all these period dramas and musicals aim to find either a heroic or romantic undertone in the times gone by. Regardless of whether these productions focus on the vibrancy of a rebellious civil society (as in Stiliagi), heroic daredevils (as in Burnt by the Sun), or the regime’s spiritual deadness (as in Driver for Vera), these celluloid recreations of Soviet history have increasingly denoted an almost triumphalist tone. These movies either entirely sidestep the question of personal and collective responsibility by celebrating those who resisted the regime, or they ignore larger political/ideological issues by fetishizing the material culture of a bygone era. Despite the crimes, corruption, and misery of days past, Russian filmmakers excavate and emphasize human dignity of the Stalinist past while accentuating the blissful innocence of the post-Stalinist era; although much of the Soviet past is dark, the Russian film industry often reimagines the Russian dimensions so as to be worthy of mourning. While this cinema of nostalgia certainly does not wish to resurrect the Soviet past, it colors aspects of it (especially the Russian ones) in pink hues, self-consciously searching for a silver lining. The easiest way to find the bright spot is to separate the political and the personal with surgical precision, pretending as if much of the populace lived far removed from official ideology and rhetoric. The two most recent examples of this trend, Hipsters and Driver for Vera, seem to be bent more on recreating the era’s material world than presenting a thoughtful framework for conceptualizing the period’s dynamics. The film under review here—Karen Shakhnazarov’s Love in the USSR (Liubov’ v SSSR)—unfortunately deepens this trend.

Love in the USSR is a redacted and re-titled version of Shakhnazarov’s own production Vanished Empire (Ischeznuvshaia imperiia, 2008). Several of the scenes were deleted, the remaining ones rearranged, and new music was added. Judging from the interview Shakhnazarov gave about the redaction process, the musical score motivated and drove the reformulation of the film. He stated: “I’m not quite sure how the idea came up. Kostia (Konstantin Shevelev, the movie’s musical director [M.D.]) wrote an excellent melody which did not receive adequate play in Vanished Empire. It seemed to me that since we developed the music score, it also made sense to come up with a new film version.” According to Shakhnazarov, the music informed the tighter focus on the protagonists’ love triangle. The coming-of-age story involving three young Moscow university students in 1974 does, at moments, resound with lyrical tones. At the same time, the nostalgia for the period, expressed as it is exclusively through the fetishization of the Soviet byt—anything from fashion to interior design—still reads as more of a eulogy for the Soviet way of life than a romantic drama. If, as the new title suggests, Shakhnazarov wanted to identify the specificities of love in the Soviet Union, he misses the mark because he holds on so firmly to entrenching his protagonists in the material world of the 1970s. It is evident that Shakhnazarov did not aim to use the external world as a secondhand for the characters’ inner lives (as did the Italian Neorealists as well as the French and British New Wavers during the 1950s and 1960s). What remains is a trite and somewhat contrived narrative of a love triangle that plays second fiddle to the scenery. In other words, Shakhnazarov’s compulsion to detail the antiquarian specificities of Soviet life, ironically, prevent this vanished past from coming to life.


Saturday, 14 December 2013

Jora Kryzhovnikov aka Andrei Pershin: Bitter - Горько (2013)

Горько! (2013)

Director: Jora Kryzhovnikov
Starring: Sergey Svetlakov, Jan Tsapnik, Julia Aleksandrova, Jegor Koreshkov, Sergey Lavigin, Danila Jakushev

Roman and Natalie is a young and progressive couple who dream about European wedding on the shore of the sea, but Natalie’s step father has a different plan for the wedding. Arrogant city official thinks that he can use this occasion to jump start his own career and he will do everything according to his plan. The young couple will spend unforgettable night in the restaurant called Golden where boring traditional wedding events are going to be observed. They have no choice but to have their dream wedding secretly without conservative parents. Unfortunately, two different weddings become one because of the silly mistake.

A new film about a drunken, provincial wedding party has become Russia’s most talked-about movie of the year as film as the subject matter hits a sensitive spot for Russians. 

