Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Sergei (and Fedor) Bondarchuk's And Quiet Flows the Don - Тихий Дон (1992)

Director: Sergei Bondarchuk
Television director: Fedor Bondarchuk
Cast: Rupert Everett, Delphine Forest, F. Murray Abraham, Ben Gazzara, Lorenzo Amato, Natal'ia Andreichenko, Mikhail Baskov, Aleksandr Bespalis, Sergei Bondarchuk, Alena Bondarchuk
7 episodes

Тихий Дон (1992-2006)

The four-volume Cossack saga that brought Mikhail Sholokhov recognition as a classic of Soviet literature and world-wide fame when it became known in the English-speaking world as And Quiet Flows the Don, caused controversies from the days when its first volume was published in serialized form in 1928. Yet, neither the disputes surrounding Sholokhov's authorship [1] nor his firm integration into the Communist establishment from Stalin to Brezhnev, neither his political kowtowing nor his betrayal of the unwritten writer's code of honor when he rudely attacked dissidents from a Party tribune could seriously harm the status of And Quiet Flows the Don as arguably the most weighty foundation epic of Soviet civilization. And a popular epic it was: its blend of passionate love story and Civil War chronicle appealed to millions of readers, while the author's command of Russian, including his rich array of regionalisms, impressed even skeptical critics.

Тихий Дон (1992-2006)

Not surprisingly, Soviet cinema showed an interest in Sholokhov's epic even before it was finished, resulting in a black-and-white adaptation of the first volume in 1930. By the late 1940s, when all four parts were finally completed, plans for a new screen adaptation [2] were aborted, primarily due to the war, but also because of the complexities of the narrative that did not sit well with some hacks in the period of “conflictlessness.” It took the managerial skills and muscular direction of Sergei Gerasimov finally to pull off a three-part screen version in 1957/58. That five-and-a-half hour long spectacle seemed to be the non-plus-ultra And Quiet Flows the Don, after which no other cinematic treatment of the novel was necessary or desirable. [3] Yet, at the most unlikely moment, when Soviet civilization was disintegrating and its values and historical legitimacy waning, another attempt was made to transfer the novel both to television and widescreen.

Тихий Дон (1992-2006)


The making of the third And Quiet Flows the Don in 1990-92 and its dramatic aftermath was a veritable saga itself. The director, who had gained world recognition for stemming projects of similar largesse before, encountered one insurmountable obstacle after another. Already in the late 1980s, when Bondarchuk made first steps toward the realization of his long-harbored dream, the atmosphere in the Soviet Union was far from welcoming to such an endeavor. Sholokhov's pedestal, his 1965 Nobel Prize notwithstanding, was no longer unshakeable, and the formerly taboo discussion of his alleged plagiarism of And Quiet Flows the Don began to spill over into perestroika media. Bondarchuk himself was no more untouchable either: the furious ad hominem attacks at the Fifth Filmmakers' Congress in 1986 had left him hurt, cutting down his influence considerably.[3a] On a practical level, his plan simultaneously to helm a twenty-part television mini-series and a full-length feature version of And Quiet Flows the Don for international release seemed too heavy to stem during an increasingly money-conscious period of the Soviet film industry, not to mention how ideologically out of touch it was with its time. But after the lackluster reception of his 1985 adaptation of Boris Godunov, and with Soviet cinema in deepening decline and disorientation, the director was desperate to get a new production moving. Bondarchuk agreed to reduce the television mini-series to ten parts instead of twenty, as well as to casting foreign stars in the lead roles in order to make the film marketable for the West. He, if anybody, had no reason to be frightened of these conditions in light of his experience on the international arena starting in the 1950s, having successfully worked with foreign producers such as Dino de Laurentiis and eliciting first-rate performances from Western stars such as Rod Steiger in Waterloo (1970). In hindsight, however, the enormous risk of putting British and French performers in Cossack garb seems painfully obvious: it is one thing to have an international cast embody, say, Russian urban revolutionaries and intellectuals as in David Lean's Doctor Zhivago (1965), or as members of the cultured 19th-century upper class as in King Vidor's War and Peace (1956), but quite another to entrust Western mimes with roles of peasants in a very peculiar socio-cultural context such as the world of Don Cossacks.

Тихий Дон (1992-2006)

Then, there was bad luck, plain and simple: on the first day of shooting—19 August 1991, the beginning of the attempt by Party hard-liners to remove Gorbachev from power—tanks stopped the crews' cars outside of Moscow. Foreign actors who had been cast for important roles did not show up and had to be replaced within a few days. Finally, after a year of intensive shooting in the Don region and a raw cut executed by Bondarchuk himself. Ever since Iosif Stalin bestowed in 1952 upon Sergei Bondarchuk the highest available honorable title in film and theater, People's Artist of the USSR, at the unprecedented age of 32, his reputation among rank-and-file Soviet viewers and patriotic critics was that of a “movie general” (general ot kino), respected both for his artistic achievements and as a leadership figure. Bondarchuk was perhaps the only international star of Soviet cinema, initially after the world-wide success of Sergei Iutkevich's Othello (1955) and of Bondarchuk's own Fate of a Man (Sud'ba cheloveka, 1959), followed by a lead in Roberto Rossellini's It Was Night in Rome (1960), and topped by directing the seven-hour mega-production of War and Peace (Voina i mir, 1967), for which he won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1968. Bondarchuk embodied a rare combination of enjoying world-wide fame and displaying unconditional loyalty to the Soviet cause, a blend that made him a darling of the USSR establishment. Khrushchev, Furtseva, and later Brezhnev were even willing to forgive him some caprices, such as retaining his sizeable hard currency honorarium for directing Waterloo. Not surprisingly, the liberal intelligentsia disliked Bondarchuk for selling out to the Communist system, especially in the late 1970s, when he agreed to make two propaganda howlers from John Reed's books. At that point, many believed that Bondarchuk had effectively lost his artistic potential as a director, even though a number of first-rate performances as an actor served as reminders of his outstanding talent.

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Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Cinematryoshka: Kira Muratova's feminine, not feminist, movies


She was born 80 years ago, on November 5, 1934, in the city of Soroca in present-day Moldova. Young Kira Muratova studied in Moscow, but most of her later life was spent working in Odessa. Her debut as a filmmaker took place in 1962 with "By the Step Ravine" movie.

In her early films Muratova’s most impressive characters are female, all of them completely unadorned: a party worker, a divorced mother, an unmarried young lady... Unlike Vladimir Menshov in his Oscar-winning movie “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears,” Kira Muratova makes no attempt to combine the three strands into one and create a kind of Soviet “wonder woman”. Perhaps it is because of this reluctance to idealize her Soviet characters that Muratova’s movies were not shown for a long time. “Brief Encounters” in 1967 was her third film. Provincial girl Nadia meets geologist Maxim, played by the famous Russian poet and singer Vladimir Vysotsky. She works in a tea-house, while he has an exciting job, a “romantic” disposition, and a guitar. The girl naturally falls in love. When the time comes for him to leave, he reassures her and seemingly invites her to join him. She takes it all to heart and goes with him on his expedition, not knowing that Maxim already has a wife — Valentina (played by the director herself). Valentina works for a regional committee, signs papers, gives lectures, and sees her husband only in snatches in between expeditions. They are forever breaking up and getting back together. Each time Valentina forgives him. Nadia appears in their home in the guise of a housemaid from the local village. She lays the table — then leaves.

