Thursday, 29 August 2013

Aleksey Fedorchenko: Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari - Небесные жены луговых мари (2012)

Director: Aleksey Fedorchenko
Stars: Yuliya Aug, Yana Esipovich, Vasiliy Domrachyov

Awards : FIPRESCI Prize Festival of Central and Eastern Film , Wiesbaden (Germany), 2013
Best Cinematography Shandor BERKESHI , Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2013
Best Screenplay Denis OSOKIN , Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2013
Guild of Historians of Cinema and Film Critics Diploma Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2013

This is a collection of portraits, something of a “film-calendar”: 23 short stories about the Marij women, a sort of Decameron suspended between magic and realism, in which the Autonomus Republic of the Marij El serves as a backdrop for the collective history of a people of ancient tradition. A journey into a misterious and unknown part of the world.

More here.

Director's Statement
Russia is a complex nation, considering that the territory is inhabited not by a single people, like in Latvia or Poland, but by at least 180 ethnic groups. The Finno-Ugric peoples are natives of central Russia, which now counts the largest number of churches and monasteries. The Meadow Mari represent one of the largest Finno-Ugric peoples, and the only one that maintained the tradition of communal prayer in the groves, a simple ritual in honour of the karts, the local priests. Their sacred mountain was blown up, and their groves were cut down, but very soon the authorities realized that they had endangered the life of the community... The celestial brides and wives of the Meadow Mari are indistinguishable from earthly wives.

Not all of the many women featured in Alexey Fedorchenko’s film are actually married, though all of them aspire to this status, and none of them is really celestial…delightfully earthy would be a much better definition. But they all belong to that same remote Mari, a Volga-Finnic people living in the north of Russia that no one really heard of before Fedorchenko’s previous feature, the darkly poetical Silent Souls, a hit at Venice two years ago and which walked away with glowing reviews and several awards.

Shot entirely on location in a Mari village near Ekaterinburg, with a number of professional Russian actresses joining the local inhabitants and easily catching the spirit of the place, some of the film’s 22 episodes will appear incongruous and pointless while others are both luscious and entertaining.

The landscape, changing in the course of the film from deep winter to glorious summer, and the village itself which looks untainted by time, provide an essential backdrop for this visceral collection of humorous tales, which should easily fit into every folk-inspired film event, though it may have a harder time reaching larger audiences.

More here.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Andrey Bogatyrev: Judas - Иуда (2012) - Trailer

Director: Andrey Bogatyrev
Writer: Vsevolod Benigsen
Stars: Ivan Dobronravov, Sergey Frolov, Aleksey Shevchenkov

Alexei Shevchenkov, Best Actor award of the Moscow International Film Festival

Judas, a seasoned thief, finds himself in the market square where Christ is giving a sermon and his apostles are collecting alms. He follows them and steals their money, only to be caught red-handed. Nevertheless, the Teacher forgives him. What is more, He invites the thief to become one of His followers and offers him a position as the group’s treasurer. Shocked by Christ’s unexpected offer, Judas decides to join the apostles, if only to figure out what is going on. He gradually starts to comprehend Christ’s message, but feels that the apostles are blindly following their teacher. Judas argues with them, and tries to defend his right to divine the truth of God. But when he fails to make them understand, he realizes that Christ’s teachings may sink into oblivion without benefiting humanity. His solution is to betray Christ. “By killing a man, have I not saved a God?”

“Judas” press-conference June 22, 2013

Andrey Bogatyrev has started the conversation by mentioning that he had read the book “Judas Iscariot” by Leonid Andreev while studying at the All-Russian State University of Cinematography named after S. Gerasimov. “Young people often start looking for philosophical concepts. In fact people experienced the wisest time in the adolescence and in the anility. That is why I decided to make the film now. It’s high time for profound talk. Many aspects of life is not that simple as they seem to be. We should strive for touching the ground of the history”. According to the director the film-making process turned out to be his own emotional and art experience.