Opinions on the film "Gorko!" from little-known director Zhora Kryzhovnikov are divided, with some saying they were offended, and others saying they loved it. 

Filmmakers promoted “Gorko!” as a romantic comedy, and the tagline for the film’s advertisements appeared to be an innocent, light comedy.

Read more>>  

Monday, 9 December 2013

Yusup Razykov: Shame - Стыд (2013)

Director: Yusup Razykov
Writer: Ekaterina Mavromatis
Stars: Helga Fillipova, Helga Fillipova, Seseg Hapsasova

FIPRESCI Prize at 48th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, 2013

Embroidered around the real tragedy of the Russian submarine Kursk, sunk to the bottom of the sea in August 2000 with all its 118 sailors on board, Yusup Razykov’s film Shame (Styd) tackles the familiar theme of women waiting patiently at home for their men to return after long absences, for whatever reason they are being kept away, without knowing what is happening to them or whether they will ever be seen again.

Анна Беленькая

Set in the frozen Kola peninsula, well inside the Arctic Circle, in the midst of glacial winter, with a snow-covered, desolate landscape surrounding the drab, ugly, depressing military settlement, forgotten, neglected and falling apart, Razykov’s film adds a second string to its bow, the personal crisis of one woman who refuse to be like all the others, entirely dependent on the man in her life, while at the same time being haunted by her own past.

Хельга Филиппова

Lena (Maria Semenova) is the new wife of an officer out at sea on a secret mission. Wearing an elegant, tailored blue coat which tells her apart from all the rest, driving back and forth in a red Fiat acquired with the inheritance left by her recently deceased mother, she will not strike friendships with any of the others, refrains from their social occupations, has an affair with the captain of a fishing boat, and defies any attempted familiarity from those who share her fate.

Around her, the other women pretend, not very successfully, to be in complete denial of their situation, claim that nothing wrong could happen to their husbands while fearing the worst. But the impending disaster is not to be prevented, and the belated announcement made by the military authorities (a hint to the failure of the Russian Army to rescue the Kursk and their refusal to accept any assistance from the West) adds insult to the injury done to these women.

Хельга Филиппова

At this point, however, Razykov and his script writer Ekaterina Mavromatis, pick up the other thread of their plot, which was left dormant after an intriguing opening sequence. Lena, packing to go back to St. Petersburg, finds old love letters addressed to her late husband, goes out to look for the woman who wrote them, revealing in the process her own emotional hang-ups resulting from the four years she had to treat her ailing mother. Though it is possible to draw a sort of connection between the two plots, ultimately they seem to weaken rather than support each other, detracting from the impact they should have had.

Read more>>

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The watch list: the five most anticipated Russian films of 2014

It’s been a disappointing year for Russian film. Only a handful made it into any major international festivals. Although one, A Long and Happy Life by established festival favourite Boris Khlebnikov, participated in the Berlin Film Festival in February there were no Russian films in the main competitions at Cannes, Venice or Rome. Moscow-based film critic Anton Sazonov picks five new productions from both established and new directors that he predicts will fare better next year.

The Hope Factory
Director: Natalia Meshchaninova
Potential festivals: Sundance, Berlinale

The watch list: the five most anticipated Russian films of 2014

Director's bio: Natalia Meshchaninova first achieved acclaim with School, a thought-provoking television series about a Russian high school that sparked widespread public debate about education in the country. Meshchaninova, who was trained in documentary film, went on to make Dick Dick, a live recording of a concert by legendary Russian rock group Leningrad that focused not on the musicians but the band’s fans.

Plot: The Hope Factory is reminiscent of Federico Fellini’s I Vitelloni, only instead of the Adriatic Coast, the story takes place in the harsh climes of Arctic Russia. The main character, Sveta, is a teenager from the grim industrial city of Norilsk who dreams of escaping her hometown.

