If you started learning Russian, then at some point you will definitely find yourself wondering about Russian cinematography. There are many things which can be said on that topic, but one is clear: Russian movies are rather different from their European counterparts, especially English-speaking ones.
For decades now our ambitious movie directors have tried to copy Hollywood style of film-making with what is arrogantly called “our answer to Hollywood”, but the results prove to be unsuccessful.
On the other half of the scales we have movies made strictly for the Russian viewer. In a nutshell: if a person who is not really familiar with Russian culture tries to watch one of these, then he or she is most likely to find themselves utterly confused and at times disappointed.
Luckily, there is another layer. In this case, a movie keeps its authentic charm, while at the same time it speaks to all the audiences around the world. So, basically, no matter what your cultural background is, you will easily understand the message and be able to enjoy the new experience. I wouldn’t say such movies are rare, but they definitely tend to be overlooked, lost in a glossy crowd of those pretentious Hollywood clones. A shame, really, since it is absolutely worth giving them a try.
The other issue is subtitles. In fact, it can get really frustrating trying to find a subtitled version of a good Russian movie (or especially, a TV-show). I actually had to create subtitles for a full season of Brigada in order to show it to my students.
That’s why, to make it easier for an untutored reader, I decided to create a short IMHO list of must-watch Russian movies and TV-shows with a short description for each and some useful links. Enjoy! 🙂
1. Формула Любви/Formula of Love (1984) – A young aristocrat, Aleksei Fedyashev, is languishing in his family’s country estate, spending his days reading poetry and confessing his love… to a statue. Upon hearing that famous Count Caliostro is touring Russia and has created quite a buzz in high society with his “magic”, he decides to ask the Count to bring the statue to life…
2. Кавказская пленница или Новые Приключения Шурика/ Kidnapping, Caucasian Style (1967) – In this comic but dated story, nerdy Shurik travels to the Caucasus in search of native legends and folklore. But what he finds is a beautiful girl whom, due to intoxication and deceit of the local “gang”, he ends up literally stealing for the local deceitful governor. All the time Shurik thinks that it is all just a one old Caucasian custom. When he, finally, realizes what he did he goes out in search for the girl of his dreams.
3. Обыкновенное чудо/Ordinary miracle (1979) – A wizard invents characters who all come to life and start to arrive at his house: a King, his servants, a princess, a bear trapped in a man’s body – the usual lot. The Plot mainly rotates around the bear, who the wizard had turned into a man. The Bear, who wishes to be a bear once again, can turn into his old self if he were to kiss a princess. It gets complicated when he falls in love with that princess, that arrived at the wizard’s house. For how can they be together, if a single kiss will destroy their love?
4. Солярис/Solaris (1972) – A psychologist is sent to a station orbiting a distant planet in order to discover what has caused the crew to go insane.
5. Здравствуйте, я ваша тетя!/Hello, I’m your aunt! (1975) – a musical comedy film, loosely based on the play Charley’s Aunt by Brandon Thomas. Unemployed and homeless Babbs Baberley is being chased by the police who attempt to arrest him for vagrancy. Babbs finds himself in a rich house, where he encounters Charlie and Jackie. Babbs’ unsuccessful attempt to disguise himself as a woman gives Charlie and Jackie an idea. By threatening to surrender Babbs to the (successfully bribed) police, they force their unexpected visitor to dress once again as a woman and pass himself for Donna Rosa d’Alvadorez, Charlie’s millionaire aunt who is expected to arrive with a visit from Brazil.
6. Брат/Brother (1997) – An ex-soldier with a personal honor code enters the family crime business in St. Petersburg, Russia.
7. Бригада/Brigade (TV mini-series 2002) – Brigada is a group of four friends, who grew up together and formed a most powerful gang in Moscow. Initially they made business together, but an unplanned murder transformed them into a gang. Now their lives are at risk and there is no way back.
8. Все умрут, а я останусь /Everybody dies but me (2008) – One Monday morning Katya, Vika and Zhanna learn that there will be a school disco, their first disco, on the coming Saturday night. The girls feverishly start preparing for the event, which rapidly becomes the most important moment ever in their universe, and looks like the ideal way to escape their daily lives…
9. Ночной дозор/Night Watch (2004) – A fantasy-thriller set in present-day Moscow where the respective forces that control daytime and nighttime do battle.
10. Лиля Навсегда/Lilya 4-ever (2002) – Sixteen-year-old Lilja and her only friend, the young boy Volodja, live in Estonia, fantasizing about a better life. One day, Lilja falls in love with Andrej, who is going to Sweden, and invites Lilja to come along and start a new life.