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Modern (and not so modern) Russian films

Just wanted give a shout-out to a series of webinars run by Columbia University covering some modern Russian films. Might be of interest for anyone looking to expand their cinematic horizons:

(The one on Sputnik on Wed, Feb 24, is the first one in the series, subsequent events are also listed on that page).

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With the OP's permission (thank you, Eef!), here's a repost of a (subjective) list of top several Russian-language movies commonly used in language classes (for more info on individual titles, check out imdb):

Office Romance (Служебный роман), 1977

Moscow doesn't believe in tears (Москва слезам не верит), 1980

The irony of fate (Ирония судьбы или с лёгким паром), 1975

Love and doves, (Любовь и голуби),1985

Only "old men" are going into battle (В бой идут одни "старики"), 1974

Operation Y and Shurik's other adventures, (Операция "Ы" и другие приключения Шурика), 1965

These are usually picked not only for the quality of spoken Russian, but also because they form shared cultural baggage for anyone over 40 from ex-Soviet states.

Runner-ups (not commonly used in language classes, but also part of that baggage - and might be of interest:

Mary Poppins, Good Bye (Мери Поппинс, До свидания) - a tacky but cute Soviet take on the British classic (Eef, you might enjoy seeing Lembit Ulfsak of "Tangerines" fame in a couple of episodes)

The adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, (Приключения Шерлока Холмса и доктора Ватсона) 1979 - mid80s. A quality take on Mr. Conan Doyle's classic, very slow-paced, but very, very well done.

Seventeen Moments of Spring (Семнадцать мгновений весны) - a 12-part mini-series

The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed (Место встречи изменить нельзя) - a 5-part mini-series

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As a follow-up, here’s a short list of modern Russian movies that are ultimately watchable, even with subtitles, and offer a better understanding of social and cultural background, popular perceptions, biases, and views on some key historic events, and, more generally, a “shared cultural code” of some of the people you might meet when you visit the country.

Again, most of these should be readily available through the main streaming platforms – if not, there’s always

The Nineties:

Brother (Брат), 1997 * - a must see for a first-approximation understanding of what the nineties meant for an average Russian, and what Saint Petersburg looked and felt like after the dissolution of USSR
The movie started off a landslide of noir “Russian gangster” movies, with the most notable ones listed below:

Brother 2 (Брат/2), 2000, a much more commercial sequel;
Bummer/Beemer (Бумер), 2002,

Blind Man’s Bluff (Жмурки)

Interesting to see the evolution from the “tragedy” and bona-fide romanticization of strong gangster characters (Beemer) to a farcical, parody take (Blind Man’s Bluff)

Also in this category:
The Rifleman of the Voroshilov Regiment (Ворошиловский стрелок), 1997, which pre-dates Brother but has some similar themes; Country of the Deaf (Страна глухих, 1998) - also nineties, included for the first screen appearance of Chulpan Khamatova and a beautiful soundtrack by Alexey Aigui; Nenaste (Ненастье), a 2018 mini-series rather accurately and carefully addressing the "vet brotherhood" phenomenon after Soviet war in Afghanistan and revisiting the 90s.

War in Chechnya:

Prisoner of the Mountains (Кавказский пленник, 1996), Checkpoint (Блокпост) 1999, War (Bойна, 2002)

Russian Doom And Gloom (easily the best-represented genre, usually very well done cinematographically, with the general idea that the society is irreparably bad, people are intrinsically evil, and there is no hope or future):
Leviathan (Левиафан, 2014)
(Also in this category Elena (Елена, 2011), A long and happy life (Долгая счастливая жизнь, 2013), The Fool(Дурак, 2014), Loveless (Нелюбовь, 2017).

Not so gloomy (things are bad, but there might – just might – be a glimpse of light in the end of the tunnel):

Mermaid (Русалка), 2007 *

12 (2007) *

Arrhythmia (Аритмия) 2017 *

Doctor Lisa (Доктор Лиза), 2020

Non-conformism and quest for liberty in a watchable lighthearted package:

Stilyagi, or "Hipsters" (Стиляги) 2008 * - about non-conformist youth of the late 50s, a musical

Summer (Лето), 2018 - about non-conformist youth of the 80s.

