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.

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 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.