Search
3D 5th Wave 70s Culture 80s Cinema A Night of Horror AAustralian film Action Activism Adaptation Adelaide Film Festival Adventure Advocacy African American Age of Adaline AI albanian Alien Abduction alien covenant aliens Alpha alt-right altzheimers amazon Amitabh Bachchan Animal Animation anime anthology Anti-vaxx Ari Gold Art Asia Pacific Screen Awards Asian Cinema Australian film AV Industry Avengers Bad Robot BDSM Beach Boys Berlinale BFG Bianca Biasi Big Hero 6 Biography Biopic Blade Runner Blake Lively B-Movies Bollywood Breast Cancer Brian Wilson Brisbane Bruce Willis Camille Keenan Canadian Cancer candyman Cannes cannibalism Cannon Films Cesars CGI Chapman To Character Actors Charlie Hunnam Charlize Theron Chemsex China Lion Chinese Chloe Grace Moretz Chris Hemsworth Chris Pratt Christchurch christian cinema christmas Christopher Nolan Classic Cinema Clint Eastwood Close Encounters Cloverfield Comedy Coming-of-Age Conor McGregor Conspiracy Controversy Crowd-sourced Cult Cure Dakota Johnson Dance Academy Dardennes Brothers darth vader Debut Deepika Padukone Depression Disaster Movies Disney Diversity Documentary doomsday Dr Moreau drama Dunkirk Dustin Clare Dystopic EL James eli roth Elizabeth Banks Entourage Environmental Epic Erotic Cinema Extra-terrestrial Extreme Sports faith-based Family Film Fantasy Father Daughter Feminism Fifty Shades of Grey Film Film Festival Foreign found footage French Cinema Friendship Fusion Technology Gareth Edwards Gay Cinema Ghostbusters Ghosts Golan Globus Gothic Graphic Novel green inferno Guardians of the Galaxy Guillermo del Toro Gun Control Hacker Hailee Steinfeld Han Solo Happiness Harrison Ford Harry Dean Stanton Hasbro Haunted house Hhorror Himalaya Hitchcock Hollywood

Entries in Russian Cinema (4)

Wednesday
Nov142018

LETO (SUMMER)

Stars: Teo Yoo, Irina Starshenbaum, Roma Zver, Filipp Avdeev, Alexandr Gorchilin, Alexander Kuznetsov, Nikita Efremov, Julia Aug, Elena Koreneva, Lia Akhedzhakova, Anton Adasinskyi and Vasiliy Mikhailov.
Writers: Kirill Serebrennikov, Michael Idov and Lily Idova.
Director: Kirill Serebrennikov

Reviewed at the 2018 Russian Resurrection Film Festival, Sydney; named the festival’s Best New Russian Film, 2018.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Evoking memories of a pre-Perestroika Russia where the youthful masses were unified and energised in their defiance of authority by the driving beats of a post-punk early-80s Leningrad music scene, Kirill Serebrennikov’s Leto is a free-wheeling, free-spirited, bittersweet remembrance of the people and passion that defined the decade for many young Soviets.

A pure celebration of driven talent and the transformative power of music, the latest from the provocative director of The Student (2016) proves a stirring ode to the subversive. Whether deconstructing the staid conventions of the ‘musical biopic’ or symbolically reacting against the Kremlin’s suppression of socially-conscious art, Serebrennikov and co-writers Michael Idov and Lily Idova have crafted a thrilling, relevant and deeply moving work despite, or perhaps because of, a narrow narrative focus.

The film follows three key figures in the thriving if heavily policed Leningrad music scene – the lead singer of hard-edged rock band Zoopark, Mike Naumenko (real-life rocker Roma Zver); his wife and muse, Natalya (the wonderful Irina Starshenbaum); and, charismatic singer-songwriter Viktor Tsoï (the striking German-born, Korean-based Teo Yoo). All became iconic figures in Russian pop culture - Tsoï would front the group Kino and pen the battle cry of the Perestroika movement,  ‘Khochu peremen (I Want Change)’; Serebrennikov’s film, named after Zoopark’s biggest hit, is loosely based upon Natalya’s best-selling memoir.