Aleksey Shevchenkov noted that Judas role posed his first comprehend work in his professional career: “It was long-expected event of my life” - said the actor.

More here.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Andrey Zvyagintsev: Leviatan - Левиафан (2014)

Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Writers: Oleg Negin, Andrey Zvyagintsev
Cast: Alexei Serebryakov , Elena Lyadova , Vladimir Vdovichenkov , Roman Madyanov


The well-known Russian film director Andrey Zvyagintsev has told about his work on the new movie Leviathan, the shooting of which will take place on the Kola Peninsula from August to October 2013.

“As far back as July last year me and producer Alexander Rodnyansky, jointly with whom we made Elena, started the movie under the working name Leviathan” – the film director informed the Trud newspaper. According to him, already in May construction of scenery will be started in the city of Kirovsk of the Murmansk Region.

According to Mr. Zvyagintsev, the work on the scenario is in progress and actors’ auditioning is carried out now.

The story fully hinges on today; it will be implanted in the reality painfully familiar to us. The movie will sharply highlight the most actual problems of social character” – the film director explains.

Besides, Zvyagintsev has reported that unlike his previous movies Leviathan will involve lots of characters (fifteen), the running time of the movie will be 2 hours 10 minutes, and work on it will have been completed by spring of 2014.


Grigori Chukhrai: Ballad of a Soldier - Баллада о солдате (1959)

Director:  Grigoriy Chukhray
Writers: Grigoriy Chukhray, Valentin Ezhov 
Stars: Vladimir Ivashov, Zhanna Prokhorenko, Antonina Maksimova


* 1960 Cannes Film Festival - Special jury prize
* Bucharest Film Festival, 1960 - Golden Wolf for Best Film
* 5th San Francisco International Film Festival, 1960 - Golden Gate Award for Best Film and Golden Gate Award for Best Director
* BAFTA Award for Best Film from any Source, 1961
* Bodil Awards for Best European Film, 1961
* Nominated for Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay, 1961 - Grigori Chukhrai, Valentin Yezhov

Most of the Soviet filmmakers who pioneered the cinema during the 1920s – such as Pudovkin, Kuleshov, Eisenstein – were, for various reasons, largely inactive after WWII. The Soviet people lived under conditions of wartime stringency well into the 1950s. During this time, Party leaders exercised political repressions that led to captured soldiers, refugees, religious believers, and political prisoners filling the labor camps. After Stalin's death in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev took over the leadership of the Soviet state. He attacked Stalin's dictatorial policies and denounced everything that glorified the 'cult of personality' he promoted. In the course of five years – a period that has become known as the 'Thaw,' from 1953 to 1958 – the party undertook numerous reforms, such as freeing thousands of prisoners from the labor camps and investing government funds into education and research. These reforms also affected the film industry, which had been, up until then, under the strict censorship control by the policy of Social Realism. The latter policy required artists to produce art that glorified the party leaders' heroism, as well as the patriotism of the common man.

As a result of these changes, some of the most significant and innovative Soviet films were produced in this decade – films that presented a humane side of WWII and its effect on people living through the most incredible hardships. Ballad of a Soldier, directed by Grigori Chukhrai, is one such film. Devoid of Communist preaching, the film's opening scene informs us that we are going to learn a story of a Russian soldier, a fine man who was one of many who died in the war. That soldier is 19-year old Alyosha (Vladimir Ivashov), who came from a small village where the one main road will take you everywhere. It was on that road Alyosha and his mother (Antonina Maksimova) gave each other their last embrace. Since Chukhrai has opened the film by telling us that Alyosha eventually didn't come back from the war, their farewell meeting becomes particularly poignant to watch. ...