Edited to replace Youtube links to movie trailers with links to imdb descriptions and discussion boards, which are way more helpful

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This is excellent! Thank you so much for compiling all of this!

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Thank you! Just thought it would make sense to have it all in one place. I'm thinking of wrapping it up with a list of prominent Soviet and post-Soviet war movies, just haven't had time to put all the links together :-).

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So yes, to kind of round it off I also wanted to mention several post-Soviet movies that some people would be quick to discount as "propaganda". I don't necessarily agree: they are all solid movies, with some good (and sometimes very good) acting and historic accuracy. It's the subject matter that matters here...

Space exploration:

Space walk (2017) Время Первых
Gagarin (2013) Гагарин: первый в космосе


Fortress of War (Брестская крепость), 2010

Battle for Sevastopol (Незламна), 2014. The title is quite misleading, it's actually a decent-quality biopic on Lyudmila Pavlichenko, one of the better known female snipers of WWII.

August 1944 (В августе 44го), a slow-paced movie on military counterintelligence. More of a detective story; not without its faults, but quite watchable.

The whole "propaganda" negative bias against them is something that I have a bit of a hard time finding a logical explanation for. For space films, for instance, if you take a patriotism/propaganda scale of one to ten, with an Attenborough-style BBC documentary on space race at 1, something uber patriotic (if not jingoistic) and cliched like Armageddon at 10, and "healthily patriotic" and technically and historically accurate Apollo 13 at, say, four, -both Russian movies would probably end up somewhere smack in the middle.

I wonder if it's the fact that other nations' patriotism is almost always bound to be perceived as alien and less worthy than your own? Or could it be due to the fact that most Russian movies open up with credits to the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation? That much is true, but it is also true for all the movies from my previous post, which are very markedly anti-establishment. It's just a fact of life - Russian government annually earmarks about $100 million in grants, interest-free loans, and subsidies to support the domestic film industry, and there are many, many takers.

For war movies, though, it's a bit more complicated. It would seem that the Great Patriotic War legacy offers an easy pathway to boosting post-Soviet national pride, and the government does try to use the memory of the war for nation-building purposes. This resulted in a plethora of barely watchable high-CGI low-IQ blockbusters, but the three examples I quoted above are actually quite decent action films. The problem is, the bar for war movies has been set quite high by Soviet filmmakers, and, with very few exceptions, the best Soviet war movies are best described as "movies about war/anti-war propaganda", rather than "action films/entertainment":

Fate of a man (1959) Судьба человека

Ballad of a Soldier (1959) Баллада о солдате

The cranes are flying (1957) Летят журавли

Ivan's childhood (1962) Иваново детство

The dawns are quiet here (1972) А зори здесь тихие

Two out of 20 million (1987) Сошедшие с небес

And what in my opinion is one of the most powerful antiwar films of all times:
Сome and See (1985) Иди и смотри

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Thank you so much for adding these films. It’s really helpful to have all these suggestions in one place. This will keep us busy!

I was just reading an article in The New Yorker about Andrei Tarkovsky which talked about “Ivan’s Childhood” and also mentioned “The Cranes are Flying” as an influence.

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Watched the first seminar yesterday - it was a lot of fun (given, of course, that "Sputnik" is not Tarkovsky by any stretch of imagination). The recording is available on youtube.

Next installment - Monday, March 8, 2021
7:00pm ET (Adapting Russian Classics to the 2020s: Dead Souls)

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... and in case you haven't seen it (and not quite in the "movie" category, but close enough) - here's a link to two very short tongue-in-cheek mockumentaries about rural life and challenges on a Russian collective farm:

Eef, you might enjoy meta-references to some Soviet classics, such as "Любовь и голуби", "Белое солнце пустыни", and "Зима в Простоквашино", as well as occasional untranslated bits.

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...and just to let you all know, Balabanov's Brat (Brother) and Brat 2 are now available on Netflix, with passable subtitles.

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Yup, anything with Michael Palin in it can't be bad by definition :-)