Thursday, 31 March 2016

Vitaliy Melnikov: The Tsar's Hunt aka The Royal Hunt - Царская охота 1990

Director: Vitaliy Melnikov
Writer: Leonid Zorin
Cast: Nikolay Eryomenko, Svetlana Kryuchkova, Anna Samokhina

Царская охота (1990)

The screenplay features the tragic fate of the impostor Princess Tarakanova, a pretender to the Russian throne. It is one of the most dazzling subjects presented to art by the Russian history. Leonid Zorin came up with his own view of the hunt put up by Tsarina Catherine II in pursuit of Princess Tarakanova. In the eyes of many Count Orlov, the executor of the Empress's will, was an accomplished villain. The playwright renounced this simple description. Orlov was too much of an individual to turn into a common executioner. The extent of his suffering might have exceeded that of the victim herself; for he truly fell in love with Princess Yelizaveta Tarakanova, the one he betrayed.

The costume designer Larisa Koknikova was awarded NIKA – the highest annual professional Premium of the Cinematographers’ Union – for the Best Designer’s Work (1991).

The actress Svetlana Kryuchkova was awarded NIKA for the Best Minor Part (1991).

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Choosing the past over the present: The enduring popularity of Soviet films

The highest-rated series on Russian TV today are about Soviet times. Take The Case of Gastronom No.1, for instance, the story of the director of the Yeliseyevsky food store on Moscow’s Gor'kogo Street (now Tverskaya Street). Then there is Furtseva - about the Soviet Minister of Culture, and Galina - about the daughter of Leonid Brezhnev, the General Secretary of the USSR, as well as Marshall Zhukov - about the most important Soviet military commander. And many more new series about the Soviet era are on the way.

Feature-length films have not been forgotten either. Old movies, such as Love and Pigeons, Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!, which are traditionally shown on TV on New Year's Eve, continue to gather big audiences whenever they are screened.

What's the trick? Was Soviet cinema that energetically-charged? Or is it because it was made by superprofessionals? It's widely believed in Russia that Soviet-era films were every bit as good as Hollywood ones. Russian film director Alexander Mitta, known for Soviet film hits Air Crew and Shine, Shine, explains this phenomena:

“People seek a foothold in the past. The past looks good in films. And that's positive, but people should at least respect their past,” says Mitta. “There were repulsive things in the Soviet past, such as Stalin's Terror. But if you come to think of the Brezhnev period of stagnation, many people enjoyed it. Businesses worked, basic food was always available, a small salary was guaranteed.

“Some shiver at the very reminiscence of that period because of its lack of freedoms. But the majority of people care less about freedoms and more about a normal stable life — creating a family, raising children...This is the past that cinema shows. This is why it's so attractive today.”

Film producers are now ruthlessly exploiting the interest in Soviet films for their benefit. Several years ago emerged an obsession to colorize old black-and-white Soviet films and series. Colorization technology is relatively expensive and laborious. But in this case neither money nor the efforts were a problem as the initiative came from the TV channels, ie. the most powerful and rich clients. The colorized films include Spring on Zarechnaya Street, Three Poplars at Plyushchikha, Jolly Fellows, Cinderella, the TV miniseries Seventeen Moments of Spring and others. Curiously, audiences still prefer the black-and-white original.

Remakes and sequels represent another way to exploit the zest for Soviet cinema. Basically, it refers to comedies such as Office Romance - the story of a love affair between a general manager with a failed personal life nicknamed “Frump” and her subordinate - a single father of two children.

Another one is Gentlemen of Fortune - the story of a kindergarten teacher who happens to bear a striking similarility to a notorious criminal who is trying to track down a priceless archeological find together with his accomplices. A sequel of the film The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath! was even made, with the aim of screening it on New Year’s Eve to a younger, more modern audience.

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Thursday, 24 March 2016

Mikhail Mestetsky: Rag Union - Тряпичный союз (2015)

Cloth Union (2015)

Director and Scriptwriter Mikhail Mestetsky
Cast Vasili Butkevich, Alexander Pal, Pavel Chinarev, Ivan Yankovsky, Anastasia Pronina, Fedor Lavrov

Cloth Union (2015)

We are freaks, know-it-alls, jerk-offs. There is a lot we can afford to do. We can look over the edge.”

