Nobody loves Russian movies, even Russians themselves.�Their films are very long, very slow, black & white or monochromatic. They are crowded by intellectual talk and lack plot, characters or any kind of entertainment.
This is common knowledge and, of course, it’s not true. We, the Russians, love our cinema – although the majority of us don’t know about Tarkovsky of Zviagintsev. Moreover, we – surprise! – love movies with an intense plot, powerful characters and funny jokes as much as any audience.
So, I would like to introduce you to fifteen great Russian movies you don’t know (if you are not Russian film fans or a Slavic Studies professor).
To shake things up, there are no films on this list from the most well-known Russian film directors: Sergey Eizenshtein (Battleship Potemkin, 1925), Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker, 1979) or Nikita Mikhalkov (Burnt by the Sun, 1994). I also tried to avoid very slow and very long monochromatic films – although there are a few great movies of this type. I chose the Russian Westerns, the war flicks, the comedies and the criminal films – the movies you would like even if you find Tolstoy and Dostoevsky wordy and boring.
Brother (Alexei Balabanov, 1997):
The indie-style crime movie from one of the best Russian directors of the last decade — Alexei Balbanov (Cargo 200, The Stoker) — is about a young Afghanistan war veteran Danila (the best role of Danila Bagrov’s career, he tragically died a few years after the film) who fights for justice in the chaotic Saint Petersburg of the post-perestroika period. Danila is not John Rambo – he is a skinny shy boy who loves Russian existential rock music and only his inner “Truth” gives him strength.
The film is the only Russian movie of the 90s warmly received by a wide Russian audience, mostly because of its honest portrayal of Russian xenophobia. If you wish to understand the frightening transformation of Russia in 2014, you have to see Brother.
The Cameraman’s Revenge (Wladyslaw Starewicz, 1912):
Highly recommended for everybody who is sure that Russian films are very long – it’s just twelve minutes! As well there are no Russian men with beards or women with babushka head cloths. Wladislaw Starewicz, the director, used only insects from a herbarium to tell the story about Mr. Grasshopper, the cameraman, who discovered his mistress, Ms. Dragonfly, has an affair with Mr. Beetle. To take revenge, Mr. Grasshopper films them and shows the movie in the local theatre.
Cold Summer of 1953 (Alexander Proshkin, 1987):
The focus of the drama is an amnesty in 1953, when shortly after Stalin’s death hundreds of criminals were released from the jails and labor camps of a Soviet gulag. So, the bunch terrorizes a small village – and only two political convicts try to protect the people. Half Magnificent Seven, half High Noon, this anti-Stalinist western became one of last Soviet films loved by Russians and the last film of the Russian star Anatoly Papanov (a smuggler in The Diamond Hand).
The Cranes Are Flying (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1957):
Soon after Stalin’s death the Soviet movies changed again, and Mikhail Kalatozov made the film about love and war filled out by freedom and passion. Shot by the hand-held camera of the great Russian cameraman Sergei Urusevsky, the film is a favorite of Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. It was awarded by Palm d’Or in Cannes ’58 where it won over Bergman’s Brink of Life.