The Resurrection Is Here
With the Russian Resurrection: 2008 Russian Film Festival opening this weekend, 3D’s Anita Connors pops the lid on a bottle of vodka and runs you through the festival programme.
Cinemagoers get excited: over the next couple of weeks, the Chauvel will play Kremlin to Russian Resurrection, the fifth Russian Film Festival in Sydney. Showcasing 21 movies, borscht it ain’t, with audiences in for a treat with the biggest and best festival line-up to date.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union 17 years ago, the Russian film industry has struggled to re-establish itself as an international heavyweight. The end of communism saw the end of government funding and an uninspiring production of movies. Yet, if the films of the previous festivals are anything to go by, the crisis appears to have lifted and the industry revitalised. Thanks to Russian Resurrection, Australia has been able to see Timur Bekmambetov’s spectacular vampire fantasies Night Watch and Day Watch, the Rambo-style Piranha, the sorcery blockbuster Wolfhound, orphanage drama The Italian, and a retrospective of filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, as well as those for playwright Anton Chekhov and classic literature in film. Russia is working hard to regain its cultural standing.
Of the selection of movies screening this year, half are some of the latest award-winners from the Russian festival circuit while the others include rare classics and not one, but two retrospectives.
The ‘Stolichnaya Opening Night Party’ will paint Paddington red. The evening will begin with the opening film of the Karen Shakhnazarov Retrospective before a festive night of vodka cocktails, music and dancing. Shakhnazarov is a 25-year veteran of the Russian screen and his movie The Vanished Empire (2008) with its look into student life in the 1970s, a time when the Soviet Union looked like it would go on forever, has come to be seen as the culmination of his life’s work. The Shakhnazarov Retrospective includes seven of his other films, such as the musical-comedy We Are Jazz Men (1983), which was the number one film at the Soviet box office the year it came out, the black comedy with absurdist overtones Zero City (1988), the drama The Assassin of the Tsar (1993) and the wonderful patchwork Day of the Full Moon (1998).
Audiences will also love the inclusion of Academy Award-winner Nikita Mikhalkov’s latest film 12 (2007) in the festival’s roster. A remake of Sidney Lumet’s classic 12 Angry Men (1957), the movie secured Mikhalkov yet another Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars. Transporting the jury room across the Pacific, 12 jurors face condemning a Chechen teenager for allegedly murdered his Russian stepfather.
Emotionally captivating Travelling With Pets (2007) was last year’s winner of the Golden St George for Best Film at the Moscow International Film Festival. It is the gentle portrait of Natalija, a woman experiencing unanticipated independence and freedom on the sudden death of her domineering husband. And despite all the surprises a new romance brings, Natalija can’t help but want more in life.
For the first time ever, children will be able to take part in the festival with hilarious Alyosha Popovich & Tugarin Zmey (2004). Part folk tale, part Shrek, the animation follows the noble, strong but slow on the uptake knight Alyosha as he attempts to regain the respect of his fellow villagers as he unintentionally allows the evil Tugarin Zmey to steal all their gold. Alyosha is a charming fable thanks to its motley crew of characters including Julius, the talking horse, the wise and tiny grandfather, the love-stricken Lyubava, her crabby but wise grandmother and her insatiably hungry donkey.
Also worth a look is the thriller Vice (2007) by Valery Todorovsky, the director of My Stepbrother Frankenstein and The Lover. A story about greed, drugs and corruption, the film follows a local DJ as he is swallowed into the underbelly of Rostov-on-Don.
In The Banishment Konstantin Lavronenko earned the Best Actor award at Cannes Film Festival 2007, while the film itself was nominated for the Golden Palm. Visually stunning, the film watches a family torn apart by betrayal and revenge. Also familial in bent is the most awarded film in the programme, Aleksei Popogrebsky’s Simple Things (2006). Quietly unfurling, the movie revolves around anaesthetist and emotionally detached Sergei Maslov, played by theatre director Sergei Puskepalis in his debut film role, as his wife announces she’s unexpectedly pregnant, his teenage daughter runs away and his affair with a receptionist falls apart. Suffering from an acute sense of failure as well as a cash shortage, Sergei decides to provide under the radar pain relief for a bitter old actor, which ultimately leads the way to an unconventional friendship.
The second retrospective of the festival delves into the realm of Russian fantasy. In the cult classic Amphibian Man (1962), directors Vladimir Chebotaryov and Gennadi Kazansky tell the dream-like story of Ichthyander, a boy surgically altered by his father to survive underwater. And in the haunting Letters From a Deadman (1986), post-apocalyptic Moscow sees a history professor attempt to create a better life for a group of children struck mute by the nuclear holocaust.
However, perhaps the highlight of the festival is the special premiere screening of New Babylon (1929). A cinematic revelation, the expressionist silent film will be accompanied by a live orchestral performance of the original Shostakovich score at City Recital Hall. Having only been accompanied by a live orchestra five times since its debut in Moscow almost 80 years ago, the event is certain to be unforgettable. A parable about class-conflict during the Parisian Commune of 1871, New Babylon is a spectacular example of Soviet cinema.
Demonstrating that Russian cinema is not simply about Eisenstein and Vertov, Russian Resurrection has become an exciting staple in the Australian festival circuit and they know how to throw a party. Enlighten yourself.
Russian Resurrection: 2008 Russian Film Festival is being held at the Chauvel Cinema Friday 31 October – Monday 10 November. More information from russianresurrection.com.