Vania, a reserved teenager, falls under the spell of three young men calling themselves the Rag Union. Full of energy, fearless and feel invincible, they leap over gravestones and car roofs – Parkour and art are their weapons against the world order. Vania wants to join them, even though it is unclear what the Rag Union is actually about: world revolution, subversive action art or pure megalomania? Vania looks on helplessly as the three take over his Grandmother's dacha. Then a girl shows up and causes trouble, and eventually the first bomb goes off. In a kaleidoscope of imagery and narrative, the film is bursting at the seams with anarchic energy. As Vania distances himself from the group, he reflects on the idealism of the world they have constructed. One thing is sure: they will never forget these days together.

Best actor prize — to ensemble (Vasili Butkevich, Alexander Pal, Pavel Chinarev, Ivan Yankovsky); ORFF «Kinotavr-2015»

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Danger! High-radiation arthouse! - Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker (1980)

Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker (1980) came second, behind Blade Runner, in a recent BFI poll of its members' top movies. In outline, it's one of the simplest films ever made: a guide, or Stalker, takes two people, Writer and Professor, into a forbidden area called the Zone, at the heart of which is the Room, where your deepest wish will come true. It is this simplicity that gives the film its fathomless resonance. If Tarkovsky's previous film, Solaris, seemed like a Soviet 2001, was Stalker Tarkovsky's take on The Wizard of Oz?

The starkness of its conception did not prevent the production traumas that seem integral to the creation myths of other favourites: the likes of Apocalypse Now and Fitzcarraldo. Plans to shoot in Tajikistan had to be abandoned because of an earthquake. Having relocated to an abandoned hydroelectric power station in Estonia, Tarkovsky was dissatisfied with the cinematography and decided to shoot a pared-down version of the script all over again - in the same place. The price paid for this pursuit of an ideal is incalculable. Sound recordist Vladimir Sharun believes the deaths from cancer of Tarkovsky (in 1986), his wife Larissa and Anatoly Solonitsyn (who plays the Writer) were all due to contamination from a chemical plant upstream from the set.

The film itself has become synonymous both with cinema's claims to high art and a test of the viewer's ability to appreciate it as such. Anyone sharing Cate Blanchett's enthusiasm for it - "every single frame of the film is burned into my retina" - attests not just to the director's lofty purity of purpose, but to their own capacity to survive at the challenging peaks of human achievement. So a certain amount of blowback is inevitable. David Thomson included Stalker in his pantheon of 1,000 memorable movies, but was dubious about the notion of the Room. Perhaps it's "an infinite, if dank enclosure in which an uncertain number of strangers are watching the works of Tarkovsky. Equally, it may be that as malfunction of one kind or another covers the world, we may have a hard time distinguishing the Room, the Zone, and the local multiplex."

Sometimes wry scepticism is a more appropriate tribute than po-faced reverence, especially given that Tarkovsky leaves ample room for doubt. Any claim made for the Zone ("the quietest place in the world," says the Stalker) is countered by the suggestion that it's a bit disappointing ("smells like a bog," says Professor). In an interview Tarkovsky even raised the possibility that the Zone did not exist and was merely the Stalker's invention.

Though it's easily forgotten, there's often a touch of comedy - even slapstick - in Tarkovsky-land. Deep in the Zone, on the threshold of the Room, the three guys are pondering the mysteries of existence when a phone rings. The professor answers: "Hello? No, this is not the clinic!" Was this the inspiration for those Orange-sponsored "Don't let a phone ruin your movie" scenarios?

I've seen Stalker more times than any film except The Great Escape. I've seen it when the projectionist got the reels in the wrong order (I was the only person who noticed), I've seen it on my own in Paris and dubbed into Italian in Rome, I've seen it on acid (remember that sequence when the solid ground begins to ripple?) and I've seen it on telly - and it's never quite as I remember. Like the Zone, it's always changing. Like the Stalker, I feel quite at home in it, but whenever I see the film I try to imagine what it might be like, watching it for the first time when it seems so weird.

Consider the first 15 minutes. After a credit sequence showing an oldish guy drinking in a gloomy bar, we peer through an interior set of doors into a room. Inside already, the camera takes us deeper indoors. It's as if Tarkovsky has started off where Antonioni left off in the penultimate inside-out shot of The Passenger and taken it a stage further: inside-in. It's slower than Antonioni, and without the colour. It has a kind of sub-monochrome in which the spectrum has been so compressed that it might turn out to be a source of energy, like oil and almost as dark - but with a gold sheen, too. The camera pans across the people in bed and then tracks back. Not a long take by Tarkovsky's standards, but still, one takes the point. "If the regular length of a shot is increased, one becomes bored, but if you keep on making it longer, it piques your interest, and if you make it even longer a new quality emerges, a special intensity of attention."

