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Movie Titles

Коснуться неба (Touch the Sky)
Изображая жертву (Playing the Victim)
Ирония судьбы. Продолжение (Irony of Fate. The Sequel), 2008

Stilyagi (Стиляги), Jazz Seekers

Piter FM
Ivan Vasiljevich Menjaet Professiyu (Ivan Vasiljevich Changes His Occupation)
Kavkazskij plennik (Prisoner of the Caucasus)
Kukushka (The Cuckoo)
Oligarkh (Tycoon)
Oseniiy Marafon (Autumn Marathon)
Russky Bunt (Russian Rebellion)
Solaris

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Movie Reviews

Коснуться неба (Touch the Sky) (2008)
Русское счастье
Run time: 90 minutes
Director: Leonid Gorovets
Language: Russian
Country: Russia

Advice columnist Taya, about to divorce her alcoholic husband, is in need of some counseling herself. During a call to a counseling hotline, Taya opens up about her involvement as a teenager with an older man. Obviously, fifteen years of life experience haven’t changed her much as she starts to fall in love with yet another authority figure — the one on the phone. This made-for-TV movie features a predictable plot, redundant lines in the script, and major overacting — all the required ingredients for an easy to understand authentic video experience. Students with about 250 hours of previous face-to-face instruction should understand the movie fairly easily. Those with even only 125 previous hours should understand large swaths, especially with the help of targeted subtitles, posted at http://home.gwu.edu/~rrobin/subtitles. High school teachers take care. The flashback scenes between the 17-year heroine and her 40-year old lover, while far from explicit, would probably get the movie a rating of PG-13 or TV-14.
- Recommended by Richard Robin, Russian Language Film Review Co-Editor

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Изображая жертву (Playing the Victim)
Director: Kirill Serebrennikov
Writers: Oleg Presnyakov , Vladimir Presnyakov
Cast: Yuri Chursin, Vitali Khayev, Anna Mikhalkova, Liya Akhedzhakova
Runtime: 1h 37 min

playingPlaying the victim is a Russian film of a new generation. Using a mix of animation and traditional cinematography, Playing the victim sucks you into a psychotic world of a modern Russian dude, Valya (short for Russian name Valentin), who sleeps in his baseball hat and represents a tortured Russian Hamlet with a very-very messed up family. Interested? Wait, it gets better. His daytime job is to portray a murder victim - stabbed, strangled, drowned, or one who fell out of the window - during police investigations.

Valya’s father died under suspicious circumstances, which cause Valya to suffer from recurring nightmares in which his dad talks to him. Valya’s mother is having an affair with Valya's uncle. His girlfriend is desperate to get married. Expectedly, Valya is not happy with his life and searches for that elusive something to make sense of his existence. He tries many things. He sleeps in his baseball hat - always. His room is full of creepy looking toys. His relationships with his girlfriend and mother are complicated. Briefly, Valya is a product of his generation - lost, self-centric, and misunderstood.

The best characters of the film, though, are police captain and an old waitress in a Japanese restaurant. Both represent an older generation - old-fashioned and fatigued by modern way of life. Subsequently, they are the only people who speak reason during 96 minutes of the movie. The captain goes on a violent, moral "what the hell is wrong with you people that you feel the need to drug and drink and kill each other like animals" rant. The waitress dressed as geisha, played superbly by Lia Akhedzhakova from "Irony of Fate," gets drunk on sake and talks about humanism.

Playing the victim is intense: its raw quality and violent, in-your-face words and images outline new Russian cinema, where abundance of curse words is always a must.

(Note: mature content)

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Ирония судьбы. Продолжение (Irony of Fate. The Sequel), 2008
Первый канал

Run time: 113 minutes

 

 

Irony of FateIt’s not a disaster. And that by itself is an accomplishment.

Over thirty years have passed since the TV premiere of that New Year’s Eve icon, “Irony of Fate.” Now along comes Timur Bekmambetov with a story of the next generation. To recap, in the classic 1975 movie, young doctor Zhenya Lukashin goes to a local Moscow banya with his buddies on New Year’s Eve. They get drunk, and through an irony of fate, Zhenya ends up sleeping it off on the floor of a strange woman’s apartment in Leningrad. As Zhenya sobers up, he and his surprise host Nadia fall in love. End of movie. And now for the sequel... Zhenya and Nadia’s fairy-tale marriage ends almost instantly. The two marry their respective significant others and have kids. Thirty years later, the kids meet, you guessed it, on New Year’s Eve. But what happens next is not so predictable.