Muratova does not like it when people label her films as feminist, and for a while she did not even believethat such a genre existed. “I was puzzled to begin with. I thought: what nonsense, what does it mean ‘female' director’? A person either has talent or doesn't. That's the skeptical attitude I took with me to Créteil in France, where I was surprised to see that female cinema actually exists. It’s terribly cynical and violent. Films by embittered slaves made good who spit in the face of everything stored up and seething inside them. I was amazed. And have since come to recognize the existence of tigers, jellyfish, spiders — and women’s cinema.”

Nevertheless, her movies do have a certain “feminine” outlook, a compassionate desire to understand others. They are not family dramas or production-line soap operas. In her films life is far more complicated, yet at the same time simpler than it seems. Such is her paradox.

Her 1989 film “The Asthenic Syndrome” won an award at the Berlin Film Festival, although few understood it back home in the Soviet Union. It was described as a “diagnosis of Soviet Man,” yet there was no trace of politics. The heroine of the first part is a female doctor who, distraught at the death of her husband, wanders the streets like a lunatic. The hero of the second part is a teacher who has lost all interest in life. The doctor and the teacher represent civilization and basic social institutions, yet both are tired and broken. At the end of the film, to the sound of his wailing female companion, the hero loses consciousness and is carried away by a subway train into the unknown. The mix of the surreal with the mundane is another paradox. Once again Muratova distanced herself from descriptions of the film as a social, time-bound critique of the collapsing Soviet Union.The scenes of the film do not appear to be logically ordered, and the characters speak at random. The strange effect is achieved by cutting and editing: “I love montage, it’s my favorite pastime. I couldn’t live without the cutting room,” Muratova said.

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Leviathan director Andrei Zvyagintsev: ‘Living in Russia is like being in a minefield’

Andrei Zvyagintsev in Colorado Springs on 30 October 2014.
 Andrei Zvyagintsev in Colorado Springs on 30 October 2014. Photograph: James Chance/Chance Multimedia


Andrei Zvyagintsev has a reputation for being polite but tight-lipped. Understandably. At Cannes this year, he won an award for the most searing attack on the current Russian political system ever shot. Yet, he said at the time, his aim was “certainly not to confront power”. Yes, Leviathan shows ordinary Russians crushed beneath a fiendishly corrupt bureaucracy. But it was inspired by a case in the US, he said, and is intended as a universal parable.

I arrive on a chilly autumn afternoon at the sleek Moscow offices of his producer, expecting more of the same mild-mannered obfuscation. An expression of faint alarm greets me as I’m introduced as the Guardian’s Moscow correspondent.

“Oh, so you mainly write about politics?” he asks, somewhat nervously.

But as soon as we start to speak, it’s as if a dam has broken. Carefully measured allegory is swapped for blunt straight-talking. He pauses only once in 90 minutes – to take a phone call from a friend whose wife is ill. He uses an iPhone 4, which, by the standards of the Moscow beau monde, is the equivalent of packing an old Nokia brick.

In the days before our meeting, the Russian film board had – to widespread amazement – nominated Leviathan as the national entry for the foreign language Oscar, despite its manifestly not promoting a patriotic agenda, as per government policy. Was he surprised by the move? A soliloquy follows about the difficulty of building a career in modern-day Russia. He speaks quietly, with consideration – and unmistakable anger.

“It’s like being in a minefield, this is the feeling you live with here. It’s very hard to build any kind of prospects – in life, in your profession, in your career – if you are not plugged in to the values of the system. It’s a stupid construction of society, and unfortunately the eternal curse of our territory. The ideas of the rule of law, of equal rights are hardly discussed here. There is discussion in society, but it’s pointless. I have a feeling of the absolute futility of pretending to the right to have a say in any situation. I’ve turned 50 and I’ve never voted in my life. Because I’m absolutely certain that in our system it’s a completely pointless step.”

He takes a breath. “So to answer your question: yes, I was pleasantly surprised.”

Leviathan is about what an individual can do faced with the might of a monstrous state. Aleksei Serebryakov is Nikolai, a rugged chap who looks like Stuart Pearce after 600 consecutive nights on the vodka. For generations, his family has lived in the same cottage overlooking the sea. The land on which it sits is coveted by the local mayor, an obese, spirits-sodden bandit who, Nikolai suspects, wants to build a luxury mansion on the spot. Using his influence with the local police and courts, the mayor obtains an eviction order and pitifully small compensation payout.

The film opens as Nikolai’s appeal is overruled by a judge reading her lengthy verdict in a mindless rapid monotone, a Kafkaesque ritual familiar to anyone who’s spent time in a Russian courtroom. He enlists the help of an old Moscow friend, now a hotshot lawyer, and so begins an epic battle in which nobody’s motivation turns out to be 100% pure.

The film, which many reckoned to be the best at Cannes this year, is Zvyagintsev’s fourth. He spent most of his first 40 years determined to become an actor. Schooldays in Novosibirsk, a Siberian city right in the middle of Russia’s vast landmass, were spent “dreaming of theatre, obsessed with it”. First came conscription in the Red Army theatre troupe, then he arrived in Moscow in 1986, aged 22, just as Soviet society was on the cusp of enormous change.

Work did not flood in. He spent years cleaning, sweeping leaves and shovelling snow as a dvornik – quintessential Moscow work now largely done by low-paid migrants from Central Asia – devouring books and films in his spare time. “I’d seen Al Pacino in Bobby Deerfield, and I went bonkers. In Russia it was shown in black and white; when I saw the colour version it was a completely different effect. But I saw how he acted and was amazed, I couldn’t understand how he was able to do it.”

He began to pick up small parts in adverts or trashy soaps. A friend suggested he helped out with directing; his first film was a cheap ad for a furniture salon.

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Thursday, 13 November 2014

Ivan Tverdovsky: Corrections Class - Класс коррекции (2014)

Класс коррекции (2014)

Director: Ivan I. Tverdovsky
Writer: Ivan I. Tverdovsky
Stars: Mariya Poezzhaeva, Filipp Avdeyev, Nikita Kukushkin

Offering further evidence that — in the wake of 2012’s Anton’s Right Here and the recent Cannes Critics’ Week winner The Tribe — the former Soviet Union is a lousy place to raise children with special needs, director Ivan Tverdovsky’s drama Corrections Class focuses on a gaggle of disabled teens in a Russian high school. Ghettoized and neglected by the school and bullied by their peers, the kids turn on each other when the fragile balance of the group is thrown out of whack by the arrival of a newcomer. Progressively disturbing but not without moments of humor, joy and grace, Corrections Class won the best debut prize at Sochi’s Kinotavr festival and plays in Karlovy Vary’s East-of the-West competition.

Класс коррекции (2014)

Set in what looks like a pretty nondescript, typically cruddy-looking suburb that could be anywhere in Russia, the story revolves around a large school incorporating both elementary and secondary school-aged children, a structure that could just as easily pass for a factory or a mental asylum. On her way to her first day at school, pretty 11th-grader Lena (Maria Poezhaeva), who has myopathy which confines her mostly to a wheelchair, and her mother (Natalia Pavlenkova) have to wait to cross a railway line. Another teenager has been killed on the tracks, sounding a somewhat too obvious symbolic note of doom.

