Russian Films in London
Comedy and drama share billing at 7th Russian Film Festival.
Published: November 20, 2013 (Issue # 1787)
The 7th Russian Film Festival organized and hosted by the Academia Rossica concluded its eclectic ten-day banquet of contemporary Russian cinema on Nov. 17 with a closing ceremony at the May Fair Hotel in London. The yearly festival brought together a choice selection of the best and most recent in contemporary Russian cinema, documentary and animation to U.K. audiences and Russian expats in London.
For many of those attending, perhaps understandably unfamiliar with the state of the independent film scene in Russia but curious to see for themselves a piece of the abstruse Russian soul away from media headlines of Sochi, Putin and Pussy Riot, the question of what Russian contemporary cinema has to offer was perhaps uppermost in their minds.
Despite the fact that Russia’s historic contribution to world cinema has been substantial, with names such as Eisenstein, Tarkovsky and Kalatozov easily conjured by the cinephile, Russian cinema remains a fringe of sorts.
Russian comedy films in particular are in need of a resurgence. Indeed, dramas exploring the more intense and strained side of the human lot is what Russia is best known for. The fact that Russian humour can also be difficult for foreign audiences makes it a hard sell. So much so, that during the festival screenings Russian members of the audiences laughed at different scenes than the non-Russian speakers in attendance.
But it was comedy that opened the festival. “Bite The Dust,” directed by Taisia Igumentseva, is the product of her winning first prize at last year’s Cinéfondation in Cannes. The film is set in a small rural Russian village where the matter-of-fact announcement of an impending “massive coronal emission” that will wipe out all but ten percent of humanity leaves the bafflingly unfazed neighbors no better option than to mark their last night on earth with a traditional Russian banquet. Repressed desires for the neighbors’ spouse, self-resignation to circumstance and personal loss from each characters’ pasts are suddenly allowed expression during this now-or-never evening.
“Winter Journey,” directed by Sergei Taramaev and Liubov Lvova, is a controversial and brave film that tells the story of a young classical singer Erik (Aleksei Frandetti), who is preparing to sing an excerpt from Schubert’s “Winterreise” for an important audition, and whose life changes when he meets Lyokha (Evgeny Tkachuk), a pretty criminal from the provinces with an alarmingly self-destructive disposition teetering on the psychotic. The relationship between the two develops over the three days in which the film is set, as Lyokha becomes acquainted with Erik’s world amid the underground gay scene populated by unsavoury middle class professionals, a world apart from Lyokha’s life of homelessness on Moscow’s streets.
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