The movie reunites all the old actors (except Lia Akhedzhakova who opted not to play her usual supporting role), all of whom do superb jobs. The kids aren’t bad, either. True, the cinematographic style is very different (think of director Bekmambetov’s “Dozor” movies), but not jarring. The sequel requires the same suspension of disbelief that the original demanded, especially because some questions never get answered, like, why exactly didn’t things work out for Zhenya and Nadia? How could she possibly have preferred that baffoon Innokentiy? And why, if this is supposed to be happening on New Year’s Eve in Russia today, isn’t anybody in front of the TV watching Irony of Fate?

- Recommended by Richard Robin, Russian Language Film Review Editor

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jazz Stilyagi (Стиляги), Jazz Seekers, 2008
Красная стрела
Language: Russian
Run Time: 135 minutes
Director: by Valeriy Todorkovsky Availability:

The stilyági (jazz seekers) were a Moscow-based post-Stalinist 1950s counterculture movement. In defiance of approved lifestyles, they sported greaser hairstyles, adopted American names, danced the jitterbug, and surreptitiously copied American jazz and R&B onto x-ray film, the only available substitute for vinyl. The plot revolves around Mel, the ideologically correct hero drawn to these “alien” rhythms. Todorkovsky manages to capture the spirit of the Soviet 1950s by exaggerating the vividness of the counterculture world. The music is mostly from the glasnost years of the late 1980s (there was no native Russian jazz-rock during the 1950s). But the deliberate anachronism works. The 1980s soundtrack, much of which has a retro feel to begin with, portrays a Soviet reality that almost was but not quite. The film is beautifully shot with bows to any number of Western musicals: West Side Story, Dirty Dancing, Hair, and Grease. The choreography of the crowning number, “Chained” (Скованные), is a direct tribute to Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” The Russian in the movie is easy to follow. Teachers will have to give students some background on the Soviet 1950s. High school teachers should know that there’s some nudity and some shots of Kama Sutra-style drawings. As of this writing, the movie is available in PAL from RussianDVD.com without subtitles. Clips dot video sharing sites like YouTube and RuTube, some of which have the entire film.
- Recommended by Richard Robin, Russian Language Film Review Editor

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Piter FM.
Vox Video (2006)
Run time: 90 minutes

In this light romantic comedy.... Wait! Light romantic comedy?! From today's Russia?! Yes, they've finally shown that they can get away from the blood, gloom, and doom that dominated post-Soviet movie making. At the same time, Piter FM avoids the other extreme characteristic of lighter Russian fare of the 1990s: frat party humor. So, in this light romantic comedy, Masha works for a dour boss as a deejay at a Petersburg rock station. She's engaged to a straight-arrow boring yuppie. Fate takes a hand when she drops her cell phone on the street and it winds up in the hands of... Well, you can guess the rest. Even though the outcome is predictable, the movie is a ton of fun. The photography of Petersburg is stunning. The NTSC (North American TV) version of the movie is not subtitled, but the language is fairly easy to follow, and the soundtrack will keep even lower-level students interested.
- Recommended by Richard Robin, Russian Language Film Review Editor

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Ivan Vasiljevich Menjaet Professiyu
Ivan Vasiljevich Changes His Occupation)
Mosfilm (1973)
Run time: 88 minutes

Based on a play by M.A. Bulgakov, this film is a witty comedy, and an adventure in time travel. Despite this well-trodden genre, film director Leonid Gaidai, a renowned Russian master of comedy, manages to make the movie entertaining and unconventional. Shurik, an inventor, creates a time machine and accidentally sends two of his contemporaries into the 16th century and into the palace of the tyrannical Russian tsar, Ivan the Terrible. To make the things more complex, the machine breaks, trapping the tsar in our time. The film has many musical scenes, and has been likened to "Monty Python". A copy of the film (with English subtitles) is available at http://www.rbcmp3.com.
- Recommended by Oksana Prokhvachev

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Kavkazskij plennik (Prisoner of the Caucasus) -1996
Director: Sergei Bodrov
Starring Oleg Menshikov (Burnt by the Son, East West, The Barber of Siberia)
and the late Sergei Bodrov Jr. (Brother I & II, East West).