What you need to know: The film, in the words of the director, is somewhat “anti-patriotic” and was therefore refused funding from the Ministry of Culture.

Director: Ilya Naishuller
Potential festivals: Unknown but international distribution is likely in the spring or summer of 2014

Director’s bio: Although he is just shy of 30, Ilya Naishuller is already making waves in Hollywood. Naishuller, who doubles up as the frontman for Moscow punk band Biting Elbows, was compared to Quentin Tarantino following the release of a music video for Bad Motherfucker this year. Director Darren Aronofsky took to Twitter to praise Naishuller for a video “well done”. The video, which boasts 17.6 million views on YouTube, caught the eye of producer Timur Bekmambetov and quickly led to an invitation to direct a full-length feature in the same style. A second music video, The Stampede, also did well with four million views on YouTube.

Plot: The full plot of Naishuller’s debut, Hardcore, is yet to be revealed. What’s known is that South African actor Sharlto Copley, star of Oscar-nominated sci-fi flick District 9, will take the lead role in the film, which will be set in Moscow in 2014. Copley will play a mute and murderous cyborg called Henry while his nemesis, Akan, will have telepathic powers.

More here.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Fedor Bondarchuk: Stalingrad - Full International Trailer

Director: Fedor Bondarchuk 
Writers: Sergei Snezhkin, Ilya Tilkin 
Stars: Thomas Kretschmann, Yanina Studilina, Philippe Reinhardt


Friday, 1 November 2013

Nikolai Lebedev: Legend No. 17 - Легенда №17 (2013)

Director: Nikolay Lebedev
Stars: Danila Kozlovsky, Darya Ekamasova, Oleg Menshikov

Legend No. 17, a biopic about the famous Soviet hockey player Valerii Kharlamov, directed by Nikolai Lebedev, is one of the most prominent films released in Russia in 2013. Its April premiere was accompanied by an aggressive marketing campaign, especially on Channel Rossiia 1, the film’s co-producer. Even Russian Wikipedia jumped on the bandwagon by putting out a verbose and fawning entry. President Putin praised the film by saying it would be appreciated both by sports enthusiasts and by those who are proud of Russian history. However, a Russian blogger was closer to the truth when he said exactly the opposite: the film will be liked best by those who don’t know much about sport and know absolutely nothing about the Soviet Union. As someone who belongs firmly in the first demographic, but certainly not in the second, I rather liked the dynamic sporting scenes but frowned upon the vision of the USSR as a theme park for the new generation. Oh, spot that car! Tick. Spot the aging Brezhnev! Tick. Spot the drunken men taken away by the police—three times. Tick. The tour is over, you can go home now.

Russia’s Chariot of Fire on ice aims to inspire Olympic glory

The Putinist attitude toward the Soviet Union is highly ambivalent—it tries to wed communist nostalgia for the glorious imperial past with a nominally anti-communist rhetoric. The results can be confusing. Putin admirer Nikita Mikhalkov, whose company produced the film and whose shadow hovers over it, should know it best: his Burnt by the Sun sequels satisfied neither die-hard Stalinists nor liberals and flopped miserably, even if they were fun to watch. This time, as “the general producer,” he just might get his money back; yet comments like “the film is a total lie, made to please no one in particular” are not a rarity either. The success consisted in luring 4 million people into the theaters, even though many of them may have had second thoughts later.

Reviewed by Sergey Dobrynin © 2013 in KinoKultura

Legend No.17, an $13 million biopic about Valery Kharlamov – one of the greatest ever Soviet ice-hockey players – focuses on the epic Summit Series with Canada in 1972, when Kharlamov’s so-called amateurs took on the much-feted giants of the National Hockey League (NHL) – and almost pulled off an amazing series victory. Timed to coincide with this year’s World Ice Hockey Championship, the film grossed $27 million within a month of its release on April 18, making it the domestic movie industry’s smash hit of the year.

