Words by Denis Semchenko
This year’s Russian Resurrection not only marks a decade of acquainting Australian moviegoers with prime cinematic art from the land of Mikhalkov and Sokurov, but also delivers a clear message: the Russian movie industry, while consistently rich on thought-provoking product since USSR’s heyday, presently has the capacity to “go Hollywood” with class. Here, we briefly examine our top five picks from the 2013 selection.
The festival’s opener The Geographer is everything one could wish for in a good movie: funny and sad, hopeful and tragic. Perhaps the most-recognised Russian actor nowadays, Konstantin Khabensky (of the Night Watch trilogy) stars as the alcoholic high school teacher whose heart of gold and dodgy best friend eventually win over his family troubles and motley, nihilistic class.
On top of a strong cast and remarkable character studies (Khabensky’s sad dad/unorthodox teacher is a revelation), the film delights in contrasting Perm’s bleak post-Soviet landscapes and the region’s majestic white water wilderness — and, in a series of scenes, drips with classic Russian heartache. One to own.
One of the year’s biggest Russian box office hits, Rezo Gigienishvili’s Love With An Accent doesn’t hide its intention to sell Russia’s temporary political foe Georgia to potential holidaymakers — or, for that matter, tickle Western moviegoers’ buds. Imagine a lengthy, if very well-produced Tourism Georgia ad with patches of romantic comedy and you’re pretty much there.
Shot in glossy hypercolour, the movie tracks a number of (occasionally idiosyncratic) modern love stories: a young couple, on the run from the girl’s irate father, helped out by a kindly streetwise local; a lonely, frumpy Lithuanian TV worker who follows her dream of a Georgian child to Tbilisi and an overenthusiastic busboy; a jaded, mid-divorce Moscow actor who ends up in a remote mountain village following a textbook comedy-of-errors development; a genial conman at large pursuing a classical music fan’s affection. It’s all bright, optimistic and often visually fascinating, yet a little short on depth.
Getting its official international launch in Australia, Legend No. 17 brings one of Soviet sport’s greatest tales to the wide screen. Like many “sports sagas”, it dispenses with a few historical accuracies in its depiction of Valeriy Kharlamov’s rise to a forward position in the USSR ice hockey team — and with it, international fame following his almost single-handed demolition of the previously invincible Canadians in the 1972 Super Series’ opening game (recreated with near-deadset accuracy as the movie’s key sequence).
Rising star Danila Kozlovsky (Soulless) portrays the diminutive half-Spanish prodigy with the right amount of fire and skill, while veteran actor Oleg Menshikov (The Siberian Barber) is superb as mercurial coach Anatoly Tarasov. Putting the spotlight on oft-astonishing game choreography, the adrenalin-charged film hits you with the force of a well-aimed puck.
Perhaps the program’s most strongly “Russian Hollywood” offering, Metro is certainly as close as Russian filmmakers have ever got to an all-out Western disaster movie. Heavy on CGI and screeching metal noise, it’s as intense as you would expect from a scenario where the Moscow River breaks through the railings at one of the city subway’s busiest sections, flooding the tunnel and wrecking a rush-hour train.
Trapped underground and trying their hardest to get out are a colourful bunch of survivors from all walks of life including an estranged father, his little daughter and (as it transpires later) a successful, cynical love rival, a pair of students thrown together by the incident, a tough-nut former handball player and … a tiny dog. Top-drawer actress Svetlana Khodchenkova (who remains surface-level throughout) adds to the requisite emotional tension; naturally, there are well-placed nail-biters aplenty. Big, loud and merciless — as befits a fictional catastrophic event in a 15-million city.
Titled after a song from 1976’s iconic Soviet film Fortune’s Irony, Viktor Shamirov’s This Is What’s Happening To Me is a remarkable study in modern-day big city isolation — albeit with a pronounced Russian spin. Set in Moscow, it’s centred on the unlikely reconnection of two brothers thrown together by their father’s cancer diagnosis and aided by a slew of chaotic circumstances and unforgiving metropolitan traffic.
Wonderfully portrayed, the siblings are distinctly different people: one (Shamirov), a meek, neurotic yet highly moralistic family man, is trying to make his plane back to Volgograd, while the other (Gosha Kutsenko), a high-flying, detached corporate cog, obsesses over his scheduled singing performance at his company’s New Year’s ball. Along the way, they encounter a teenage girl who tries to make it across town to her estranged father. All of the above adds up to a thoughtful New Year’s Eve story with a little bit of a Lost In Translation vibe.
RUSSIAN RESURRECTION 2013 runs at Palace Centro from 26 July to 4 Aug.