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Vladimir Motyl: Crimson Color of the Snowfall - Багровый цвет снегопада (2010)

Director: Vladimir Motyl
Writer: Vladimir Motyl
Stars: Mikhail Filippov, Daniela Stoyanovich, Aleksandr Tsurkan

Vladimir Motyl’s Crimson Color of the Snowfall addresses a historical subject and casts a light on the decade from 1916 to 1926. Motyl’ is not the only Russian director with an interest in the history of the early 20th century: one need only think of Admiral (2008, directed by Andrei Kravchuk), which uses the figure of Aleksandr Kolchak to re-evaluate the relationship between Reds and Whites, or Burnt by the Sun 2 (Utomlennye solntsem 2, 2010, directed by Nikita Mikhalkov), which looks back at the Red-White conflict and the Stalin era. Like these films, Motyl’ seeks to dismantle Soviet interpretative models that persist in the collective memory—not only of the older generation—and to redistribute “good” and “evil.” Motyl’, who also wrote the screenplay, plots the fortunes of a woman whose pursuit of personal happiness is thwarted again and again by the historical events. The impossibility of giving a meaningful structure to one’s life in times of upheaval has parallels, readily identifiable in the film, to Boris Pasternak’s revolutionary epic Doktor Zhivago. The film’s title, too, refers to the notion that there is no escape for anyone in times of upheaval. It does not—as usually—focus on the blood-stained snow on the ground, but describes the falling snow that drifts down on everyone, without discrimination.

As far as its composition is concerned, Crimson Color of the Snowfall is a traditional narrative film that makes ample use of melodramatic effects. The action begins in 1916 and follows in stages the fate of the young Kseniia Gerstel’, an orphan from an affluent industrialist family of German origin, now living in Kiev. She had already lost her father in the turmoil of the 1905 revolution and now, during the First World War, she believes that her fiancé and her brother have also been killed. Desperate, she volunteers for the Red Cross at the front, where she narrowly escapes death thanks only to the intervention, at the very last moment, of Colonel Rostislav Batorskii. Despite having been seriously wounded in the process, Batorskii is fond of the young woman and gives her shelter in his home in troubled Petrograd after the demobilisation. Out of gratitude, and in spite of the considerable age difference, she eventually agrees to marry him; her respectful reserve towards him develops into a happy relationship. However, this happiness comes to an abrupt end when Batorskii, now a general in the Provisional Government, goes on a tour of inspection in the company of his pregnant wife. The couple are travelling through Ukraine by train when Batorskii is brutally battered to death in front of her by Red revolutionaries at one of the stations. The following year, having recovered to some extent from the shock, her own injuries, and the loss of her unborn child, the young woman emigrates to Europe. She leaves behind her a Ukraine riven by crises and turmoil in the wake of revolutionary upheavals and the invasion of German and Austrian troops.

Reviewed by Christine Engel © 2013 in KinoKultura

Friday, 23 August 2013

Yuri Bykov: They Major - Майор (2013) with Trailer

Director: Yuri Bykov
Writer: Yuri Bykov
Stars: Yuri Bykov, Ilya Isayev, Dmitriy Kulichkov

Like an episode of The Shield transplanted to the snow-swept Russian countryside, writer-director Yuri Bykov’s The Major is a tense, handheld police thriller filled with scores of dirty cops, scenes of abrupt violence and a relentless, overriding sense of nastiness. It’s also rather heavy-handed in certain parts, and not necessarily original in the story department, but its rapid pacing and potent performances should make it a viable pickup for distributors specializing in exotic genre fare.

Premiering in competition in the Critics’ Week sidebar, Bykov’s second feature, following 2010’s Live!, is also a one-man-band affair, with the filmmaker credited as writer, editor and composer, as well as playing a character who gets a major ass-whipping from various members of the local police force. So while there’s no doubt that the 32-year-old Bykov is entirely committed to his art, he also overreaches in places -- especially with the film’s excessive score -- but otherwise shows a knack for building intense set-pieces, including a nail-biting precinct shootout that makes strong use of off-screen space and vivid sound design (courtesy of Alexander Noskov). Set within a single 24-hour period, the action kicks off quickly enough with commander Sergey Sobolev (Denis Shvedov) racing his SUV across icy country roads to join his wife, who’s giving birth at a clinic in nearby Ryazan, a small city southeast of Moscow. Along the way, his car skids into a 7-year-old boy, killing him instantly. But rather than calling an ambulance or doing anything remotely reasonable, Sobolev takes the kid’s wailing mother, Irina (Irina Nizina), hostage and phones a fellow officer, Pasha (Ilya Isaev), to come in and clean up the mess.

