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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