The rumble of heavy transport - accompanied by an anthem to Homo Sovieticus - causes a glass to rattle across a table. The man wakes up and gets out of bed. Unusually, he sleeps without his trousers but with his sweater. Another weird thing is that, although trying not to wake his wife, he puts on his trousers and his boots before clomping quietly into the kitchen. His wife was awake, it turns out, or has been roused by his movements.

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Monday, 21 March 2016

Anna Melikian: About Love - Про любовь (2015)

Director: Anna Melikyan
Writers: Anna Melikyan, Andrey Migachev
Stars: Aleksandra Bortich, Mariya Danilyuk, Mikhail Efremov

Про любовь (2015)

Anna Melikian’s fourth feature film About Love was intended to be an in-between project, a crowd-pleasing commercial film that would help her finance her future efforts. Produced in a total of 25 days, Melikian’s comedy won the Grand Prix at the 2015 Kinotavr Film Festival, a victory that allegedly came as a surprise to the director, whose quirkier art-house productions, such as Mermaid (Rusalka, 2007) and The Star (Zvezda, 2014), had never won the main prize. About Love—Melikian’s venture into mainstream cinema—was also awarded the Prize of the Distributors’ Jury at Kinotavr and is indeed more likely to appeal to general audiences than her earlier films. The film is permeated with explorations of the ever-popular theme of love, and features a plethora of Russian movie stars, including Renata Litvinova, Vladimir Mashkov, Mikhail Efremov, and Evgenii Tsyganov. It offers more happy endings than all of Melikian’s earlier feature films combined. Despite its commercial orientation, About Love preserves Melikian’s playful visual and narrative style, defies rigid genre prescriptions, and ultimately takes up the same questions as her earlier feature films—the role of geographic, digital, and cultural spaces in the formation and articulation of personal identities.

About Love is the first film in Melikian’s career that does not end in the protagonist’s death but celebrates love. But then again, does it? Each of the film’s five novellas, held together by a lecture about love delivered by Renata Litvinova, leaves a bittersweet aftertaste. The first of the stories dives into the colorful world of two Moscow cosplayers (Mariia Shalaeva and Vasilii Raksha), whose love is jeopardized by their decision to step from their Japanese anime into the “real” world. Sans the costumes, makeup, and wigs, the lovers, it turns out, have nothing to say to each other. They return to their alter egos, however, and rekindle their “imaginary” love.

The second novella features a love triangle between a boss (Mashkov), his employee (Iuliia Snigir'), and her boyfriend (Aleksei Filimonov). While the latter secures victories in the alternate realities of his video games, Mashkov’s character offers to buy his secretary an apartment in exchange for sex. Tempted by the offer, the woman gives in only to realize that she had a momentary lapse of judgment. Her boyfriend proposes and she happily accepts. The final shot of the novella confirms, however, that the love triangle is still in place—the man’s gaze is lovingly fixed upon his computer screen.

The third story revolves around a Japanese girl who is enamored with Russian culture and comes to Moscow in the hope of falling in love with a Russian man. She goes on dates with six different “candidates” she has met on a dating website, all of whom prove to be disappointments. Most of them are after her money, and the only man willing to pay for her dinner does so to cross another nationality off his list of sex conquests. The girl does, however, find love in the end—she falls in love with the Japanese boy who, as it turns out, knows more about Russian culture than the Russian men do. The novella also ends on a sad note as it tells the boy’s side of the story, and it is one of unrequited love.

The fourth novella features a graffiti artist (Evgenii Tsyganov), who is infatuated with every single beauty he lays his eyes on. His desire is immediately transformed into artistic inspiration; he paints the woman’s portrait on some ugly wall only to move on to another beauty and another wall. He does have a more sensual relationship with two of his artistic inspirations, however. Once the two “lucky” ladies find out about each other’s existence, they overcome their initial frustration and decide to “make the best” of the situation as they both join the artist in bed. His mind, however, goes blank when they ask him the simple question that runs through the entire film: “What is love?”

It is the film’s final story that provides an answer to this question, and it is not an optimistic one. Litvinova’s character finishes her lecture and sets off on her own love adventure. Sex expert by day, nymphomaniac by night, she follows the orders of a potential “lover” sent to her via text messages. The mysterious stranger is none other than her ex-husband (Mikhail Efremov) who traps her with the purpose of getting her professional “assessment” of his young fiancée. The girl, it turns out, is pursuing his money, yet the love-stricken man cannot be “cured”—he is going to marry her anyway since love, in Melikian’s own definition, “is when you are in a lot of pain, when you are vulnerable and nobody can really help you” (Glamour Russia Interview).

