It’s a well-known fact that Russia has got a movie piracy problem. As a positive counter-action, Soviet/Russian production company Mosfilm recently announced a partnership with YouTube, unleashing tons of films for full, free, legal streaming on their online channel. Many are subtitled, and five new films will be added each week. For Western cinephiles, this is a prime opportunity to broaden horizons and venture into the lands of Soviet horror and banned silent film. For nostalgic expats, it’s a great chance to chortle and coo over “Shurik” and his Soviet-era leading man charms, i.e. black-framed glasses and a knack for time-machines. Here are a few suggestions for the weekend ahead for five types of movie watchers.
Die Hard Cinema Lovers
Gorge on Andrei Tarkovsky! Fans of Stalker and Nostalghia visuals should head for The Mirror, a semi-autobiographical, seemingly plotless, stream of consciousness film that blows Luis Buñuel’s dream imagery out of the water. There’s also the pre-Steven Soderbergh-remake Solaris, saturated with philosophy. For a dose of history, check out the medieval icon painter biopic Andrei Rublev and the heartbreaking wartime epic Ivan’s Childhood.
Russian humor is 50% proof for absurdism with a side of slapshtick and familiar characters jumping from film to film. Will it translate? A sweet kindergarten teacher goes undercover as a his lookalike crime goon in Gentlemen of Fortune. In Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession, young inventor Shurik transports his nagging neighbor into the past to switch places with his lookalike, Ivan the Terrible. (We know, it’s a pattern.) Then there’s the awkwardly trans-titled Kidnapping, Caucasian Style where beloved, bespeckled Shurik (yes, the same Shurik!) goes on an adventure to rescue his girlfriend from an arranged marriage, which includes a wacky escape from a mental hospital. Wacky!
Vintage Occult Fans
Demons, exorcisms, angry mobs! Why not give Soviet horror films a chance? Actually, there’s only one, Viy. It’s based on a Nikolai Gogol story… with hellish monsters sans CGI. Not impressed? A mega-budget Hollywood-style remake was just released in Russia.
Cry with Cannes Film Festival winning World War II-time drama The Cranes Are Flying, steeped in psychological trauma. Perhaps something lighter? Go for the screwball romantic comedy The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath! and find out what happens when a drunken bathhouse celebration sends an engaged gentleman to a different city where he falls in love with the resident of an apartment he is convinced is his… because it looks exactly like his apartment… because of ridiculous uniformity of Brezhnev-era public architecture. Oh the irony!
Banned in Russia for 40 years for lampooning Bolsheviks, the silent 1934 film Happiness is a tale of the lazy, pork-fat-munching peasant, his industrious collective farm worker wife, wandering nuns, and sideshow acts. Flash forward to the Civil War by the Caspian Sea and one of the most popular films ever in Russia, White Sun of the Desert. Adventure! Humor! Musical acts! Cosmonauts used to watch this film before mission launches, so maybe it’s worth a try?