At school, Lena and her mom are told off by the officious principal (veteran Natalya Domeretskaya) for being late even though the building has no wheelchair ramps or elevators which means Lena has to make the slow, painful walk up the stairs on foot. She soon meets her peers in the corrections class, a sort of holding pen for physically and mentally challenged students, most of whom would probably be blended into the mainstream in settings with a more enlightened attitude toward disability. Shy, handsome Anton (Filipp Avdeev), for instance, has epilepsy. Another girl (Maria Uryadova) has dwarfism. Mitya (Artyom Markaryan) has a stutter, while his sister Vitya (Yulia Serina) reports she’s not actually sick at all. It’s never revealed what’s supposed to be amiss with ringleader Misha (Nikita Kukushkin), who seems perfectly able-bodied if clearly damaged psychologically, judging by later events. All the kids will soon be assessed at an upcoming, cross-body commission about whether they can be blended into the mainstream. Some, like Lena, hope this will be the case in order to improve her future job prospects, but others have given up all hope of integration.

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Russian Films Take Top Prizes at Cottbus Festival

Ivan Tverdovsky's Corrections Class, which won Karlovy Vary's East of the West competition in July, took the event's main prize worth $25,000, and Test won best director and $10,000 for helmer Alexander Kott. 

The festival, held in a small former East German town southeast of Berlin, is one of the world's leading showcases of movies from Soviet and former Warsaw Pact countries.

Tverdovsky's film, his feature debut, is about a paraplegic named Lena who learns how emotionally unstable personal relations can be among young people on the edge of society. The Cottbus jury was impressed by its "unsentimental, unpretentious approach to an important social issue by an excellent ensemble of actors."

Kott's "quirky and visually stunning" film, based on an obscure chapter in postwar Soviet history, is about a young woman involved in a love triangle.

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Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Andrey Zvyagintsev: On art-house film, spirituality and the rule of law

The film Leviathan by Russian film director Andrey Zvyagintsev received the award for Best Script at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, has been submitted for an Oscar nomination and was recently named the best film at the BFI London Film Festival. In an interview with RBTH, Zvyagintsev discusses the selection of his film as Russia’s Oscar submission, the relationship between spirituality and the rule of law, and what an ideal state should strive for. 

RBTH: Your film is based on the story of Marvin Heemeyer and his struggle against the state machine. What got you interested in the American’s story and why did you decide to move it to a Russian setting? 

Andrey Zvyagintsev: Marvin John Heemeyer had a muffler shop standing on a plot of land that a cement plant wanted to buy from him. Marvin refused a deal and the cement plant built a fence around his property, blocking access to it. Having despaired, Marvin then took a bulldozer, drove it through the plant and several other buildings and then killed himself [Heemeyer had modified the bulldozer by adding armor-plating – RBTH]. When I heard this story in 2008, I was amazed that it should have taken place in the U.S. A revolt against injustice perpetrated by the authorities, lawlessness that the man came up against – how could all that be possible in the United States, which is considered to be governed by the rule of law and where anyone can prove they are right by seeking justice in a court of law? Does it mean that not all is quite so fine there? That prompted me to think that the state is more or less the same everywhere and that lawlessness, to this or that degree, exists everywhere. It is a banal, simple thought but it struck me. Recently I came across a wonderful question in St Augustine’s The City of God: how is the state different from a gang of thieves? Both are a community of people. Both are run by a leader. Both have an established and agreed system of relations. The only thing that sets them apart is the presence of the law. Thus, if a state loses the rule of law, it turns into a gang of thieves. If a person can always expect to get protection in a court of law; if the law applies to everyone irrespective of their rank and title and everyone is equal in front of the law, then this is an ideal form of the state. That thought convinced me that in his treatise Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes was fundamentally mistaken to idealize the state. An ideal model can be created on paper, however the minute a human being, with all their vices and faults, comes on stage, any ideal will easily turn into its opposite. It is no longer a social contract but a contract with the Devil. A contract under which a person gives up their freedoms in exchange for bogus social protection. 

RBTH: What is your take on the debate that is now gaining currency about the alleged lack of spirituality in the West as opposed to Russian spirituality? 

A.Z.: It would be easier to speak of spirituality if our country were truly governed by the rule of law. Spirituality is a metaphysical concept and it could be used to think up anything and to justify anything. Thus, we are back again to the idea of a state governed by the rule of law. When a person is protected, they are sound in body and in mind, they feel different. Whereas, when one has to constantly think of self-defense when going out into the street because they know that the police will not protect them, there can be no talk of a sound mind and spirit. 

RBTH: By selecting Leviathan, the Russian Oscar committee appears to have changed its tactics: Previously it tended to give preference to large-scale, epic movies, whereas now it has opted for a low-key social drama. Why, do you think? 

A.Z.: I am, of course, an interested party here, but – if looked at from a detached position – it was a breakthrough: The establishment lost that round. The eternal and omnipotent Russian cronyism suddenly suffered a glitch. There are two reasons for this: The serious and responsible attitude of Leviathan producer Alexander Rodnyansky, who did everything so that as many members of the commission saw it on as big a screen as possible. And the other reason is that the Oscar committee has considerably expanded its membership. It now has fewer partisan figures and more people who are less dependent on the establishment. The commission now has more members who are free and are capable of voicing independent opinions.

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Sunday, 5 October 2014

Leviathan by Andrey Zvyagintsev to be Nominated for Oscar

The Russian Oscar committee has selected Andrey Zvyagintsev’s film Leviathan to represent Russia.

This was reported to Interfax by a source in the Oscar committee on Sunday. According to the agency’s interlocutor, the Oscar commission was considering two candidates, namely Leviathan and Gorko! directed by Zhora Kryzhovnikov. As a result Zvyagintsev's work got twice more votes than Kryzhovnikov's movie.

The Leviathan film producer Alexander Rodnyansky commented on the event: “Certainly, we hope very much that our relations with Oscar will go on and then it will be a victory of the big Russian cinema, whatever somebody’s attitude to this film may be”.

RiC

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Alexey Uchitel: Break Loose - Восьмерка (2013)

Восьмёрка (2014)

Director: Alexey Uchitel
Cast: Vilma Kutavichyute , Artur Smolyaninov , Paul Vorozhtsov 

The film tells a story about four friends who return from the army and join OMON. The story starts from the moment when they unexpectedly face some big criminal authority. The situation turns even more complicated when one of the characters falls in love with the criminal’s girlfriend. The story’s author Zakhar Prilepin points out that all the characters have real prototypes, but each of them, as it often happens, is formed of two or three people.

Восьмёрка (2014)

Grungy, witty and savage, the Russian crime thriller “Break Loose” entertains despite its ludicrously repetitive action and cliched story of the impossible love between a special forces cop and a gangster’s moll. Set in the final days of 1999 (and Boris Yeltsin), the film makes meager use of political subtext, but it doesn’t much matter given director Alexey Uchitel’s infectious love of borderline-goofy fight scenes, many of which are brilliantly choreographed. Though commercial prospects outside Russia appear limited, plenty of fests will forge ties with “Break Loose,” Uchitel’s first feature since “The Edge,” Russia’s Oscar entry from 2010.

Восьмёрка (2014)

To the extent that the film is a comedy, its running gag is the insatiable appetite for street violence among four old army buddies who now work for OMON, an elite police squad charged with curbing local protests and breaking up the scuffles of low-level thugs. Not content with the head-bashings they administer in their day jobs, fresh-faced Ger (Alexey Mantsigyn) and his pals — Lykov (Alexander Novyn), Shorokh (Pavel Vorontsov), and Grekh (Artem Bystrov) — favor looking for fights after hours as well. An early scene has the friends pummelling goons in the lobby of a bustling nightclub.