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Alexander Sokurov: The director Russia ignores

Alexander Sokurov has a fair claim as Russia’s most distinguished living film-maker. A Golden Lion winner at Venice for his film Faust, and a perennial presence at major festivals, he has many influential admirers. “I wept and wept, from start to finish,” rock star Nick Cave stated after seeing Sokurov’s 1997 film Mother and Son. Martin Scorsese called him “a pioneer” and supported the making of his “one-shot” feature Russian Ark (2002), filmed in a single 90-minute take in the Hermitage Museum. Russian president Vladimir Putin helped ensure the financing of Faust. 

Sokurov’s new feature, Francofonia, was coproduced by the Louvre and partly shot in the museum when it was closed to the public and at night. The crew was there working next to the Mona Lisa for eight or nine days.

The film’s main preoccupation is with the Louvre under during the Second World War. With death and destruction all around them, the Louvre’s then-director Jacques Jaujard collaborated with Nazi officer Count Franziskus Wolff-Metternich to ensure that the museum’s treasures (most of which had been removed from Paris and hidden) weren’t pillaged by Hitler and his cronies.

Francofonia falls somewhere between documentary, dramatic feature and essay. It is playful and polemical by turns as it celebrates European culture – and also looks at Europeans’ gravitation toward war. Sokurov features on camera and narrates the film in a tremulous, poetic voice-over.

When I meet him on a secluded terrace of the Hotel Excelsior on the Venice Lido the day after the film’s Film Festival premiere there, Sokurov is in cheery, if strangely fatalistic, mood. He seems very downbeat about the state of Russian cinema – and about his own position. Putin may have helped get Faust financed but, the director claims, the president didn’t care for the movie.

“He didn’t like Faust. It wasn’t shown on television [in Russia]… it was in cinemas but for a very limited time. So there is no place for me in the Russian cinema world and never will be.” Putin praised Faust but Sokurov sounds sceptical about his motives. “The Russian participation in festivals is a sort of a political action – a political promotion by the Russian state.” As for the Golden Lion, that didn’t help to get the movie shown. “The bigger the prize, the less [the film] is popular.” The director adds that Russian cinema is currently under the control of the “oligarchs”.

“Russian cinema continues to exist. There are talented people and the Russian state invests money but I think a great part of this investment is distributed among oligarchs. We have film directors who are oligarchs and they have a large part of the pie,” Sokurov comments, citing the Oscar-winning Nikita Mikhalkov (Burnt by the Sun) as an example of a very powerful figure.

“I think the Russian people in general are predisposed toward cinema,” Sokurov continues, seeing at least some grounds for optimism. “The Russians are not good administrators. They are not good statesmen but we are good cinema directors, good engineers and good scientists… ”

Francofonia was entirely financed with French, German and Dutch backing. Sokurov’s own feelings toward Europe seem tinged with both affection and exasperation. “It’s like relations you have with close relatives,” he says. “We are intrinsically linked with Western Europe. We are the same family. We cannot do without each other. God almighty has put us on the same continent, as close neighbours. From childhood years, Europe for me is Mozart, Dickens, Zola, big German writers, artists, Romanticism, great British painters… it is a part of me from the beginning.” He talks of the mix of “respect and tension” that has always characterised Russia’s relations with Europe. “It’s a complex, mixed feeling.”

When the director first went to Paris years ago, he hated it. He found the locals callous and overbearing, “hustling in the restaurants and cafes, everybody in a hurry”. It was expensive too. The Louvre struck him as a vast “factory for the production of impressions. There were so many things that I was overwhelmed.” He left almost immediately but was to return many times.

Alongside the gorgeous imagery of the Louvre’s treasures, Francofonia features some very grim archive footage of Leningrad during the Second World War. While Jaujard and Wolff-Metternich were conspiring to stop the Nazis looting French artworks, millions across Europe were dying.

In the face of such devastation, doesn’t worrying about artworks seem a little inconsequential? “What can I say? Art is derivative from life. It takes its inspiration from life. It doesn’t have any other possible source – and the most important event in a work of art is the presence of death. Death is always there. Art just revolves, makes circles around death, without being able to answer questions about life and death, which are still open. In reality, the goal of art is to prepare man for the eventuality of death, to understand mentally that we are going to die.”

Such answers may suggest that Francofonia is grim. In fact, by the standards of some of the director’s earlier works, it is light-hearted. The film features scenes in which we see Napoleon, a conceited little man, staring at paintings of himself on the wall and coming face to face with the Mona Lisa – and seeming to see his own reflection in Leonardo’s masterpiece.