More here.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Iosif Kheifits: The lady with the little dog - Дама с собачкой (1960)

Director: Iosif Kheifits (HEIFITZ, Iosif)
Cast: Iya Savvina - Anna Sergeyovna

Aleksey Batalov - Dimitri Gurov

Nominated for BAFTA Film Award

Josef Heifitz’s film adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog” was released in Russia in I960 in honour of the Chekhov Centenary. In 1987, Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov made “The Lady with the Dog” the kernel story for the Russian/Italian co-production entitled Dark Eyes. This loose adaptation is more reminiscent of Fellini than Chekhov in its expansive, free-wheeling style and insistent sentimentality.’

Mikhalkov’s Dark Eyes stars Marcello Mastroianni, who was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor. According to the credits, the film is “based on the short stories of Anton P. Chekhov.” Along with “The Lady with the Dog,” other sources for the film include “Anna on the Neck” and “My Wife.”

For filmgoers who prefer their Chekhov neat, Heifitz offers a far more literal adaptation in a deceptively simple, unadorned style. Although Mikhalkov’s more flamboyant, broadly comic, technicolor film may well be more immediately accessible and appealing to contemporary audiences, Heifitz’s restrained, austere style befits Chekhov’s prose and produces its own considerable rewards.

Writing a celebratory piece on Heifitz’s film in the Swedish journal, Chaplin, Ingmar Bergman recalls how he prepared Chekhov’s The Seagull for a Stockholm theatre production by making the cast look at Heifitz’s film. According to Bergman, the film “emerges from the work itself, and is enormously faithful towards Chekhov in a way that I have seldom experienced in film.” (Ingmar Bergman, “Away with Improvisation-THIS is Creation,” Films and Filming, September 1961, p. 13.)

More here.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Nikita Mikhalkov: Kinfolk - Родня (1983)

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Director: Nikita Mikhalkov
Writer: Viktor Merezhko
Stars: Nonna Mordyukova, Svetlana Kryuchkova, Yuri Bogatyryov

Ivan Bortnik, Nonna Mordjukova

One of the most popular movies tells, in an ironic manner, about complicated relationships between close people. Among the film’s achievements is not only splendid acting, but also the fact that “Kinfolk” remains as contemporary and topical as before. The relations between a son-in-law and a mother-in-law are as everlasting a theme as love itself. Especially when the role of the son-in-law Stasik is brilliantly played by Yuri Bogatyryov, and that of the mother-in-law by the incomparable Nonna Mordyukova. Marusya Konovalova, a kind, simple-hearted country woman, comes to Moscow to visit her only daughter (Svetlana Kryuchkova) and tries to help “glue together” her broken-up family. Acting with best intentions, she cannot understand why her interference provokes a stormy protest

Nonna Mordjukova

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Yuri Bykov: To Live - Жить (2010)

Director: Yuri Bykov
Writer: Yuri Bykov
Stars: Sergei Belyayev, Aleksei Komashko, Denis Shvedov

Iurii Bykov debuted at the 21st Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr in 2009 in the shorts competition with the film “The Boss” (Nachal’nik), which garnered the main prize and a monetary award of 125,000 roubles. For the young director this success opened the road to big cinema. His next film, To Live, his full-length debut, was co-produced by Aleksei Uchitel’ and made it into the main competition of Kinotavr in 2010.

Both films concern the same theme: how a man acts, who suddenly finds himself under the most ordinary circumstances in an extreme situation. This test situation is dramatic, as it forces the man to act, to reveal his character, and at the same time to bring out the spectator’s attitude towards the protagonist. Thus, the author’s position is deeply hidden, almost drowning in the ambiguity of the situation in which the characters find themselves. The protagonist of the short film starts off with self-defence and ends up with murder; the protagonists of the feature film seek safety in flight, but they have to decide who shoots whom in order to survive. It is, as it were, as in the popular catchphrase about the comma: “execute not pardon”—whether to place the comma after the word “not” or whether to place it after “execute”. A man’s life depends on this comma: to live or to die.