The movie takes a glaring look into civil and ethnic conflict, in this modernized version of the Leo Tolstoy novel. Bodrov plays the young, fresh Vanya, contrasted by Menshikov’s hardened Sacha, two Russian soldiers who have been captured by the enemy. Their captor attempts to use the prisoners in a trade for the return of his own son, who is being held by the Russian army. This vivid tale reflecting on Russia’s experiences in Chechnya, won the audience award at Cannes, and was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
- Recommended by Marissa Polsky

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Kukushka (The Cuckoo)- 2002
Director: Alexander Rogozhkin
Run time: 103 minutes

Alexander Rogozhkin, mostly famous in Russia for his comedies “Peculiarities of the National Hunt” and “Peculiarities of the National Fishing” creates a tragic-comical situation in his recent film “Kukushka.” The action is set in 1944 Finland where two soldiers, the Finnish sniper Veiko and the Soviet Army captain Ivan, as a result of war hardships, find shelter on the farm of a young Lapp widow Anny. Ivan doesn’t hide his hatred for Veiko who is wearing an SS uniform while he is trying without success to demonstrate his anti-war disposition. The woman, however, is glad to have two men around after being on the farm all alone. The fact that none of the three characters speaks the same language (we hear Russian, Finnish and Lapp in the movie) doesn’t prevent them from finding an understanding and discovering that they are only human. The film is very witty and funny but at the same time raises important questions of how wars affect people. It is nothing like you have ever seen before and I highly recommend it. It is available for rent from http://www.netflix.com
- Recommended by Oksana Prokhvacheva

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Oligarkh (Tycoon) - 2002
Run time: 128 minutes
This exciting Russian drama follows the rise and fall of a Russian "oligarch," (played by Vladimir Mashkov, Pugachev in "Russky Bunt", Sasha in "Behind Enemy Lines") that new class of businessman in Russian that sprung up from Gorbachev’s Perestroika. The movie portrays in an entertaining and riveting way the new morality of a new Russia. This movie is fantastic for those who are interested in the current economic and political situation in Russia.
- Recommended by Marissa Polsky

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Oseniiy Marafon (Autumn Marathon) - 1978
Although "Oseniiy Marafon" is almost thirty years old and I’m usually not the biggest fan of old movies, I highly recommend this movie. It tells the story of Andrei, a forty-something professor of English whose daily life consists of balancing his job, his wife, his mistress, his friend who is struggling with her interpretation career, and a professor from Denmark, who is learning Russian and staying with Andrei. At the beginning he seems to have everything under control more or less. But as the plot progresses, just about everything imaginable goes wrong and his worst fear, that he will lose both his wife and his mistress, seems about to come true. The scenes are laced with both humor and sadness and this makes for a wonderful contrast. In addition, the movie addresses a number of realities of Soviet life during the 70s and for me this was a real eye-opener.
-Recommended by Anna Pavlitchenko

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Russky Bunt (Russian Rebellion) -2000
Run time: 120 minutes
This is an excellent screen adaptation of the Pushkin Classic "The Captain’s Daughter," which takes place during the Pugachev Rebellion 1773-1774. Mateuz Damiecki plays the noble Pyotr Grinyov, whose courage and fortitude impresses the rebel leader, Emilyan Pugachev, played by Vladimir Mashkov. This story is excellent for those who love historical and literary adaptations.
- Recommended by Marissa Polsky

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Solaris (1971)
Andrei Tarkovky’s 1971 version of the Stanislaw Lem book dwarfs the 2003 Hollywood copy in its philosophical scope if not its less than stunning special effects. Mosfilm envisioned the movie as a response to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Psychologist Chris Kelvin is sent to the space station orbiting the planet Solaris to find out why the remaining members of a skeletal crew have turned into psychological basket cases. Upon arrival, Chris learns that one crew member has committed suicide, another is on the verge of insanity, and the third has locked himself in his lab. Then there are the "guests" that keep on showing up - including Chris’s long-dead wife. Solaris, it turns out, is a huge brain that manufactures beings, based on the scientists' dreams. It may sound like a bad Star Trek (first generation) plot, but the film’s steady pacing, fantastic acting, and clean, simple language make this a joy to watch. One piece of advice, though: fast-forward through the meaningless eight-minute Hong Kong expressway scene. Available on DVD.
- Recommended by Rich Robin

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