Восьмёрка (2014)

It’s at the club, owned by mob boss Boots (Artur Smolyaninov), where Ger first lays eyes on gorgeous Aglaya (Vilma Kutavichute), who’s dancing onstage. Hardly subtle, Uchitel tracks the camera slowly toward the gape-mouthed Ger to establish that he’s instantly smitten. Learning that his crush is Boots’ main squeeze doesn’t deter Ger in his efforts to bed Aglaya; if anything, it seems to turn him on even more. Climbing up a pole to a third-floor window to peep on Aglaya, Ger eventually succeeds in his lascivious aim, which naturally escalates the war between Boots’ crew and Ger’s.


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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Anna Melikyan: Star - Звезда (2014)

Звезда (2014)

Director: Anna Melikyan
Writers: Anna Melikyan, Andrey Migachev Cast: Tina Dalakishvili, Severija Janusauskaite, Pavel Tabakov, Andrey Smolyakov, Juozas Budraitis, Alexander Shein, Gosha Kutsenko




Awards : Best directing Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2014
Best actress Severija Janushauskaite, Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2014


Звезда (2014)

The lives of three people collide and fancifully intertwine, closely linking their fates. A 15-year-old teenager, misunderstood by the world; his worldly and haughty young stepmother who is capable of true feelings and genuine attachment only on the verge of death; and the debuting actress who is naturally untalented, but has a passionate love for life. This is a tragicomedy about the inscrutability of love and destiny, about the vulnerability of our existence.



In her film The Star, the director Anna Melikian not only reflects on the existential dilemmas of the three protagonists—the 15-year old teenager Kostia (Pavel Tabakov), his striking future step-mother Rita (Janušauškaite), and his love interest Masha (Dalakishvili)—but also issues a larger verdict on the hyper-materialist, superficial values of contemporary Russian society. In this society, where everything is subject to commodification, including one’s life and death, “the economic activity is barely there,” “ecology is destroyed,” and “the nuclear arsenal is ample.” Melikian maps her exposé of moral decay and thorn-ridden redemption onto the surreal, post-modern Muscovite landscape, collaged out of craggy terrain of construction sites, pristine modernist spaces of the wealthy, decrepit quarters of the poor and claustrophobic sets of decadent nightclubs. By making her protagonists confront death face-to-face against this dystopian urban background, Melikian attempts to delineate the defining terms of cultural heritage. She explores the issue through the symbolism of two opposed notions: depth and surface. In her film, cultural heritage epitomizes the sum total of meaningful, original “imprints” that individuals leave behind for posterity. Castigating the virtualized reality of the digital age, she valorizes the socio-cultural contributions of manual labor and validates the significance of intimate human touch—a vanishing phenomenon among atomized Russian citizens.

Melikian offers a story of mistaken identities that revolves around Kostia, the son of an oligarch, and Masha, an aspiring actress from the provinces. Masha attends numerous auditions where her ability to cry is valued as much as the shape of her legs. Already thin and tall, Masha wants to fit the industry-defined formula of beauty. She creates a “wish list” of physical alterations, which comprises surgery on her lips, breasts, legs, and ears. She works odd jobs to save enough money for these expensive plastic surgeries. Her corporeal transformations occur in parallel to her developing relationship with Kostia, whom she meets at a nightclub where she entertains the guests as a grotesque mermaid in an enormous water tank. Ashamed of his wealth, Kostia works as a day laborer at the nightclub instead of attending school. During her first rehearsal as mermaid, ignored by everyone else, Masha nearly drowns. Kostia witnesses Masha’s struggle and offers her his hand. The life-saving touch of his outstretched arm, bereft of materialistic motives, appears extraordinary amidst the self-absorbed, myopic society. Subsequently, Kostia introduces himself as a thief. At first slightly uncomfortable, Masha begins to accept the crumpled cash that Kostia transfers from his hands to hers.

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Yuri Bykov: The Fool - Дурак (2014)

Director: Yuri Bykov
Stars: Sergey Artsybashev, Pyotr Barancheev, Artyom Bystrov

Awards : Best Screenplay Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2014 
Best actor Artiom BYSTROV , Film Festival Locarno, Locarno (Switzerland), 2014



Extremely bleak and depressing even by Russian standards, the third film of writer-director Yury Bykov, The Fool (Durak), is also his best. An explosive combination of highly personal moral drama and a wider, scathing portrait of a country in which corruption and greed seem to be the only shared values left, this well-oiled narrative machine is further aided by a clever ticking-clock mechanism that actually ratchets up the tension the longer the characters’ vodka-soaked, blame-game speeches are allowed to go on. This Locarno competition title will undoubtedly be Bykov’s biggest hit to date, attracting not only scores of festival invites but also courting interest from boutique art house distributors, possibly on both sides of the Atlantic.

Bykov again wrote, directed and edited the film and also composed the music, though unlike in his second film, the 2013 Cannes Critics’ Week hit The Major, the multihyphenate doesn’t play one of the protagonists. Instead, he has cast Artem Bystrov in the lead, whose Average Joe countenance hides a startling intensity. Probably not coincidentally, Bystrov was first seen in last year’s aggressive male posturing drama Break Loose from esteemed director Alexey Uchitel, who produces here through his company Rock Films.

A Russian plumber, Dima Nikitin (Bystrov), is also a municipal repair-crew chief in an unnamed Russian town that’s not even 40 years old, though some of the city’s housing blocks are already in a grave state of disrepair. A routine burst bathroom pipe in one of the rickety communal housing buildings unearths a much larger problem, as the exterior wall behind the pipe has cracked and started to shift. When Nikitin goes outside to inspect the matter, he realizes the building has fissured from the ground right up to the ninth and last floor.



Though it’s not officially part of his district, Dima’s sense of personal responsibility gets the better of him in the middle of the night and he decides to go and talk to the higher-ups, especially after he calculates how much time is left for a construction of that height before it splits in two and crumbles — which turns out to be less than 24 hours.

The knowledge that the 800 or so inhabitants might go down with the building has Dima racing to the 50th birthday party of Nina Galaganova (Nataliya Surkova), the town’s imperious mayor, to convince her to evacuate the building. He thus bypasses his direct boss, the corrupt inspector of public housing, Federotov (Boris Nevzorov), who only supplied a coat of paint the last time he received funds for a major overhaul, preferring to funnel the money into work on his daughter's personal residence. Nina’s extended, behind-closed-doors meeting with Dima, Federotov and heads of several other departments, including the fire brigade, is the film’s nerve center and it soon becomes clear that the worst fears of Dima’s wife (Darya Moroz) about the city council’s deep-seated dishonesty and corruption are true. The feverish gathering takes place in a meeting room next to the hotel restaurant where Nina’s birthday party is still in full swing, with the thumping music filtering into the room like a severe headache that just won’t go away.

Surkova is fantastic as the orders-barking mayor who realizes that 800 potential deaths would be a disaster — if she’s blamed for it — and who has to also consider the pragmatic difficulties of moving everyone out of the critical damaged building in a city that simply doesn’t have anywhere else to put them.

As the assembled try to pass off culpability and increasingly blatant and aggressive accusations fly left and right, the fact that this city council (and, by extension, Russia’s ruling class) is rotten to the core becomes painstakingly clear, while each second the officials spend in the room adds tension due to the knowledge that hundreds of unsuspecting souls are facing a potentially lethal situation. (Bykov wisely refrains from cutting back to the building during the meeting except for a single inspection visit.)

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Cineuropa: Are you trying to represent a metaphor for Russian society in Durak (The Fool)? 