The filmmaker suggests conditions where the spectator himself should place the comma. The spectator, experiencing with the protagonists the peripetiae of an action film’s narrative with shooting, pursuits, and fights, has to decide whom he gives his preference: the executioner or the victim, especially as the characters change their functions several times during the course of the action.

The short film “The Boss” had a single plot twist. The domestic peace at a summer house where a young family—husband, wife and child—rests, is disturbed by two robbers. One of them is a convict, who has spent a term in prison for fight and murder, the other a strayed lad. Holding a knife to the woman’s face, they demand money. The man, an FSB officer, suggests that the robbers clear off “in an amicable way.” The pair continues to threaten the family. When the contriving head of the family takes the initiative, the robbers face his pistol. The Captain takes the guys, tied-up, in a car into the woods. There he kills them, like cattle.

The last frame of the black-and-white film, verified in every single detail in a documentary, investigative manner, captures the meeting of the FSB officer with a lonely mushroom picker, the neighbour of his summer house, who had stopped by the road when he heard a call for help. “Everything’s all right,” the captain says, “I was there. There are no mushrooms there. Over there, (points across the road): don’t go. I have checked it out.” He gets into his car and leaves, having invited his neighbour for supper. The man, having pondered a little, makes his way back home. Weighing the realities of the present day and the unwritten law of morality, the spectator has to decide where the border lies between judgement and self-judgment, between retribution and revenge. For a good reason, the characters of Russian films in recent years have been “cops” and “convicts”, in a skirt or trousers, nice and less so. Filmmakers venture into a sphere which knows no rules. Waking under the pressure of an aggressive environment, the truck-driver-hero of Sergei Loznitsa’s phantasmagorical My Joy (Schast’e moe) snatches a pistol in the finale and shoots everyone who comes his way. The nice villagers of Svetlana Proskurina’s Truce (Peremirie) scald the leg of a Bashkir gastarbeiter with boiled water, trying to extort where he has hidden the money stolen from an uncle. The Bashkir has hidden the money them in a carcass. The “operation” is led by a policeman, who tries to help “his own”.

Because of the formlessness of life, people bunch; the key question is whether to accept or reject “one’s own” or “another’s.” Then there is bewilderment: who is the “other” if everybody lives in his own system of coordinates, in a situation of total alienation from relatives and friends, let’s say: from ordinary society.

Reviewed by Tat’iana Moskvina-Iashchenko in KinoKultura

Live! (Action, Drama) Russian with English sub

Sunday, 13 October 2013

New Stalingrad Film Depicts IMAX War

The battle has been previously given film adaptations, most notably in the 1993 movie "Stalingrad," directed by German filmmaker Joseph Vilsmaier. However, a new effort from director Fyodor Bondarchuk tells the story of the battle from the perspective of the eventual victors, and the $30 million film represents the first fully 3D Russian movie and the first non-American movie shot for IMAX 3D.

The Battle of Stalingrad lasted for months and the Russian victory in 1943 led the way for the Allied victory in World War II. Estimates of casualties on both sides are up to 2 million soldiers and civilians. Superlative descriptions like "the bloodiest battle ever fought" or "turning point in the war" would make the battle immediately cinematic if the historical reality was not so intensely brutal.

The film takes place when Soviet forces are looking to recapture the other side of the Volga River from occupying Nazi forces in the war-ravaged city of Stalingrad, modern-day Volgograd. The initiative ultimately fails, and five soldiers end up trapped on the river's opposite bank, cut off from their compatriots. The comrades then end up in a house and find a young girl, played by Maria Smolnikova, who they then vow to protect to the death.

At an event Monday at the Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow, or MAMM, the director and stars of the movie supported the film's upcoming wide release Thursday and showed photographs of the shooting process that took place more than a year ago. Bondarchuk is seen crouching in rubble at the project's expansive set built outside St. Petersburg. Indeed, the production of the movie and an emphasis on its firsts for Russian cinema seem focused on the larger than life. At Monday's event, Andrei Smelyakov, one of the stars of the film, told The Moscow Times about the process of filming "3D does not tolerate small movements." Bondarchuk has said the film, which had its official premieres in St. Petersburg, Moscow and Volgograd last week, represents an important moment for Russian cinema, and it has already earned the nomination for the country's entry for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards.