Their interactions don’t amount to searing drama. Mike recognizes Viktor’s talent and wants to share in his growth as a musician; Natalya, like anyone in Viktor’s realm, finds herself attracted to him; Mike sees out his wife’s attraction to Viktor, openly encouraging her to not deny natural feelings. The men write songs; Natalya balances a rock-wife lifestyle with a mother’s responsibilities; the trio, with some eccentric band mates in tow and the authorities watching their every move, strive to create, be seen, build a life together.

However, framed within DOP Vladislav Opelyants’ gorgeous monochromatic widescreen lens and exuding their enigmatic ‘rock star’ charisma in all its compelling glory, the audience investment in the intertwining lives and burgeoning creativity of the trio is profound. Most affecting is Starshenbaum as Natalya; the actress (bearing a remarkable resemblance to American star Mary Elizabeth Winstead) conveys both a strength and sensitivity that makes her central role as an inspiration for those around her entirely believable. Natalya’s own longing and determined path, when it emerges from beneath the self-absorbed creative destinies of the men in her life, proves deeply moving.

Dramatic impetus aside, the film is at its most engaging when it embraces its musical influences (notably Bowie, Blondie, T-Rex, though many are referenced). Defining songs of the period are reworked as musical numbers, at the indulgence of the characters and often sung by random strangers who drift in, then out of frame. Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’ becomes a fierce, fantastic number set on a train carriage; Iggy Pop’s ‘The Passenger’ is belted out by bus commuters as Viktor and Natalya take in the city. A great sequence, set to Mott the Hoople’s All the Young Dudes, sees Michael envision classic album covers of the day brought to life by his friends and family in splashes of Super-8 colour footage.

There is a sprawling sense of time and place to Leto, which blows out the running to over two hours, yet there is not a frame of the film one would want to see excised. The anti-establishment themes and love-conquers-all story beats inherent to the rock/pop biopic genre have been previously explored in Oliver Stone’s The Doors (1991), Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous (2000) and Anton Corbijn’s Control (2007), but rarely with such heartfelt melancholy, pained romanticism and evocative rendering of time and place.

The sly subversion that gives the film its bite has come at a price; Kirill Serebrennikov has been under house arrest since August 2017 for his perceived anti-Putin stance (the director could not attend the film’s Cannes premiere in May). While the authorities endeavor to stifle his political voice, his art and skill as a great movie storyteller speaks very loudly on his behalf.

         

Wednesday
Oct312018

THE SOUL CONDUCTOR

Stars: Aleksandra Bortich, Evgeniy Tsyganov, Vladimir Yaglych, Aleksandr Robak, Vasiliy Bochkaryov and Ekaterina Rokotova.
Writers: Anna Kurbatova and Aleksandr Topuriya.
Director: Ilya S. Maksimov.

Screening at the 2018 Russian Resurrection Film Festival. Venue and session information available here.

Rating: ★★★★

The ties that bind us beyond the grave are explored within a thrilling supernatural framework in Ilya S. Maksimov’s The Soul Conductor (Provodnik). A ghost story that relies less on the ‘boo!’ factor and more on the haunting sadness of a life left incomplete, this high-end commercial entry from the Russian offices of 20th Century Fox offers both pensive, thoughtful meditation on regret and memory as well as spectacularly realised and chilling moments of modern movie horror.

Emerging star Aleksandra Bortich plays hardened 20-something Katya, a young woman not only able to see dead people but forced to co-exist with three desperate souls (Aleksandr Robak, Vasiliy Bochkaryov, Ekaterina Rokotova) who randomly materialise, often with their own agendas. Katya is also haunted by the grief of family tragedy; she was orphaned following a car accident that claimed both her parents, and is left shattered when her twin sister disappears, occasionally visiting Katya as an ethereal vision.

On top of all this burdensome emotional and supernatural baggage, Katya is drawn back to a decrepit mansion where, as a little girl, she witnessed an act of violent demonic transference (hence the title). The entity may have been responsible for the deaths of three young woman, blonde and blue-eyed like our protagonist, and Katya establishes an uneasy alliance with boozy career-detective Kapkov (Evgeniy Tsyganov) to bring about the beast’s downfall.

