When the end of a war leaves an Iron Curtain and a totalitarian communist government in its wake, what is a filmmaker to do? The answer, based on what Eastern European film history seems to tells us, is to create satirical comedies that use bizarre scenarios, zany humor, and anything else available to get dissenting messages across without being shut down by film censors (and possibly imprisoned by the government). Here’s a list of 15 movies you may not have heard of — 14 of which survived the fall of the Berlin Wall — that have all achieved cult status in their European country of origin.
Arguably one of the finest comedies of its time, The Diamond Arm follows “ordinary Soviet citizen” Semyon Gorbunkov (played by the legendary Yuri Nikulin) as he becomes the center of a diamond heist mix-up after two inept henchmen, Kozodoyev and Lyolik, mistake him for their courier on a cruise ship. Gorbunkov gets forced into an orthopedic cast with the contraband diamonds inside, and when the ship returns to the Soviet Union, he reveals what happened to the militsiya. Hilarity ensues as the militsiya captain goes undercover as a taxi driver and tries to use Gorbunkov as bait to catch the criminals. Meanwhile, Gorbunkov starts to see trouble at home when his wife suspects that he’s either having an affair… or he’s been recruited as a foreign spy. Since its 1968 debut, The Diamond Arm has since passed innumerable phrases like “Idiot is forever” and “I’m not a coward… But I’m scared…” into mainstream Russian culture.