Yury Bykov: My intention is to show a model of society that is very common in the region in which I was born [Penza, in central Russia]. I grew up in an environment very similar to the one that appears in the movie and so I wanted to create the most accurate portrait possible of what I experienced. I illustrate a wealth of experience that I’ve acquired throughout my life and that I free through this story. But Russia is a very big country and I’m inclined to believe that Durak is not the full picture, even though it is most of it. Rather than denouncing the evident social disparities I sought to show how the conflict of interests portrayed in the movie develops.

In other words the story you want to tell could take place in many other countries... 

It’s a story that I believe could happen in any region of the world in which people experience social tensions, obviously by adapting it to each country’s particular reality. Many places could easily have been the setting for this story. Whether they be developping regions in Latinamerica or Africa and, in another context, in a large part of China and even the US.

You claim that you don’t feel close to modern-day Russian directors but that you do feel close to those of the past. Why? 

Because for me the most important thing is being understood and moving the viewer. Many of the current Russian directors are more focused on creating their own cinematograhpic language, on creating a particular ambiance. For me those things are formalities, elements that more related to technology than to emotions. My ambitions as an artist involve connecting with people. In that sense my references include social cinema of the 70s, Sydney Lumet and his Dog Day Afternoon (1975) or Francis Ford Coppola, and Russian cinema of the same era.

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Monday, 22 September 2014

Iraklii Kvirikadze:Rasputin - Распутин (2013)

Распутин (2011)

Directors: Josée Dayan, Irakli Kvirikadze
Writer: Irakli Kvirikadze
Stars: Fanny Ardant, Gérard Depardieu, Vladimir Mashkov

Фанни Ардан

Rasputin, it seems, is fated to live forever. The real Grigorii Rasputin, as his assassins discovered, was hard enough to kill. But the so-called Mad Monk has enjoyed a long afterlife on the page, in musical lyrics and onscreen, serving as a malleable symbol for many decades. He has been portrayed as an evil villain, a sympathetic starets, a reincarnated helper to the Nazis (in the comic book and movie, Hellboy), and, of course, as “Russia’s greatest love machine.” The first film version of Rasputin’s life appeared within a year of his death, with silent film star Montagu Love playing him in the September 1917 Rasputin, the Black Monk. Since then, Conrad Veidt, Lionel Barrymore, Christopher Lee, Tom Baker (before his turn as Doctor Who), and Alan Rickman (just to name a handful) have all played the character onscreen. In one sense, therefore, no one should be that surprised that a heavyweight actor such as Gerard Depardieu should take a turn playing Rasputin, even if he is nearly 20 years older than the mystic was at the time of his physical death. While Depardieu sought to make his subject human again, the story of Iraklii Kvirikadze’s Rasputin has more to it than yet another reappearance of the man who cannot truly die.

Распутин (2011)

The movie mostly focuses on the First World War and Rasputin’s assassination. Kvirikadze reworked a poorly-received 2011 French television series directed by Josée Dayan and turned it into a 90-minute feature film for Russian audiences. The director declared that the original version “was like a very fat man who needs to run a marathon […] and needs to lose 40 or 50 kilograms to become lean and energetic” (Kas’ianova 2013). His Rasputin consists of a series of vignettes taken from the French series that reveal the royal family’s reliance on Rasputin’s ability to deal with the tsarevich’s hemophilia and the growing conspiracy to eliminate the so-called holy devil.

Rasputin opens with the 1918 murder of the Romanov family at the hands of Bolsheviks in Ekaterinburg. One of the murderers strips Empress Alexandra of her jewels and discovers a locket with Rasputin’s picture on it. The film then jumps back to a brief, obligatory scene that explains how Rasputin came to be an intimate of the last tsar and his family, an excuse for the director to include stereotypical shots of Russianness, complete with wintry Siberian landscapes, a troika, and an Orthodox Church. The action then transfers to Petersburg, where Rasputin heals Alexei and others brought to him, dances drunkenly, and, in one scene, lounges in bed with three naked women around him. Just 20 minutes into the film, the war breaks out, an event that guides the plot to its inexorable conclusion: Nicholas II’s larger family, including his cousin, Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, warns him about Rasputin’s baleful influence and the rumors that are spreading in the press. Angered by this perceived influence and the threat it represents to Russia’s political system, a group of conspirators plot to get rid of Rasputin. The conspirators are led by Prince Feliks Iusupov, Grand Duke Dmitrii Pavlovich, and the monarchist politician Vladimir Purishkevich. The last 20 minutes of the film focus on the murder, which occurs in the basement of Iusupov’s palace. After Iusupov poisons and then shoots Rasputin (which does not kill him), he toasts with Dmitrii “to Russia,” only to be corrected “to Imperial Russia.” The very last scene consists of the plotters throwing Rasputin’s body into the Malaia Nevka River.

Read more in KinoKultura

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Russian deal for Cannes winner Leviathan

Russian drama Leviathan has secured distribution in its home country, four months after it won the Best Screenplay prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

The drama, from director Andrey Zvyagintsev and producer Alexander Rodnyansky, will receive a wide release by A Company on Nov 13, in cooperation with 20th Century Fox Russia.

The film is an interpretation of the biblical story of Job, told in the context of contemporary Russia. It is set on a peninsula by the Barents Sea and tells the story of a man who struggles against a corrupt mayor who wants his piece of land.

Leviathan marks from fourth feature from Zvyagintsev following Venice Golden Lion winner The Return (2003); Cannes best actor winner The Banishment (2007); and Elena (2011), which won the Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize at Cannes.

Following its world premiere at Cannes in May, Leviathan recently received its North American debut at the Toronto International Film Festival and also screened during Telluride.

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Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Valeriya Gay Germanika: Yes And Yes - ДА И ДА (2014)

Да и Да (2014)

Director: Valeriya Gay Germanika
Writer: Aleksandr Rodionov
Stars: Vladimir Dubosarsky, Aleksandr Gorchilin, Agniya Kuznetsova

He is an incipient modern painter, she is an incipient school teacher.Their chance acquaintance sets off a passionate but short love affair. An ugly mishap leads to a break-up. But the teacher, who once saw the world through the eyes of her beloved, returned to her own world with the soul of a painter. Now she can’t get rid of her new vision, of the painter’s gift: unwelcome memories about unfulfilled love.


Да и Да (2014)

Winner of the FIPRESCI prize and "Silver George" for the Best Director.

Jury awarded its Prize to Yes and Yes for its "original and sometimes provocative presentation and exploration of contemporary generations' way of life, creation and language". Jury member Rita Di Santo added in the press conference that the film "broadened the boundaries of cinema language" and cited Jean Luc Godard's words: "Ideas separate us, but dreams unite us". Yes and Yes also received the Kommersant Weekly Prize.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Vera Glagoleva: Two Women - Две женщины (2014)

Две женщины (2014)



Director: Vera Glagoleva
Writers: Svetlana Grudovich (screenplay), Olga Pogodina (screenplay),
Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Sylvie Testud, Aleksandr Baluev



Based on a play by Russian writer Ivan Turgenev. Set in the Russian countryside at the end of the 19th century, drama turns on the wife of a rich landowner who falls in love with her son’s tutor.



Vera Glagoleva Interview:

-Why did you choose “A Month in the Country”?

