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)

Free Image Hosting at

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.