While the mood around the film may be celebratory of the project's ambition and scale, those involved say the movie is not a triumphalist portrait of the heroics that led to a Soviet victory in 1942. The movie features a band of Russian heroes, a sinister Nazi officer and plenty of gunfire, but its director said it was not meant to fit into the standard action movie concept. In an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda before the film's premiere, Bondarchuk said that "judging by the trailers, it has been said our film takes all the cliches from Hollywood movies" before adding that "I wanted in this picture to go into depth on what was happening in Stalingrad."

Read more in The Moscow Times

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Taisa Igumentseva: Bite the Dust - Отдать концы (2013)

Director: Taisa Igumentseva
Cast: Irina Denisova, Sergey Abroskin, Yola Sanko, Maksim Vitorgan, Alina Sergeeva, Dmitry Kulichkov, Anna Rud, Yuris Lautsinsh

In a tiny village everybody knows each other. The elderly shepherd Vasilich devotes all his time to the cow Konfeta, looking at it like a child at a sweet. The lonely old woman Zina curses the government. Some married women zealously eye each others’ husbands. Local inventor Ivan entertains the children with clever bits. One day some terrible news arrives: the television informs about the most powerful coronary emission in Earth’s history. In a day, mankind would be lost. Having recovered from the first shock, the villagers figure out their own special way of saying goodbye to life: to make a holiday for the whole world. Tables are moved, pies baked, some people pluck up their last courage and decide on important things in their life. But the end does not come... The situation gets heated. People understand that they cannot live any more the way they have done before...

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Maksim Panfilov: Ivan Son of Amir - Иван сын Амира (2013)

Director: Maksim Panfilov
Writers: Andrei Osipov, Maksim Panfilov
Stars: Karolina Gruszka, Bobur Yuldashev, Dmitriy Dyuzhev

Shortly after disoriented Russian widow Maria (Karolina Gruszka) arrives in Uzbekistan, her son falls ill in a bustling marketplace. They are rescued by Amir (Babur Yuldashev), who takes them home to his two wives. Cast into a completely alien environment, fending off angry jealousy that sabotages her already unfamiliar agrarian chores, Maria proves amazingly resilient. When a sexual encounter with Amir produces a son whom she names for her dead husband, Ivan, Maria becomes the man’s third wife and is happily integrated into the extended family, forming fast friendships with the assorted women and children.

Enter first hubby Ivan (Dmitri Diuzhev), very much alive. He promptly hustles his clan back to Sebastopol, including the child who bears his namesake, whose presence disturbs him greatly. Once back in Russia, Maria becomes an object of scandalous speculation, her liaison with a twice-married Muslim meeting with covert disapproval. Big Ivan, on the other hand, begins to thaw toward little Ivan, serenading him with an accordion by the sea. But when an earthquake strikes Amir’s home, sending the Uzbeks to Sebastopol to take refuge, it’s the Russians’ turn to learn tolerance and acceptance.

Panfilov never misses a cliche in drawing exaggerated contrasts between the opposing cultures. Where Uzbekistan forms a horizontal continuum, with marketplaces and farmland stretching expansively outward, Russia takes the form of a vertical lighthouse, isolated on a desolate shore. In the warm palette of the East, women’s colorful dresses and vivid tapestries intertwine with the rich greens and browns of the earth. Against this, Panfilov proposes icy white snowscapes and turbulent seas. Work in Uzbekistan, involving nature in all its agricultural vitality, plays against the Russians’ gathering of scientific data using precise instruments.

More here.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Stalingrad Directed by Fedor Bondarchuk Nominated for Oscar - Watch Trailer

Fedor Bondarchuk’s Stalingrad - the first Russian IMAX 3D film - has been nominated for the best foreign feature film Oscar Award.