— Out of a desire to show the audience in addition to the omnipresent action film format a story can be old in beautiful way, with a beautiful language. Turgenev’s language is endlessly beautiful. That’s how the play is written! The heroes experience such feelings! The most interesting thing for any actor and director is figuring out what needs to be acted out, rehearsals, and Turgenev provides enormous opportunities: delving into his work, you can open new horizons. So that is why I chose Turgenev, “A Month in Country”, and probably also playing a role here was Anatoly Efros’s production in 1977 (at the Malaya Bronnaya Theater in Moscow – ed.). That production was a major event in the theatrical world. In part because there had not yet been any film version of this work. But there were many stage productions. Strangely enough, most were in Europe, as Ivan Turgenev himself was a man of Europe. In France, England and Germany his works are always being performed. The role of Natalya Petrovna is an event of biographical importance for every actress.

— Were foreign actors brought into the film as a nod to the cosmopolitanism of the writer?

— Yes, the German tutor is played by a German (Bernd Moss – ed.), as in the 19th century it was customary to hire tutors from Europe. Natalya’s companion is a Frenchwoman. Actress Sylvie Testud beautifully reads Voltaire in French. It is quit logical. Rakitin is played by the British actor Ralph Fiennes, because in terms of his internal world, chivalry and attitude toward life his is absolutely a man of the 19th century, and this choice was now coincidence. It seemed to me that Rakitin was just this type of person.

Две женщины (2014)

— Today it is popular to change the text of the author. How did you approach the original text?

— We worked on the text. In 1909 Stanislavsky, when he was putting on this play, ruthlessly cut it down and believed that he was right to do so. We took some of the theatrics out of the text. In the play there are a lot of internal monologues which are spoken from the stage in order to show the audience the hero’s feelings. But this is not necessary for film.

— In our television series based on great literature, such as Sergey Soloviev’s “Anna Karenina”, one can see fake vases and other artificiality. You shot the picture using real film. Were you focused on accurately portraying the spirit of the time?

— It would be unethical to comment on Soloviev. There are quality television series, such as Vladimir Khtinenko’s “Dostoevsky”. But by and large everything seems rather templated. We really strived to transmit the spirit of the time and selected Glinka’s estate as the location. It is very pretty there. The museum management and department of culture of the Smolensk region were very accommodating and we received a lot of help. — How do you feel about the most recent films made based on Russian classics? Take for example Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina” with Keira Knightley in the lead role.

— If we watched this film and it wasn’t called Anna Karenina and did not have any connection to the great novel, then I would say that it is a wonderful, interesting film with a large number of novelties from the director. It is a good entertaining film, surprising film. Everything is beautiful and shallow. You don’t worry about the heroine, you don’t pity anyone.

— Should classical literature not be made more modern?

— Why not, if you do it as talentedly as Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” with DiCaprio playing the main role. It is grandiose and amazing because it is a modern story and young people and for young people. Another example is Ralph Fiennes’ “Coriolanus”. This is also Shakespeare but in a modern presentation. There are relatively few successes – when classical literature placed in the present – because there is an obvious difference between what the heroes experienced then and now.

— Are you completely occupied with your film or do you already have plans for the future?

— I am not even thinking about it. Right now the most important thing is to complete it. The editing and sound. The post production will be rather complicated. As far as further plans are concerned, I would again like to take a look at the classics. Chekhov is fathomless. We’ll see.

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Restored Ivan the Terrible by Sergei Eisenstein to Go on Release in August


The Mosfilm studio plans to release the restored historical biopic Ivan the Terrible in August, 2014.

The classical Russian cinema masterpiece directed by Sergei Eisenstein has been digitalized in high definition, the Kultura TV channel reports. The renovated film will go on general release on its 70th anniversary.

Ivan the Terrible was the last work by the legendary Sergei Eisenstein. Its first series was released in January, 1945 and gained the Stalin Award for the film director. However, the Soviet authorities did not accept the second part of the historical film, and so the general public got access to it not before 1958.

The image of Tsar Ivan IV as created by Sergey Eisenstein became nearly axiomatic in Russian cinema, whereas the technique of sharp contrast play of light and shade turned classical.

RIC

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Leviathan by Zvyagintsev Wins Main Prize of the Munich Film Festival

Leviathan directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev has won the main prize of the 32nd annual Munich Film Festival. 

The film by the Russian film director Andrey Zvyagintsev and producers Alexander Rodnyansky and Sergey Melkumov takes the ARRI/OSRAM Award.

“The attention paid by large-scale international festivals to the Russian movie is very significant to us. Zvyagintsev is a unique artist, and each and every film by him is a big day. This modern story with brilliant cast can touch both up-country viewers and fine connoisseurs of the cinematic language. Me and Sergey Melkumov as producers hope that participation of Leviathan in international film festivals will promote its long life and successful distribution”, - the film producer Alexander Rodnyansky commented on the jury’s decision.

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Thursday, 19 June 2014

Alexander Kott's Test (Испытание) wins at Kinotavr



Alexander Kott’s Test was the big winner at this year’s Kinotavr Open Russian Film Festival at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.



The jury headed by Cannes prize-winner Andrey Zvyagintsev awarded its Grand Prix “for the realisation of the dream” and the prize for best cinematography to Kott’s love story, set against the first hydrogen bomb tests in the Kazakh Steppe at the beginning of the 50s.

In addition, Kott’s film received the Elephant Trophy from the Guild of Film Critics and Film Scholars.

Test is handled internationally by Anton Mazurov’s fledgling Russian sales company Ant!pode Sales & Distribution, which saw its other three new titles by four women directors coming away from this year’s Kinotavr with trophies and diplomas in their luggage:

Anna Melikian’s Star received the prizes for best direction and best actress (Severija Janusauskaite)



Svetlana Proskurina’s Goodbye Mom - best film music

Nigina Saifullayeva’s debut Whatayacallme - Special Diploma of the Jury “for the gentle spirit and artistic integrity”

The decisions by the Main Competition’s jury thus recognised the talent among the growing number of women directors working in Russian cinema.

Indeed, as artistic director Sitora Alieva had noted ahead of this year’s edition, a “feminisation” of Russian film was underway when eight of the Main Competition titles were by women.

Moreover, Oksana Bychkova’s Another Year picked up the best actor prize for the performance by Alexey Filimonov.

In addition, Ivan I. Tverdovsky was awarded the prize for best debut and the award from the Distributors’ Jury for his first feature Corrections Class.

Yuri Bykov’s third feature to compete in Sochi, Fool, received the prize for best screenplay and a Diploma from the Guild of Film Critics and Film Scholars “for its uncompromising artistic message”.

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Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Larisa Sadilova: She - Она (2013)



Director: Larisa Sadilova 
Cast: Nilufar Faizieva, Makhsum Abdullaev, Todzhiddin Khalikov, Rakhmat Khaidarov, Natal’ia Isaeva, Iurii Kiselev




Awards :
Best feature film Window to Europe Film Festival, Vyborg, Vyborg (Russia), 2013

The opening shot of a passenger plane landing in a Moscow airport in Larisa Sadilova’s social drama She meaningfully evokes her film Nanny Required (Trebuetsia niania, 2005). In the latter, the unsettling noise of heavy aircraft traffic over a seemingly idyllic suburban estate of Russia’s new rich communicated the acute societal tensions generated by the mass migrations and profound social and economic shifts of the post-Soviet era. Nanny explored the consequences of the inequitable wealth and status redistribution for the moral state of Russian society and only cursorily touched on the accompanying mistreatment of non-Russians and their exclusion from the former Big Soviet Family. Legally defenseless and manipulatively maligned, a crew of Uzbek migrant workers in Nanny, the only ethical community in the film, inhabited a makeshift hut on the edge of the beautiful estate they helped to build. In She, Sadilova zooms in on Russia’s uneasy relationship with the nearly ten percent of its population that help power the country’s economy but whom society stereotypes as alien and threatening, and abuses for personal profit. While the new focus is on Russia’s ethnic and cultural other, in the director’s own admission, the film is as much about “them,” as it is about “us” (Khokhriakova). For Sadilova, whose spouse and one of the film’s producers, Rustam Akhadov is half-Tajik, the issue of intercultural tolerance rings particularly close to home. Hailing from the provincial Russian city of Briansk, Sadilova consistently explores wider Russian attitudes and problems, thereby bringing a refreshing outside perspective to the Moscow-centric cinema industry.