Bortich is a compelling presence, playing sweet and strong, damaged and defiant, with confidence and charisma that ought to be noticed by Hollywood suits keen to establish a new YA heroine figure (the 'Russian Jennifer Lawrence' tag is unavoidable). Scripted by Anna Kurbatova and Aleksandr Topuriya, The Soul Conductor affords the actress a multi-dimensional character the likes of which only emerges in those genre films with thematic weight to distill. The intrusion of memories into real life and the associated terror, grief and regret are played out convincingly by the 24 year-old Belarusian actress, who must also front up for the arduous physical acting required of a female lead battling a serial killer/satanic force.

The redemptive arc of the narrative is no surprise, but director Ilya S. Maksimov is making his film directorial debut after a decade in television, where clear, precise storytelling is a virtue; his skill at nailing strong story beats and maximising every frames potential is to the pics benefit. All other department heads under his watch provide slick, professional service, especially DOP and long-time collaborator Yuri Bekhterev, whose imagery is often breathtakingly lovely given the dark material.

Saturday
May142016

THE STUDENT

Stars: Pyotr Skvortsov, Viktoriya Isakova, Yuliya Aug, Aleksandra Revenko, Nikolai Roshin, Svetlana Bragarnik and Aleksandr Gorchilin.
Writer: Kirill Serebrennikov; based upon the play Martyr by Marius von Mayenburg.
Director: Kirill Serebrennikov

Screening in Un Certain Regard at 69th Festival du Cannes; reviewed at the Salles Debussy.

Rating: 4/5

Fervent creationism faces off against wide-eyed Darwinism amidst the already volatile environment of high school life in Kirill Serebrennikov’s chilling psychological drama, The Student. The Russian auteur’s journey into the dark recesses of a fanatical mindset provides religious extremism with a truly terrifying façade – the unbridled and fearless arrogance of a disenfranchised teenage boy.

Serebrennikov (Yuri’s Day, 2008; Betrayal, 2012) offers up a compelling microcosm of the faith-vs-fact debate that has grown in intensity and ferocity around the world in recent decades. That he also bolsters his narrative with themes such as teenage sexuality, institutional bias and agenda, free speech and Oedipal issues proves both ambitious and intellectually engrossing. The melding of the director’s storytelling skill and playwright Marius von Mayenburg’s stageplay proves a match made in…well, it’s a good match.

The titular protagonist is Veniamin Yuzhin (the remarkable Pyotr Skvortsov), a lean, surly teenage boy living with his struggling single-mom (Yuliya Aug). In a pre-credit sequence, he seems to be remarking with typical teenage disengagement that he wants out of his school’s mandatory swimming lessons on “religious grounds.” Only after he is taunted by the bikini-clad mean girl Lidiya (Aleksandra Revenko) and ends up submerged beneath the bodies of his classmates do we learn of his spiritual will; the young man lives an existence devoted to the Bible scriptures, each memorised and instantly recalled, often with a cruel bitterness capable of levelling any counterpoint.

Soon, the school body is energised and enraged by Veniamin’s outbursts, none more so than biology teacher Elena (Viktoriya Isakova) who finds both her devotion to scientific study and faith-free middle-class life the target of the teenage evangelist’s wrath. In one ferocious sequence, Veniamin’s reacts to a carrot-and-condom sex education lesson by stripping bare and leaping from table to table, citing verse after verse of the scripture’s stance on love, sex and marriage. The passages cited begin to take on deeply anti-social views, be they homophobic, anti-semitic or just plain hypocritical; the foreboding sense that Veniamin’s crusade is about to turn irreparably destructive mounts with tangible tension.

With the school administration towing both the Kremlin’s line on religious education (in 2013, President Putin made the teaching of faith-based culture compulsory in secondary schools) and allowing for their own beliefs to affect their handling of Veniamin’s and Elena’s conflict, the scourge of religious extremism leads to an inevitably chaotic and tragic conclusion. The filmmaker leaves no doubt as to the role that unwavering and literal devotion to the written word of God plays in his narrative; Serebrennikov is not the type of director to create this vivid, scorched landscape of complex morality and biblical scale and then not take a stand.