The decision has been announced by the Russian Oscar committee following its voting results.

Stalingrad is the first Russian film in the IMAX 3D format. Its budget amounts to $30 million. According to the film director, September 28 will see the first run of the film in Volgograd (which was renamed into Stalingrad in the Soviet epoch), whereas the Moscow premiere is scheduled for October 2. The film will go on general release as soon as October 10. The film will also be screened abroad. In particular, it is planned to run in over 3000 movie theaters in China.

Stalingrad was competing for the Oscar nomination with A Long and Happy Life by Boris Khlebnikov, Short Stories by Mikhail Segal, Kin-dza-dza by Georgy Danelia, Major by Yury Bykov, Rita's Last Fairy Tale by Renata Litvinova, and Legend No. 17 by Nikolay Lebedev. In turn, the RF Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky supported the choice of the Russian Oscar committee.

It should be noted that in 2014 Fedor Bondarchuk plans to start shooting a film about Pavel Durov - the founder of the VKontakte social networking website – based on the same-name book Durov's Code by Nikolay Kononov.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Alexei German: Trial on the Road - Проверка на дорогах (1971)

Director: Aleksey German
Writers: Yuri German (stories), Eduard Volodarskiy
Stars: Rolan Bykov, Anatoliy Solonitsyn, Vladimir Zamanskiy

Проверка на дорогах (1971)

Banned for fifteen years and threatened with destruction by Soviet authorities, Guerman's solo directorial debut is clearly the work of a born master. Based on a true story documented by Guerman's father, Trial on the Road centres on a German soldier captured by the Russians in Nazi-controlled Byelorussia, who turns out to be a contrite defector who wants to return to the fold of the partisans. Forced to prove his loyalty to the homeland in increasingly perilous missions against the invaders, he achieves heroism in a sequence that recalls Melville's Army of Shadows in its masterful building of suspense. Accused of "de-heroizing" Soviet history with its moral complexity and multiple ambiguities, Trial on the Road became an acknowledged classic even in its enforced absence.

German’s first feature, Proverka na dorogakh(Trial on the Road), was finally shot in 1971; in retrospect it seems almost incredible that it was filmed at all. Soviet, indeed, Russian identity since World War Two had been founded on that bitterly won victory: the march to Berlin did more than any cult of personality to legitimate Stalin’s rule. German’s film undermines the fable of unwavering heroism and loyalty that sustained the self-perception of whole generations of Soviet citizens. A former Red Army lieutenant defects to the Nazis on ideological grounds, then decides to switch sides again to defend his homeland. The partisan brig­ade who capture him are suspicious and test his loyalty in a series of operations behind enemy lines. The motivations for the main character’s actions are barely discussed: questions of treason, of ideological as opposed to patriotic commitment are left largely unaddressed, and there is an uncomfortable sense of futility lurking behind any seeming acts of heroism. Proverka na dorogakh was shelved until 1986 because, according to internal memos of the state film agency Goskino, it ‘distorts the image of a heroic time’—‘the people it depicts could only have lost the Great Patriotic War’; the subtext being that German’s film ‘makes us someone other than who we want to be’.
More here.

Inspired by a real case documented by Guerman’s father, Trial on the Road tells the story of a sergeant in the Red Army during World War II who has defected to the Nazis and, as the film begins, switches sides yet again. His loyalties questioned by all except for a benevolent commander, the soldier is forced to prove his patriotism via a series of increasingly perilous missions. The visual flourishes of Trial on the Road’s battle scenes even attracted the notice of some in Hollywood, but Guerman himself remains proudest of such innovative touches as actors who gaze directly into the camera. For daring to question the orthodoxy that World War II was a heroic struggle free of ironies and ambiguities, the film was shelved for fifteen years.
More here.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Alexander Veledinsky: The Geographer Has Drunk Away The Globe - Географ глобус пропил (2013)