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Sunday, 20 March 2016

5 of the most anticipated Russian movies of 2016

The top Russian movies of 2016 that are expected to perform well internationally and win some major awards run the gamut from historical drama through Asian-tinged fantasy to theatrical adaptation. Here’s a pick of five of the most eagerly-awaited pictures.



The love story of the famous ballet dancer Mathilde Kschessinska and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia has been begging to be adapted for the screen. It really had everything: ballet, court intrigues, the troubled times it was set in – in short, all the things you need to get international recognition, and – with some luck, even a Golden Globe or an Oscar – are there.

Well aware of this, director Alexei Uchitel treated the project very seriously. Even the film's cast gives away its international market ambitions: Nicholas II is portrayed by German actor Lars Eidinger and Lithuanian actress Ingeborga Dapkunaite, accompanied by Russian actors who have already achieved at least some degree of fame abroad, such as Grigory Dobrygin (who appeared in Western films A Most Wanted Man and Black Sea in 2014). Interestingly, the name of the actress portraying Mathilde Kschessinska has not yet been revealed.

Viy 2: A Journey to China

The original Viy, a very successful 2014 dark fantasy feature known internationally as Forbidden Empire, made headlines in Russia by the simple virtue of being released: The movie had originally been announced no fewer than seven years earlier.

Loosely based on the eponymous thriller by Nikolai Gogol, the film earned $30 million in Russia and attracted some attention from China – despite earning only $3 million there, it still appealed enough to Chinese producers that they decided to take part in making a sequel. Thus, the second part of the story, which is still in production, will be set in the Celestial Empire: A teaser of the film showcases Wuxia-style action scenes, dragons and other essential elements of an "Asian-flavored" flick.

The Duelist

This multimillion-dollar project by Alexander Rodnyansky, known for producing Andrey Zvyagintsev's Leviathan, is directed by Alexei Mizgirev, who until now has made auteur films that have never earned over $20,000 at the box office. The Duelist stars Fanny Ardant, Vladimir Mashkov, Pierre Bourrel and Yury Kolokolnikov – and that's pretty much all that is reliably known about Russia's most secretive movie of 2016. The film is set in the 19th century and revolves around an individual who makes his living by standing in for other people in duels.

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Sergei Eisenstein: Alexander Nevsky - Александр Невский (1938)

Александр Невский (1938)

Directors: Sergei M. Eisenstein, Dmitriy Vasilev
Writers: Sergei M. Eisenstein, Pyotr Pavlenko
Stars: Nikolay Cherkasov, Nikolai Okhlopkov, Andrei Abrikosov

Released in late 1938, Alexander Nevsky was not only the first sound film to be directed by Sergei Eisenstein, but the director’s political comeback as well. This most famous of Soviet artists had not completed a movie since The Old and the New in 1929. A fruitless trip to Hollywood had weakened his position in the increasingly regimented Soviet Union; he suffered first the debacle of Que Viva Mexico! and then the disaster of the unfinished Bezhin Meadow.

In the spring of 1937, the Soviet film tsar Boris Shumyatsky gave Eisenstein a choice of several historical subjects, including the 13th-century warrior-saint Alexander Nevsky and his victory over the German knights of the Teutonic Order. Eisenstein chose Nevsky because relatively little was known about him—hence, the filmmaker reasoned, he would work under fewer constraints. Eisenstein told his colleague Mikhail Romm that he would find an actor and cast him and “the whole world will soon believe that the real Nevsky was just like my actor.” Indeed, painter Pavel Korin’s 1942–43 triptych Alexander Nevsky is clearly modeled on the actor Nikolai Cherkasov—whose presence in Nevsky served Eisenstein as a political insurance policy.

Николай Черкасов

An imposing figure with a booming voice, the 34-year-old Cherkasov began his career as a music hall comedian but became a star—not to mention a State Artist and member of the Supreme Soviet—by playing several stalwart heroes, among them the crown prince Alexei in Peter the Great. The actor was not the only official favorite connected with the production. Eisenstein’s co-writer Pyotr Pavlenko was a loyal Stalinist and very likely secret-police agent. Their scenario was completed in November 1937. Nevsky wrapped months ahead of schedule, in part because Eisenstein was able to assign much of the actual direction to Dmitri Vasilev, his studio-appointed watchdog.