As rich in allegorical intent as the very best of Russian cinema, The Student will ignite post-screening debate as it traverses the global festival circuit. Religious devotion at the expense of the very humanity it purports to enrich is endemic to every faith-based society; the existence of Kirill Serebrennikov’s frantic, frightening film will help to generate crucial discussion on the true nature of dogmatic fundamentalism the world over.

Friday
Nov072014

STALINGRAD 3D

Stars: Mariya Smolnikova, Yanina Studilina, Thomas Kretschmann, Pyotr Fyodorov, Sergey Bondarchuk, Dmitriy Lysenkov, Andrey Smolyakov, Aleksey Barabash, Heiner Lauterbach and Oleg Volku.
Writers: Sergey Snezhkin, Ilya Tilkin.
Director: Fedor Bondarchuk.

Screening courtesy of the 2014 Russian Revolution Film Festival.

Rating: 2.5/5

As David Ayer’s Fury, featuring Brad Pitt and a tank full of combat movie stereotypes rolls through Australian cinemas, so to does Russian cinema’s own equally grand and cornball World War II melodrama, Stalingrad. Despite some stunningly realised technical work, Fedor Bondarchuk’s action-packed opus creaks under a rigidly antiquated narrative that bears a far closer pedigree to Michael Bay’s fanciful Pearl Harbour than Steven Spielberg’s gritty standard-bearer, Saving Private Ryan.

At US$30million (and with Columbia Pictures international distribution arm attached), it is one of largest production’s ever undertaken by the Russian film sector. Yet scripters Sergey Snezhkin’s and Ilya Tilkin’s dialogue and drama never come close to matching the visuals crafted by Bondarchuk’s production design team. Topped-and-tailed by an expensive Japanese earthquake sequence so as to create an unnecessary flashback device, audiences are then plunged into Stalingrad 1942, specifically a section of the city that has been cut-off after the German troops ignite vast fuel supplies (the sight of Russian troops bursting through walls of flame, fully ablaze and impervious to pain, gives an early indication as to the purely cinematic degree of heroism to be expected over the next 2 hours.)

Holed up in the crumbling remnants of a once opulent tenancy are five rugged, chummy Russian soldiers, led by the scowling, war-weary Gromov (Pyotr Fyodorov). Much like the societal cross-section represented by Pitt’s tank-crew, Gromov’s men are all types yet act as one; they find one more thing to bond over in the form of 18 year-old Katya (Mariya Smolnikova), a doe-eyed and determined lass who also happens to be a crack-shot with a telescopic sniper’s rifle.

The German forces are represented by Kapitan Kahn (Thomas Kretschmann, Europe’s hammiest leading man; see Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D), who keeps the pretty blonde peasant Masha (Yanina Studilina) hidden away to rape at his whim while also falling in love with her, and Khenze (Heiner Lauterbach), the bald tyrant of a head officer, who spits out some of the film’s unintentionally funniest lines (“These damn lice can’t even let a man die without making him itch.”)

Battles scenes are suitably brutal, as befitting one of the most bloody conflicts in modern military history, but are shot in such purely cinematic terms they barely suggest the real-world horrors soldiers from either side would have faced. Slow-motion hand-to-hand combat, complete with CGI blood-splatter (ala, 300) and ‘bullet-cam’ (ala, The Matrix) are used and re-used; one sequence, in which the Russian’s bounce a shell off a tank hull with pinpoint accuracy, is just plain stupid.

The director lathers his brave infantrymen in a warm, nationalistic glow, which is admirable but also detrimental; so one-dimensionally heroic are his band of brothers, audience connect as they would with a ‘James Bond’ or ‘Indiana Jones’ type. One should walk away exhausted and deeply moved by the courage these men displayed in the face of a tyrannical force. Instead, Fedor Bondarchuk's bloody battle epic celebrates the excesses of war cinema far more effectively than it does the heroism of his countrymen