Listed below are five Russian films, ranging from Oscar nominees to a Disney fairytale, that took 2017 by storm, both nationally and, in some cases, internationally. The verdict? Unmissable, all of them.
Loveless, by Andrei Zvyagintsev
The film, which has been shortlisted for the 2018 Golden Globes and submitted as Russia’s entry for next year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Picture, not to mention that it picked up the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, could be rightly seen as an international success of Russian art-house cinema. It portrays a child who finds himself psychologically abandoned and unwanted by his mother and father.
Director Andrei Zvyagintsev has been a favorite of European cineastes since the release of his first film, The Return, which received a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2003. Zvyagintsev’s subsequent films have all been nominated or awarded at major European and U.S. festivals — The Banishment (2007), nominated for Cannes’ Palme d’Or; Elena (2011), winner of the Cannes Jury Prize; and Leviathan (2014), winner for best screenplay at Cannes and recipient of the Golden Globe award for best foreign-language film.
Arrhythmia, by Boris Khlebnikov
This latest offering from Boris Khlebnikov has already scooped the Grand Prix, the Audience Award and the Best Actor prize at the main Russian festival, Kinotavr, as well as the Best Actor prize at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and the Asia Pacific Screen Awards. In terms of national and international recognition, Arrhythmia rivals Loveless.
The film shows the story of the complex marriage of two doctors living in the Russian city of Yaroslavl, very honestly presenting the challenges that medical workers face every day in the modern Russian public healthcare system. The realist depiction of Russian life and the acrid satire on the situations almost every Russian faces every day have made this film extremely popular with Russian audiences.
Paradise, by Andrei Konchalovsky
The Silver Lion winner at the Venice Film Festival and a Russian nominee for the Oscars in 2017, Paradise was made by one of the Russia’s most nationally and internationally acclaimed filmmakers Andrei Konchalovsky.
The film came out in Russia in January 2017, although international audiences got acquainted with the piece even earlier. The film’s female protagonist is modeled on the Russian princess Vera Obolenskaya, who emigrated to France after the 1917 Revolution and later joined the French Resistance.. She helped British, French and Soviet prisoners escape during the Second World War, and found herself in a Nazi concentration camp as a result. But even there she continued to save the lives of others. This documentary-style, black-and-white movie is dedicated to the heroes of the French Resistance.
Tesnota, by Kantemir Balagov
Kantemir Balagov, a 26-year-old director from the North Caucasus region of Russia, this year caused a sensation nationally and internationally. His first full-length film Tesnota (the word could be translated as “tightness” or “closeness”) won the Certain Regard FIPRESCI Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017, as well as many other international prizes. Balagov was a student of the famous Russian director Alexander Sokurov, who curated a special study course for young directors in the North Caucuses.
Balagov depicts the Jewish district of his native city of Nalchik in 1998 at the time of the Chechen war. A young couple from a Jewish family announce their engagement, and the next day they are kidnapped. Different generations of the family find their own ways to save their relatives.
Balagov is certainly a bright Russian director, whose career is worth following.
The Last Warrior, by Dmitry Dyachenko
This Disney comedy film, based on Russian fairytales, is a record-breaker in its homeland, becoming the biggest ever box-office draw in Russia. Co-produced by the local company Yellow, Black and White, the movie nudged past the previous champion, Stalingrad by Fyodor Bondarchuk, which had held the record for four years.
The story starts with Ivan, a young man from Moscow, who takes part in the so-called “white mags” competition, occasionally teleporting from present-day Moscow to the mysterious world of the Russian fairytale.
The film has not yet been shown abroad, but, considering its popularity in Russia, there’s every chance it will hit the global silver screen.