Some of the Best of Russian Cinema

November 28th, 2009

I thought I’d share what I consider to be some of the best (and most insightful) Russian films I’ve seen. I’ve put some careful thought into this list, and I highly recommend that you see every single one you can manage, especially if you have even the slightest interest in Russian language and culture. Please forgive me if any of the information I give you isn’t correct (mostly release dates), I don’t own many of these films and am just speculating (and no, the internet here is by no means fast enough to google each film).

Двенадцать (Twelve)-While I’ve already suggested this film to you, it’s worth recommending a second time. Made by Nikita Mikhailkov, the film is based on the American film Twelve Angry Men. The story revolves around a jury deciding the fate of a young Chechen accused of killing his adoptive father (an officer in the Russian army). All twelve jurors represent various facets of Russian society, and have incredible stories to share. It’s a fantastic commentary on racism in Russia, and extremely well done. All the actors are fantastic, and the cinematography (especially considering it was filmed in a gym) is spectacular. I apologize for not saying more about this film; however, I’m afraid I’d give too much away.

Franz and Paulina: Released in 2006, this film received a Golden Lion award in addition to a number of others. Based in Belorussia during WWII, it revolves around a young Belorussian woman and a member of the German SS. In short, he saves her life (because he has a heart and he loves her, duh), and the rest of the film is spent with her trying to protect him from the Russians. In order to truly appreciate the conflict in this film, you must first understand the immense conflict among the Russians during WWII. Many defected to the Nazis, many more simply felt it best not to fight. Partisans and soldiers of the Red Army alike had no problem shooting defectors and even those who chose simply not to partake in the war. Towards the end of the film there is an excellent example of the conflict within the Red Army itself at the time. It is an absolutely fantastic film, and will help you understand a lot more about Russia during WWII. This being said, have something fun planned for after the film because it is without question the most heartbreaking film I have ever, ever seen. And Russian films are no cake walk. Don’t let this scare you off, it’s an absolutely amazing film, of a type more people in the world need to see in order to understand exactly how horrible WWII was.

Плюс Один (Plus One): A very recent film (2008), this film will actually make you laugh! Based in present day Moscow, it’s a very ridiculous film about a Russian translator of English hired to help a rather goofy British puppeteer. The two are absolute polar opposites, the translator is a typical, very serious Russian woman, while the puppeteer is ridiculous to the extreme. They represent, respectively, Russia and the West. It’s a silly and entertaining film, done by a very well loved director (who also did Питер ФМ).

Русалка (Mermaid): Based (loosely) on the story Mermaid, it starts out in Russian port town. It’s based around the life of a girl who aspires to be a ballerina. Through a series of events, she discovers she has the ability to influence events with her mind, and by this token ends up in Moscow. The film follows her in Moscow as she grows up, falls in love, and generally just learns about life. There’s not really a whole lot more I can say about this story without giving too much away, aside from prepare yourself for the end. And I highly recommend it.

Ирония Судбы (The Irony of Fate): A classic Russian movie, it’s simply not the holidays in Russia without seeing the movie Irony of Fate. This movie portrays Russian fate at its very best, a Russian man gets drunk with his friends and they put him on a plane. Where does he end up? In an apartment that looks exactly like his own (an old Soviet joke, all apartments look the same). Hilarity and a rather cute love story ensue as Russian fate has its way in the movie.

Honorable Mentions: The Day Watch Series (Night Watch and Day Watch). Based on a popular series of Russian fantasy books, the Night Watch and Day Watch movies represent Russian pop culture at its best, and the first Russian film based off of Hollywood (many more continue to follow, these films truly were the beginning of a new era for Russian film). The series isn’t finished (there is at least one movie yet to be made, possibly two), and I highly recommend reading the books (I know they’re printed in English, I’m currently torturing myself by reading them in Russian). Andrei Rublev (or any other Tarkovsky film, such as Stalker): based around the life of the famous Russian artist Andrei Rublev, it’s simply an interesting film. Tarkovsky films are not easy to wade through, but they’re a hallmark of Russian cinema.

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