Sadilova aptly articulates her dual goal of humanizing migrants and interrogating the society’s moral standards in what she sees as “modern slave trade” (Khokhriakova) through a melodramatic love story of a seventeen-year-old Tajik girl, Maya (Nilufar Faizieva). Maya comes to Russia to escape an arranged marriage and reunite with her migrant-worker boyfriend, Khamid (Makhsum Abdullaev), but is soon abandoned there when Khamid returns to Tajikistan to marry a woman chosen for him by his parents. In true melodramatic fashion, the heroine remains silent for the major part of the plot because she speaks no Russian. The film foregrounds her perspective of a vulnerable innocent using it both to place the viewer in the migrants’ shoes, and to expose the degrading nature of the migrant slave industry that feeds multiple layers of corrupt officials and unscrupulous entrepreneurs on both sides. Sadilova’s emphasis on the truthfulness of the events that, according to her, happened in her own suburban settlement (albeit with a less optimistic ending), and her use of amateur actors, including migrants, to depict Tajik characters, add poignancy and authenticity to the story.

Despite the challenge as a director of not always being able to follow her actors’ spoken parts, Sadilova confidently gives voice to the migrants by filming nearly half of the film’s dialogue in Tajik; the voice-over Russian translation also belongs to a Tajik, producer Rustam Akhadov. The Tajik dialogue in the film, made transparent through translation, plays an important role in dispelling the myth of the migrants’ latent hostility toward Russians: Tajik characters use their native tongue not to “gossip unkindly” behind their hosts’ backs, as one of the Russian characters fears, but to talk about love, relationships, jobs, and other everyday issues, just like their Russian counterparts do. In the few cases when Tajik men switch to Tajik on purpose or when they deliberately mistranslate their Tajik comments to concerned Russians, they struggle to maintain their crumbling patriarchal authority within their small expat community. They therefore express the need for privacy in sorting out their own cultural matters, while at the same time feeling uneasy about openly enforcing their patriarchal rules in Russia’s more liberated society. The evolution of Maya’s perspective in the film reflects her metaphorical journey to consciousness of self, her native culture, and of Russia. Structurally, the film falls into two parts with roughly the first third taking place in a makeshift illegal migrant settlement outside Moscow. The director of photography Dmitrii Mishin compellingly conveys Maya’s initial perception of Moscow as a magical escape from the restrictive patriarchy back home through wide-eyed point of view shots of brightly illuminated auto tunnels and a majestic full moon shining over the city’s shimmering skyline as seen from the Moscow Ring Road. After the couple’s descent into the darkness of the migrant worker shantytown where they have to share a bunk bed in a tiny room housing three other men, Maya re-adjusts her expectations but manages to preserve her hopeful outlook. Driven, as she is, by her love for Khamid and his promise of a happy married life in Moscow, she tries to make the best of the situation. Maya’s point of view shots as she gazes curiously or pensively out of doors and windows to explore her dismal surroundings convey her rich emotional world. Akhmad Bakaev’s emotive music, incorporating native Tajik melodies and instruments, enhances the viewer’s empathy with the heroine whose feelings range from those of sadness (while observing rain falling on the shantytown’s large puddle littered with broken domestic items) to fascination with life’s promise (while watching a discarded plastic ball float in a polluted stream). The motifs of water and flowing accompany the heroine throughout the film as she carries water for the migrants’ outdoor shower and later cleans Russians’ homes. Maya’s association with water and cleansing forms a distinct counterpoint to the impure environment of Moscow’s outskirts, thus highlighting the migrants’ role in processing the city’s massive waste.

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Friday, 23 May 2014

Cannes 2014 review: Leviathan (Левиафан) - a new Russian masterpiece

Левиафан (2014)

Andrei Zvagintsev's latest is a very strong contender for the Palme d'Or - a mix of Hobbes, Chekov and the Bible, full of extraordinary images and magnificent symmetary

Andrei Zvagintsev's Leviathan is a sober and compelling tragic drama of corruption and intimidation in contemporary Russia, set in a desolate widescreen panorama. This is a movie which seems to be influenced by the Old Testament and Elia Kazan; it starts off looking like a reasonably scaled drama about a little guy taking on big government. Then it escalates to a new plane in which man is taking on the biggest, cruellest, and most implacable government of all, and the final sequence of devastation must surely be influenced by the final moments of Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice.

It is acted and directed with unflinching ambition, moving with deliberative slowness, periodically accelerating at moments of high drama and suspense. It isn't afraid of massive symbolic moments and operatic gestures; I was fractionally sceptical about these at the time, but they live and throb in my head hours after the final credit-crawl. Leviathan incidentally features a horribly watchable performance from Roman Madyanov as a crooked mayor who resembles a hideous reincarnation of Broderick Crawford in the 1949 municipal graft classic All The King's Men — with a hint of Boris Yeltsin. I hadn't heard of this 51-year-old Russian performer before now. His excellent performance makes me think it's a pity Cannes doesn't have a best supporting actor prize.

The film's hero is Kolia (Alexei Serebriakov), a car mechanic with a beautiful second wife Lilya (Elena Liadova), and a teenage son Roma (Sergei Pokhodaev) from his first marriage. It is his fortune or misfortune to have a modest family-built property on prime real estate: a beautiful spot on the waterfront in the lapland wilderness of north-western Russia. Now a crooked mayor Vadim (Madyanov) wants this land to build his own gruesome luxury dacha, and slaps the Russian equivalent of a Compulsory Purchase Order on Kolia: he gets this precious land for a derisory sum. But Kolia calls on the help of his old army buddy Dimitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) who is now a slick lawyer in Moscow and he has arrived in this remote region with a file full of incriminating evidence on Vadim which he promises his old comrade will induce Vadim to back off. But it soon becomes clear that getting the old homestead back isn't precisely what Dimitri has in mind. And his motives for helping aren't what they first appear.

Leviathan shows a world governed by drunken, depressed, aggressive men: there is a brilliant scene in which Kolia and Vadim square up late at night, both wrecked on vodka. Later, Kolia and his buddies will go on a hunting trip: they have gallons of vodka, rifles and one even has his old army issue Kalashnikov — and for targets they use portraits of Russian leaders from Brezhnev to Gorbachev. Yeltsin, "the boozy conductor" is indulgently not included and the guy bringing the portraits says he has kept back the more modern portraits — until they get "some historical perspective". (In fact, the current President's picture is hanging coyly in Vadim's handsomely appointed office.) Endlessly, officials talk about the Russian criminal code, giving chapter and verse from the rule book. But it is all a cynical nonsense. What counts is money and power. At the film's courtroom scenes at the beginning and end, the court President babbles through the charges and verdicts robotically. It is gibberish.