Director: Alexander Veledinsky
Cast:  Konstantin Khabensky, Elena Lyadova, Anna Ukolova, Evgenia Khirivskaya

 Географ глобус пропил (2013)

Awards :

First prize Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2013
Best actor Konstantin KHABENSKY , Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2013
Best music Aleksey ZUBAREV , Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2013
Prize of Film Distributor's Jury Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia),2013

Though he can barely read a map, a cranky but lovable biologist becomes a provincial geography teacher in the tragicomedy The Geographer Drank His Globe Away (Geograf globus propil), Russian director Alexander Veledinsky's adaptation of the bestseller by Alexei Ivanov. The film has been a hit at Russophone festivals, taking home top jury honors at both Sochi and Odessa. The Odessa audience award win also bodes well for the film's local release, scheduled for Nov. 7 on a pretty wide 400 screens. Further festival action is assured, though theatrical sales might be limited by the relatively mainstream nature of the material, especially once it leaves its bleak provincial city setting for the countryside. Cantankerous Victor (Konstantin Khabensky) is desperate for work and manages, despite being a biologist by training, to talk his way into a geography-teacher position at a high school in Perm, in the Russian boondocks (it's over 1,000 miles east of Moscow). But the kids in his classes are an unruly bunch and his life at home with his wife, Nadya (Elena Lyadova), offers little reprieve, as the two bicker like there's no tomorrow -- at least, until Nadya suggests they get a divorce.

Things start to look up when Victor's old buddy, Budkin (Alexander Robak), moves into the Soviet-era high-rise on the opposite side of the street, mainly because that means Victor has company for his drinking-to-forget sessions and Veledinsky -- by way of novelist Ivanov -- has an excuse to introduce more colorful, if one-note, female characters, including Budkin's ex-girlfriend, (Anna Ukolova), whose knowledge of geography is as small as Victor's; Kira (Evgenia Khirivskaya), a sexy German teacher at school and, lastly, an unexpected love interest for Budkin. Unsurprisingly, the women are all strictly observed from a male point of view.

Константин Хабенский

Ivanov's novel was set in the 1990s and its protagonists were about a decade younger than the fortysomethings shown here. Just after the fall of Communism, the future of the characters was also more uncertain than the one in this contemporary update, which, at least initially, seems to suggest that life is and will remain as bleak and stagnant as current-day, winter-time provincial Russia.

More here.

The funny, smart and rather subversive Geographer Drank His Globe Away (Geograf Globus Propil) – which won the main prizes at this year’s Odessa International Film Festival and the Open Russian Film Festival ‘Kinotavr’ at Sochi – is a film that clicks with audiences who embrace with bitter humour, sexual shenanigans, engaging performances and bleak backdrop. Set for a Russian release later this year, it should find its home on the festival circuit, though whether it may be too mainstream to work for international art house distributors.

Alexander Veleninsky has transplanted his adaptation of Alexei Ivanov’s novel from the 1990s to the present day, allowing plenty of pot shots at the current state of Russia, while also making great use of the cold and bitter backdrops of Perm, Zakamsk in the Lower Kuria district and Usva, in the Gremyachinsk district.

Агриппина Стеклова, Константин Хабенский

Biologist Victor Sergeyevich Sluzhkin (an engagingly dour but oddly charming Konstantin Khabensky, who also won best actor at Sochi) is desperate for work, and manages to convince a local school to take him on as a geography teacher, despite knowing nothing about the subject. He can’t stand the rude students, has no money and quarrels constantly with his wife Nadya (Elena Lyadova) in their tiny flat. He loves his young daughter, but can’t bear his life.

He flirts with other women and even encourages his best friend, the bear-like Budkin (Alexander Robak) to start an affair with his wife, and finds the only way to cope with his loneliness and lack of direction by smoking and copious of amounts of drinking. Against all odds he slowly finds a way of getting along with his class (which mainly involves drinking a great deal) and foolishly promises a river trip for those who get the best grades.

More here.