The Pathetic State of Russian Cinema


The Pathetic State of Russian Cinema:

Whenever you chat with one of the girls on sooner or later you may get a feeling of running out of topics to discuss. And then you find yourself digging the web in search of articles on conversational topics with Russian girls. Of course, most of those articles are from online dating services or sites related to dating. But the problem is that you’ve studied those articles already. Moreover, you know them by heart. And then you may come up with an idea about discussing Russian cinema, which may be not the best choice, mainly because you are not an expert on the topic. Of course, you can dig some western articles on the issue, but you won’t find anything useful there. Most of the western articles are focusing on movies by international critical darlings like Andrey Zvyagintsev with his “Leviathan” (2014) and “Loveless” (2017). Discussing those movies may turn out absolutely pointless, as those movies may have had an impact on the international market, especially among indies, in Russia they had experienced little to no theatrical release. Why? Because those movies criticize the Russian government, which, nonetheless, have no problems with financing those movies and sending them to international film festivals (good old Soviet hypocrisy).

Russian vs. Soviet

After the collapse of the USSR, the Russian Federation proclaimed itself as the heir of the former state, thus gaining the cultural heritage. That act lead to the common belief that Soviet is synonymous to Russian. This belief is absolutely wrong, when it comes to culture, as the sole idea of believing that fifteen different nationalities united under one state had no impact on its culture. Thus, many cinephiles believe that modern Russian movies resemble films of Andrei Tarkovsky. But even Tarkovsky, a big Ingmar Bergman’s fan, is not the typical representative of Soviet cinema. Tarkovsky was something of Soviet time’s Zvyagintsev. Film critics and censors often opposed his movies inside the country, but were always eager to sent it to Cannes. Probably, it makes no surprise that he spent last years of his live outside of the USSR, making movies in Sweden and Italy.

So, what is Soviet cinema then? Soviet cinema is mainly represented by thousands of boring films about family problems, a number of great satirical comedies (censors were too stupid to understand that the films were actually making fun of the state and it policies, thus failed to band them), and hundreds of war films that tossed historical facts (with the exception of Elem Klimov’s “Come and See” (1985) – which is considered to be the most accurate depictions of the World War II). After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia tried to continue the tradition of the Soviet cinema, but the audiences were no longer interested, as the market was flooded with foreign films, mainly with movies from the US, France and Japan. Then something went wrong…

What Went Wrong? Part I

In the early 1990s, mafia was quite a common phenomenon for the Russian Federation, and the movie industry, or what remained from it, decided to use exploit that topic. Hundreds of movies and TV-series about gangsters and police. At the first glance, the subject seems quite typical. Both Hollywood and Bollywood produced films on the topic. So what is wrong with Russian examples of gangster film like “Gangster Petersburg” (2000) and “Law of Lawless” (2002)?

While Hollywood often made representatives or organized crime protagonists of their movies, you couldn’t get rid of the feeling that their are bad guys who reap what they saw. Take “Scarface” (1983) or a more recent crime film “In Bruges” (2008). You may feel the sympathy for the main characters, but you have a clear understanding that they are representatives of organized crime. Thus, when they face their fate, while you may feel pity for them, you kinda saw it coming anyway. And most of those films are basically screaming at your face – Don’t lead your life like that!

So, were Russian movies different? Oh, yes they were. Watching Russian movies about organized crime, you are put inside of the world of organized crime. You are shown almost nothing from the outside of that world. Thus, you start feeling compassion towards the characters, and in the end it’s the police guys who are bad, ruining the lives of poor gangsters. That may seem quite strange. But those movies were popular while the weak state of Russian film industry. Did things get any better afterwards?

What Went Wrong? Part II

In the late 1970s and the early 1980s Bollywood films were quite popular in the USSR, and maybe, only maybe, Russian movies of the 21st century could be better, if they tried copying good old Bollywood movies. The healthier state of the film industry could have opened the door to searching for Russian identity on the international film market, but, instead Russia returned to the rivalry with the US. When Hollywood remakes European or Asian films, the viewers often get the feeling that the movies were lobotomized. The same happens when Russians try copying Hollywood movies. They try copying anything from blockbusters and superhero movies to romantic comedies and slasher films. What’s the outcome? The lobotomized version of films that seemed lobotomized originally. And the funniest point that those movies not only fail to bring a decent box office, they fail to get their budget back. For example “Manticora” (2011) – a strange fusion of “The Fast and Furious” (2001) and “The Mummy” (1997) – had a budget of $6 million, and earned less than $2 million. There are even movies that cost over $10 million and brought back less than $100,000, but more and more movies like that being released.

Bollywood Is A Better Topic

Russian cinema is going to remain enigma forever, and you need to be keen on it to discuss it with a Russian girl you are chatting with. It is way better to ask her about the movies she likes (most likely those are going to be American or French) or tell her something about Bollywood movies.


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