Kolia finds himself at the centre of a perfect storm of poisoned destiny. He is a poor man who through a quirk of fate has what others want: a beautiful wife, a handsome property. He is at the focal point of contemporary Russia's most dangerous forces: smart lawyers, gangster-rich politicians, arrogant priests — Vadim is a close friend of an icily dogmatic Orthodox churchman who is impatient and contemptuous of this politician uneasy private confidences. Dimitri, for his part, says that as a lawyer he is only interested in facts. Poor Kolia is at the mercy of events that will happen behind his back: key scenes and moments occur agonisingly off-screen, although it isn't hard to guess what has happened.

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Read also: Leviathan



Dir: Andrei Zviagyntsev. Russia. 2014. 141mins

Thoroughly Russian down to the smallest detail, this astounding but terrible portrait of a world going to the dogs under the full protection of law and order - and the Holy Church as well - could fit in, with only minor tuning, into any other background around the world. The sheer impact of its images will stun audiences even before they find out what it is all about. The northern Russia landscapes, all bathed in a chilly blue light that seem to freeze souls are the backdrop,and Philip Glass’ mighty waves of sound leave no doubt that an unusual experience is about to unfold on the screen. As it indeed does.

As a matter of fact, this tale of graft, multiple betrayals, corruption and larceny is so universally familiar that one could imagine it unfolding anywhere. In this case, however, it takes place in a small town on the shore of the Barents Sea (think Murmansk if it’s any help). The crooked mayor Cheleviat (Roman Madianov), complete with Putin’s portrait on the wall behind his desk, fancies a piece of land by the sea overlooking a glorious landscape which belongs to an impulsive, hot-tempered mechanic named Kolia (Alexei Serebriakov), who lives there with his wife Lilia (Elena Liadova) and his son from a previous marriage, Roma (Sergei Pokhodaev).

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Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Mikhail Kalatozov: The Cranes are Flying - Летят журавли (1957)

The Cranes Are Flying (1957)

Director: Mikhail Kalatozov
Cinematography: Sergei Urusevsky
Editor: M. Timofeyeva
Art Direction: E. Svidetelev
Music: Moisei Vaynberg
Script: Victor Rozov, from his play “The Every Living” [“Vyechno Zhivye”] Cast: Tatyana Samoilova (Veronika), Aleksei Batalov (Boris), Vasili Merkuryev (Fyodor), A. Shvorin (Mark), S. Kharitonova (Irina), Valentin Zubkov (Stepan), A. Bogdanova (Grandmother)

Татьяна Самойлова

Based on a play by V. Rusov, the Russian The Cranes are Flying is a love story set during the early years of World War II. With her boyfriend Boris (Alexei Batalov) on the front lines - and no sign of life from him for eons - Veronica (Tatiana Samoilova, Constantin Stanislavsky's grandniece) is raped by Boris's cousin, Fyodor (Vasily Merkuryev), during an air raid, and later accepts his marriage proposal, despite her lack of love for him - hoping that he'll eventually be able to replace her boyfriend. Several subsequent events (both joyous and melancholy) enable the heroine to rebuild her life, as well as restore her own sense of self-value; she is eventually told that Boris has died in action. The Cranes are Flying won several international awards, and became a staple on the American art-house repertory circuit into the 1970s. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Татьяна Самойлова

1958 Cannes Film Festival
Palme d'Or The Cranes Are Flying, Mikhail Kalatozov with an Honorary Award to Tatiana Samoilova for her superb performance (U.S.S.R.)

Monday, 12 May 2014

Tatiana Samoilova obituary (4 May 1934 – 4 May 2014)

Samoilov, Tatiana Evgenevna.png

At the 1958 Cannes film festival, in a competition that included films by Ingmar Bergman, Jacques Tati and Satyajit Ray, the Palme d'Or was presented to Mikhail Kalatozov's The Cranes Are Flying, the first and last Soviet film ever to have won it, and a special mention was given to Tatiana Samoilova, its captivating 23-year-old star.


Samoilova, who has died from coronary heart disease aged 80, became the centre of media attention, her elfin beauty prompting many to call her the "Russian Audrey Hepburn". Unlike the stereotypical western vision of Soviet womanhood – hefty, heroic, smiling tractor-drivers among the corn – derived from years of socialist realist films, Samoilova came as a revelation. Here was a seductive, sensitive and serious young woman with whom international audiences could sympathise. At the time, Samoilova was given a watch by East German fans during a festival with the inscription: "Finally we see on the Soviet screen a face, not a mask."


In The Cranes Are Flying (1957), Samoilova played Veronica, a young hospital worker who hears that her fiance (Alexei Batalov) has been killed in the war, though she refuses to believe it. Yet bitter circumstances drive her to marry a man (Alexander Shvorin) she does not love. In the cinema under Stalin, the trauma of the second world war, in which one in 10 Russians lost their lives, had been represented as a patriotic, collective duty from which individual suffering was excluded. In Samoilova's tender performance, far from the traditional wartime heroine, Veronica's suffering is very much personalised among the devastation that war has wrought. The film also refuses to condemn Veronica for her infidelity while her fiance is at the front.

Татьяна Самойлова (Tatyana Samoilowa) - Из коллекции Александра Косолапова
The Cranes Are Flying, with its spectacular camerawork, coming towards the end of the worst decade in Soviet film history, was the first film to benefit from the "thaw" after Khrushchev's famous speech in 1956 in which he attacked aspects of Stalinism. Samoilova, who was nominated for the best foreign actress Bafta film award in 1959, now hoped to profit from the comparative liberty and her worldwide reputation. But although she received many offers to work in the west, the Soviet government prevented her from accepting jobs outside Russia and its satellite states.


Samoilova was born in Leningrad, the daughter of Yevgeni Samoilov, a leading Soviet stage and screen actor, and Zinaida Levin. She was also the great niece of the director Konstantin Stanislavsky, and graduated from the ballet school of the Stanislavsky theatre. Although invited by prima ballerina Maya Plisetskaya to join the ballet school of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Samoilova chose to study acting.


While still a student, Samoilova made her first film appearance, in The Mexican (1955), based on a story by Jack London. The Cranes Are Flying was only her second film. Kalatozov followed it up with another cinematically stunning movie, Letter Never Sent, aka The Unmailed Letter (1959), which tells of a guide and three geologists on an expedition in a harsh landscape to find diamonds in the wilderness of the Central Siberian Plateau. The attractive Samoilova, as the only female, causes sexual tensions between the guide (Yevgeni Urbansky) and another geologist (Vasili Livanov).


Samoilova's next films were routine second world war Soviet co-productions – Alba Regia (Hungarian, 1961) and Attack and Retreat (Italian, 1964) – that gave her little chance to shine, until Anna Karenina (1967), her best role since The Cranes Are Flying 10 years previously.

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Tatiana Samoilova Headshot - P 2014

Praised at Cannes in 1958 for being "modest and charming," Samoilova was best known for her award-winning role in "The Cranes Are Flying." Russian actress Tatiana Samoilova, best known for her role as Vera in Mikhail Kolotozov's Cannes Palme d'Or-winning Soviet war film The Cranes Are Flying has died at the age of 80.

Татьяна Самойлова (Tatyana Samoilowa)

Samoilova, who won acclaim at Cannes in 1958 for being the "most modest and charming actress," died in Moscow early Monday of heart failure just hours after her 80th birthday.

The delicate beauty born in Leningrad May 4, 1934, took up ballet as a child before later studying acting at top theater schools in Moscow, including the famous Stanislavsky academy.