Propagandist though it may be, Alexander Nevsky depends scarcely on dialogue for its impact. Eisenstein’s closest collaborator was the distinguished composer Sergei Prokofiev, who, so the filmmaker wrote, provided the stirring chorales and keening oratorios that determined Nevsky’s “symphonic structure.” Prokofiev took an active role in supervising the recording of the film’s audio track, often devising sound effects to Eisenstein’s specifications. While much of his score was composed for edited sequences, other scenes were cut to match already-recorded music—a technique then commonly known in Hollywood as “Mickey-Mousing.”

Steeped in xenophobia and a scarcely unwarranted fear of foreign aggression, Alexander Nevsky was equally synchronized to the world situation in which it was produced. In the opening scene, Nevsky—who has already defeated the Swedes—demonstrates the force of his personality by facing down a company of Mongol warriors. (“Ironically,” as Eisenstein’s biographer Ronald Bergan has noted, this sequence is “imbued with a Nordic savour—tall and fair-haired men and women, in contrast to the dark and shifty-eyed Tartars who descend on the peaceful village, are interchangeable with the iconography of some of the Nazi films being made in Germany during the same period.”)

A spectacle of skeleton battlefields and devastated cities, Alexander Nevsky is framed as a near-cosmic struggle between good and evil. Scenes emphasize German atrocities against Russian civilians, with the invaders further dehumanized by their sinister, horned helmets. And the heart of the movie is the 30-minute Battle on the Ice sequence. A triumph for Eisenstein as well as for Nevsky, this strategically undercranked and brilliantly-edited mix of massing soldiers and slashing close combat—alternately horrifying and carnivalesque—would serve as a prototype for the battlefield scenes in Laurence Olivier’s Henry V, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, and Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus.

Nevsky’s extraordinary set piece was filmed first—during a blazing hot summer—in the countryside outside Moscow. Cinematographer Eduard Tissé used a filter to suggest winter light; trees were painted light blue and dusted with chalk; an artificial horizon was created out of sand. The ice itself was a mixture of asphalt and melted glass. In a remarkable engineering feat, sheets of this fake ice were supported by floating pontoons to be deflated on cue so that it would shatter under the weight of the Teutonic knights according to pre-cut patterns.

Eisenstein took time off from shooting to publish a piece in the official newspaper Izvestia drawing a parallel between Nevsky and Stalin—the movie ends with the hero’s threat that “He who comes to us with a sword, shall die by the sword”—and, late in the editing process, the studio received a midnight call requesting an advance Kremlin screening. Without waking Eisenstein, his assistants showed the footage to the Soviet dictator. That a reel consequently disappeared has inspired two theories: one, that the reel was mistakenly left behind in the editing room, and, as Stalin failed to notice the gap, it was deemed more prudent to go with his approved version than to reinsert the missing material. The second theory suggests that Stalin objected to a sequence featuring a brawl among the people of Novgorod. Whichever was the case, the reel was destroyed.

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Andrei Malyukov: We are from the Future - Мы из будущего (2008)

Мы из будущего (2008)

Director: Andrei Malyukov
Cast: Danila Kozlovskii, Vladimir Iaglych, Andrei Terent’ev, Dmitri Volkostrelov, Daniil Strakhov, Ekaterina Klimova, Boris Gal’kin, Sergei Iushkevich, Sergei Makhovikov

As much as the poster promises a buddy time-travel movie, this is not science fiction, but a rite-of-passage teen war drama that revisions the war as something that the youth of today can respect. The time travel premise is a brash mix between fantasy and authenticity that is geared towards being enjoyed with the fresh eyes of an edgy digital edit and a dynamic modern soundtrack. The recent phalanx of films and television series of the Great Patriotic War have tended to be serious re-evaluations of the dark aspects of the past. We are from the Future takes a different road that, judging by the high box office receipts ($8,228,165), found favor with filmgoers earlier this year, placing it amongst the year's top hits.[1]

Екатерина Климова

This is an unabashed teen film with youthful, cynical, anti-authoritarian protagonists who know little about the Great Patriotic War other than how to make some coin from the sale of war trophies on the black market. The four characters—former student and alpha-male, Borman, skinhead Cherep (Skull), geeky gamer Chukha, and the rapper Spirt—are amateur archaeologists. Skull wants to find an Iron Cross or a Nazi dagger. He is motivated by ideology. The others are motivated by greed. They couldn't give a hoot about respecting the past. But after their mystical time travel experience the boys are confronted by the visceral realities of the war and are utterly transformed. The film successfully updates Russian's resistance to the German advances by thrusting four street-smart youths into the midst of battle and showing their teeth-chattering response to the escapade. From this point of view it makes the war authentic, modern and relevant for today's teens. It straddles the dialogic ground between a de-ideologized post-Soviet space and a new muscular patriotic sensibility.

