Artour Aristakisian – Mesto na zemle AKA A Place on Earth (2001)

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“This is a very powerful film. Admittedly parts of it are hard to watch, but it is an outstanding piece. In a nutshell, it is about a hippie commune that has been set up by someone who believes that the best way to help the homeless and often deranged cripples in Moscow is by offering them sexual love. I did not realise (because of the black and white, and the fact I watched this film before looking up to see when it was made) that this film was shot recently in Moscow, using real homeless people in their real situations. I assumed, because of the black and white, and the whole hippie commune idea, that this was the 70s. Shockingly, this includes his real-life footage of the current situation of the marginalised in Moscow, and that upset me to the core. Obviously some of the characters are actors (or, rather, are acting), but many are simply being shot in their everyday surroundings. Let’s hope that some good comes out of films such as these, in the same way that Cathy Come Home helped change the situation for many in the UK all those years ago…. Is Aristakisyan Russia’s new and very own Ken Loach? We shall have to wait and see.” Continue reading

Vitali Kanevsky – Samostoyatelnaya zhizn aka An Independent Life (1992)

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on the road again…

This is the second instalment of a three-part series of autobiographical films about the director’s life.

The first, which won various awards for its maker, was entitled Zamri Oumi Voskresni and was later retitled Zari, Umri, Vokresni (“Freeze-Die-Come to Life).

At the end of that film, set at the conclusion of World War II, the young Valerka was striving hard to overcome the inertia of just getting by, along with his sometime friend Galiya. In this one, he is adjusting to Galiya’s death and is back in school and is living with his mother, a prostitute. After a girl at the school is found to have been gang-raped, the headmaster chooses Valerka to be one of the scapegoats, though he had nothing to do with the deed. Continue reading

Sergey Loznitsa – Peyzazh (2003)

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It begins with slow, 360 grade pans of a camera showing snowy countryside somewhere in Russia. The soundtrack has some natural voices.

The camera then is set at a bus stop in a Russian village. It continues to pan into the same direction, showing people waiting, talking to each other, drinking beer, staring, giving an occasional glance at the camera. The soundtrack is clearly from a different source than the pictures, but similar to the world of images. It has elderly people talking about their hard everyday life: sicknesses, alcoholism, dire poverty, violent drunken husbands, poor hospitals etc. etc. The voices curse, argue…

The people start gradually crowd into a full bus, they get in, and the buses leave. Continue reading

Aleksey German – Pod elektricheskimi oblakami AKA Under Electric Clouds (2015)

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Aleksey German Jr., son of famed Russian auteur Aleksey German, comes into his own prominence with his third feature Under Electric Clouds, which took home a cinematography award following its premiere at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival. Much like his father’s cinema, German announces similar interests in existentialist societal woes impervious to logical narrative format, and exchanges deliberations of the past (his previous title, Paper Soldier takes place in 1961) for the looming future of 2017 (a date that may dawn before the title premieres in certain international markets). With production delayed so German could put the finishing touches on his father’s posthumous masterpiece, Hard to Be a God, this indictment on the decaying cultural state of Russia tuned exactly one hundred years after the Russian Revolution is a critique as obscurely damning as it elusively oblique in tone. Some spectacular imagery providing a backdrop for overly pointed dialogue manages to settle under your skin despite its sometimes mystifying qualities. Continue reading

Andrey Nekrasov – Bunt. Delo Litvinenko aka Poisoned by Polonium (2007)

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“If anything should happen to me, I beg you to show this tape to the whole world.” On November 23rd, 2006, these words, spoken on camera by exiled former KGB and FSB (post communist Russia’s dreaded new secret police) agent Alexander “Sasha” Litvinenko, became a gruesome self-fulfilling prophecy. After an agonizingly painful ordeal, Litvinenko succumbed to what was allegedly radiation poisoning from a lethal dose of toxic Polonium-210, surreptitiously slipped into his tea during a London meeting with two FSB ex-colleagues three weeks earlier. In Poisoned by Polonium: Continue reading

Igor Voloshin – Ya AKA I Am (2009)

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With three full feature films in two years under his belt, Igor Voloshin has both received critical acclaim and provoked public debates. Nirvana (2008), a “gothic cyber-punk” about drug addiction, got Voloshin the Best Debut prize at the Kinotavr film festival in Sochi. In March 2009, Russia’s First TV Channel screened Voloshin’s Olympius Inferno, a melodrama-cum-action about Georgia’s attack on Ossetia dubbed by many critics, such as Mkheidze and Kuvshinova, a state-commissioned “agit-prop” film. His next project, I Am,competed at Kinotavr 2009, where the film’s director of photography Dmitrii Iashonkov received an award for Best Cinematography. The film continues to generate controversy: “the best film of the year or the shame of Russian cinematography?” (Mkheidze and Kuvshinova) Continue reading

Rimas Tuminas – Uncle Vanya (2010)

Winner of 2010 Golden Mask for Best Russian Theatre Performance.

Anton Chekhov
UNCLE VANYA
Vakhtangov Theatre, Moscow

Director: Rimas Tuminas
Composer: Faustas Latenas
Set designer: Adomas Yacovskis

Rimas Tuminas’s production was enthusiastically greeted by Moscow critics – not only for its undoubted merits but also because Uncle Vanya gave a positive response to the ‘accursed question’: is it possible at all to breathe life into a half-dead academic theatre today? Yes, it’s possible, answers the Vakhtangov Theatre but only in case there is a powerful director that is able to sweep his actors along with him. In Uncle Vanya there are a lot of witty solutions and paradoxical psychological moves. Rimas Tuminas seems to reflect Chekhov’s ‘scenes of rural life’ in secret false mirrors of otherness, and for this reason his performance turned out to be darkly eccentric. And you ask yourself: is it really that those on the stage are not ghosts of the country seat? Continue reading