Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Resounding down the years: Five cult movies that shaped Russian popular culture

1. The Carnival Night (comedy musical, 1956)

Карнавальная ночь (1956)

As the staff of an economics institute prepare for their annual New Year party, a pompous old bureaucrat named Ogurtsov tries to turn the party into a boring lecture and spoil all the fun. Nowadays the plot would win no prizes for originality, but in 1956 it was seen as groundbreaking.

Stalin’s death three years before had ushered in an era of political indulgence known as the Thaw. Directors were finally allowed some freedom of expression, and The Carnival Night became one of the heralds of this new era. Ogurtsov became a negative symbol of the old days, because fun has always been a very important part of the Russian mentality. The film was also of note for another reason: For the first time since the 1930s, audiences could hear a real jazz band in a Soviet movie – during the 40s and the beginning of the 50s jazz was officially labeled “harmful” music and some jazz singers were even victims of repression.

2. White Sun of the Desert (“Weastern”, 1970)

Белое солнце пустыни (1969)

During the stagnation of the 1970s, Soviet people badly needed a heroic figure on the screen. Red Army soldier Fyodor Sukhov, the main character of White Sun of the Desert, appeared right on time. Director Vladimir Motyl wanted to make a truly Soviet Western. And he succeeded, making a discreet, dramatic and deeply genre patriotic piece. Returning home through the Central Asian desert after fighting in the Russian Civil War, Sukhov encounters local criminal Abdullah's harem and decides to protect the women from being killed by their cruel husband.

During the film many of the characters are killed, but Sukhov mostly succeeds in his honorable intentions. Sukhov is also a romantic hero: He dreams of returning to his beloved wife Katerina Matveyevna, who symbolizes home and Russia itself. ...

3. Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession (comedy, sci-fi, released as “Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future” in the U.S., 1973)


Everyone in the former Soviet Union still knows the name of director Leonid Gaidai, because he truly made movies for the people. The most famous is his comedy trilogy: Operation Y and Shurik's Other Adventures, Kidnapping, Caucasian Style and Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession. Plot-wise, it’s not really a franchise, but the director’s style and genre are the same.

In the first movie a young physicist named Shurik finds a girlfriend and gets his first job, in the second he travels to the Caucasus, meets another girl and saves her from kidnappers.

In the third one, based on the play Ivan Vasilievich by Bulgakov (the author of the cult book The Master and Margarita), the young scientist creates a time machine, and in an unfortunate mishap, Tsar Ivan the Terrible is transported to 1970s Moscow in place of the boring Soviet official Bunsha, who ends up in the 15th century. Comic capers ensue as the film ticks off all the slapstick boxes: mistaken identity, shouting, chases, falls etc.

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