Данила Козловский

Like other teen time travel films, We are from the Future enacts a rite of passage that literally ritualizes the journey back in time to mark the coming of age of four young men as they accept their transformed social standing. Coming-of-age movies are about exploring the world in which the characters grow up. When we meet the four protagonists, they are “smart-arse” gravediggers, historical cynics, disrespectful exploiters of the past. Their rite of passage moves from an amped-up gang fight to the real deal of being at war and is presented ceremonially and indeed mythologically bringing elements of mystical folklore into a modern initiation ceremony.

The film triumphantly unifies today's materialism with a robust, blingy masculinity and an appreciation of the toughness of the ancestors and how the symbols of yesteryear are relevant today, but in a way not envisioned by "classic" worthy war films. The film does this neo-Soviet ideological work methodically and genuinely. There is an adventurous passion to director Andrei Maliukov's mise-en-scène that updates the representation of WWII through pastiche and fantasy. Notwithstanding the bitter online commentary that pinpoints the major gaffes in the military details of the art department, this movie makes the War appear as something fresh and relevant.

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Saturday, 19 March 2016

Vladimir Motyl: Film director who battled for all his career against the Soviet authorities

Like many Soviet artists, Vladimir Motyl's star waxed and waned, but with White Sun of the Desert the film director created a bullet-proof hit, popular and, ultimately, politically acceptable.

In the 1960s "Red Westerns" or "Easterns" – films based on Hollywood westerns but set in the Eastern bloc – became very popular. Motyl's contribution was 1969's White Sun of the Desert [Beloe solntse pustyni]. It was a troubled shoot. Even before Motyl signed up, it had been rejected by a series of increasingly unlikely directors, culminating in Tarkovsky. Motyl considered turning it down himself, hoping to make a film about the 1825 Decembrist uprising, but director and studio head Grigori Chukhrai warned him that it could be his last chance.

On-set, Motyl's improvisations and departures from the script led to accusations of incompetence and at least once production was closed down. At times it was so under-funded that actors playing soldiers donned niqabs to become members of the harem. When equipment was stolen, a local crime boss offered to recover it in return for a role.

The misadventures of a demobbed soldier who is persuaded to look after the harem of an escaped Basmachi guerrilla proved wildly popular. It even became traditional for cosmonauts to watch it before blast-off. It supplied wry observations and aphorisms that still pepper Russian conversation: "The east is a delicate matter" covers anything that might be best left alone. However, it was not officially recognised at the time and was only awarded a state prize in 1997.

When Motyl was three, his father, a Jewish-Polish engineer, was arrested and sent to the notorious Solovki camp where the following year he died. Several other relatives suffered similarly; Vladimir and his mother were exiled to the northern Urals, where she taught at a school for juvenile delinquents.

Motyl determined to be a director early: at school he subscribed to Soviet Film and mounted plays. But he failed to get into film school (he claimed he was distracted by his first love affair) and went to the Sverdlovsk Theatrical Institute instead. After graduating in 1948, he worked in theatres across the Urals and Siberia. In 1955 he became head of the Sverdlovsk Young Spectators' Theatre and two years later was heading the Sverdlovsk Film Studio.

In 1963 he directed his first film, the Tadjik-based Children of the Pamirs [Deti Pamira]. He was not first choice, and it glorified the regime that had killed his father. But it was a way into the industry. He salved his conscience by making the "rebel" child who is condemned in the script a more sympathetic and heroic figure, and in the process created a prize-winning popular success.

In 1967 he made the wartime comedy-romance Zhenya, Zhenechka and "Katyusha", which punningly referenced the popular song and Soviet rocket-launchers. Even 22 years after the Great Patriotic War, the Army Political Department condemned its light tone as "disrespectful". Nevertheless it was accepted for distribution, though Goskino's chairman vowed that it would be Motyl's last film. But he made a triumphant return with White Sun.

Despite that film's success , Motyl's career stalled for several years. Unenthused by an "irrelevant" Decembrist story, the studio offered a minimal budget in the hope he would reject it. But, convinced of its importance, he accepted, taking such care over historical accuracy that he gave cast members banned books for reference. The Captivating Star of Happiness (1975) [Zvezda plentilnogo Schastya] takes its title from Pushkin, and follows the story through the to Decembrists' exile, voluntarily accompanied by their wives. It is dedicated to "the women of Russia".