What follows is one very long day of unethical policing, as Sobolev and Pasha try to cover up the accident in order to save the “integrity” (quotes intended) of their department. They dupe Irina into drinking, taking a blood sample so they can blame the death on her. When she refuses to sign the statement, Pasha beats the bejesus out of her scrubby husband (Bykov), who comes back to the station wielding a shotgun and holding two officers prisoner.

The bloody chain of events spirals further and further out of control, until Sobolev winds up taking stock of his actions, leading to a denouement that will ultimately pit him against the corrupt unit he was so desperately trying to protect.

Filmed in real locations with lots of gritty, over-the-shoulder camerawork by Kirill Klepalov, The Major is mostly a well-paced and directed affair, even if Bykov misses some plot points (whatever happened to the wife?) and resorts to dramatic overkill in order to prove his point—basically that Russian law enforcement is one big drunken mother lode of corruption.

More here.

Shot mostly on a Red camera by Kirill Klepalov with lots of handheld skittishness, “The Major” has the same percussive drive and hardboiled swagger as men-on-the-run thriller “To Live,” but this time it’s in service of a more sophisticated script. At times, the pic feels like the pilot for a TV procedural but with dingier sets, more swearing and a very Slavic sense of miserabilism. No one here harbors any illusions that the police are there to uphold justice and the law; mostly they’re just thugs in uniform, although there are shades and gradations of thuggery here that mark some as more sympathetic than others, nuances that come out via a fine cast of familiar character thesps.

More here


Thursday, 22 August 2013

Karen Shakhnazarov: The Day of the Full Moon - День полнолуния (1998)

Directed by Karen Shakhnazarov
Starring Andrei Panin, Vladimir Ilyin

A remarkable anthology of over a dozen of stories taking place in different time, various places and yet being invisibly connected with each other.

Ольга Сидорова

 Day of the Full Moon is a stunningly photographed series of vignettes from Russia past and present that summons the spirit of Max Ophuls’ 1950 classic La Ronde, and Robert Altman’s Nashville and Short Cutsto tell provocative and interconnecting stories.

During the full moon, three different people are captivated by a mysterious woman in a lilac dress. The effects of this event ripple through the years, and grow to wash over more than 80 characters, from a disc jockey to a fairy princess to a gangster to Alexander Pushkin to a nostalgic dog. But which of these are dreams, and which represent reality?

Shakhnazarov continues his career-long focus on the intersection of past and present with this mysterious yet exhilarating mosaic of humankind, which in the end offers both seduction and satisfaction to the receptive viewer.

Awards :

Best Screenplay Karen SHAKHNAZAROV , Aleksandr BORODIANSKY , "NIKA" Prizes, Moscow (Russia), 1998
Prix spécial et prix de la Critique internationale (FIPRESCI) au festival de Karlovy-Vary, 1998
Prix Nika du meilleur scénario, 1999

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Igor Talankin: The Stars of the Day/Daylight Stars - Дневные звезды (1966)

Дневные звезды (1966)

Director: Igor Talankin
Writers: Olga Berggolts (books), Igor Talankin
Stars: Alla Demidova, Andrei Popov, Konstantin Baranov 

The Stars of the Day was based on poetess Olga Berggolts's autobiography. She was a difficult figure for the authorities: though she stayed in Leningrad during the siege making inspirational radio broadcasts, her more personal work was suppressed, even after her death. 

Suspended strangely between interior monologue, poetic recitation, exterior action and memory, it won an award at the Venice Film Festival.