Though it could hardly rival its predecessor it was still popular. But from then on, his success would diminish. He had a reputation for being difficult: he was uncompromising in his work and, having stood aloof from state organisations, he was banned from foreign delegations. The 1980 Ostrovsky adaptation The Forest marked a low-point, and was banned until 1988. But Motyl had fought back to make The Incredible Bet (1984), a concatenation of Chekhov stories for TV. Read more >>>

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Andrei Tarkovsky: Andrei Rublev - Андрей Рублёв (1966)

Андрей Рублёв (1966-1969)

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Writers: Andrey Konchalovskiy (as Andrey Mikhalkov-Konchalovskiy), Andrei Tarkovsky
Stars: Anatoliy Solonitsyn, Ivan Lapikov, Nikolay Grinko

With Sergei Eisenstein, Andrei Tarkovsky is perhaps the most influential of all Russian filmmakers. His body of work presents the struggle for survival of the Russian people in an idiosyncratic poetic style, with distinctively long takes. Tarkovsky’s films explore complex themes including artistic freedom, politics, religion, and the creation of art under a repressive regime. In one of his most well-known movies, Andrei Rublev (1966), Tarkovsky sought to create a film that shows the artist as “a world-historic figure” and “Christianity as an axiom of Russia’s historical identity”.

Андрей Рублёв (1966-1969)

The film is set in the early 15th century in Russia and consists of eight parts, each focusing on a certain moment in the life of Andrei Rublev (c. 1360s-1430), an icon painter. The Soviet censors immediately banned screenings of the movie, deciding that it was a negative commentary on the current political situation in the Soviet Union. As a result, it wasn’t shown uncensored to Russian audiences until 1988, after Tarkovsky’s death and the year of Rublev’s canonisation.

So who was this cultural figure from history who became the focus of Tarkovsky’s film? Andrei Rublev is not as famous in the west but, in Russia, he is considered to be their first known artist and one of the country’s greatest medieval painters. Tarkovsky had little to go on in creating his central character, as not much is known about his life, and only a few of his works survived. We do know however, that he was a monk at the Trinity Monastery, not far from Moscow, and a devout follower of St Sergius. Taking a vow of silence, Andrei focused his attention on painting. Rublev executed a large number of Orthodox icons and fresco paintings, and worked on several illuminated manuscripts. He was a pupil of Theophanes the Greek (c.1340-1410), a Greek-born painter working in Russia, who is also depicted in the film. Rublev assisted him with the decoration of two of the highest-profile churches in the country, respectively the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Moscow and the Cathedral of the Dormition in Vladimir.

Андрей Рублёв (1966-1969)

You could argue that Tarkovsky turned his attention to Rublev’s story as a response to the cult of Rublev in 1960-70, but there are other, more convincing reasons for the director’s interest in this almost mythical figure. Passions for Andrei was the original title of the script Tarkovsky started working with, and it alludes to the main concept behind the work. The movie shows not only the passions and struggles of an artist in a medieval state, but the concerns of the whole nation during a period of political upheaval.

Tarkovsky once said: “Art exists to help us deal with the world’s imperfections.” The director, working in the Soviet Union and experiencing censorship, believed that creating culture was one of the most efficient ways to overcome the struggles of daily life in any period. Tarkovsky uses Rublev’s life as a metaphor for the role of the artist in society. Throughout different centuries, artists have created works that can improve the lives of people living in the same time. From this point of view, art could be compared with religion, serving similar goals. This is another reason why Rublev is a perfect symbol: he is a monk, an icon painter and a faithful believer.

Andrei Rublev (1966)

Art and faith can provide solace to people, giving them hope and strength. Rublev lives and paints in one of the darkest and most desperate times in Russian history – the Mongol invasion, where people see only war, betrayal, destruction and death. Looking at the artist’s life against this bleak background, Tarkovsky manages to highlight the artist’s role as a saviour for the nation, helping its people to find hope and light through his works, and fusing art and faith in his serene frescoes and icons. The figures in Rublev’s paintings are invariably peaceful and calm. Perhaps for these reasons, his art came to be recognised as the epitome of religious orthodoxy and iconography.

All these ideas are wonderfully welded together in the end of the film in one of the most vivid of the director’s devices. Shooting the entire movie in black and white, Tarkovsky finally dazzles the audience with close-ups of Rublev’s works, revealed for the first time during the movie in all their brilliance and colour. After more than two hours of sombre and austere imagery, the beauty of the frescoes amazes the viewers. The art, born from the endeavours and aspirations of the artist, is presented to the audience in all its grandeur, rising over the everyday like the man on the balloon at the beginning of the movie. This universal quality of the artist and his work makes the historical period irrelevant, turning it into a backdrop for the story.

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