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:: Spotlight :: 2011 Australian Festival of Russian films

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

The 8th annual Australian festival of Russian films, Russian Resurrection, has announced its official line-up for 2011. The program features 15 outstanding new Russian features, including many Australian and international premieres, along with a retrospective of 5 Russian classics including the 1980 Oscar® Award Winner for Best Foreign Language Film, MOSCOW DOES NOT BELIEVE IN TEARS.

The Festival will also showcase two Russian box office hits, LUCKY TROUBLE, a comedy starring Hollywood actress Milla Jovovich (THE FIFTH ELEMENT, RESIDENT EVIL) and SIX DGREES OF CELEBRATION, a comedy by renowned director Timur Bekhmambetov.

Additional Festival highlights include ELENA, a drama from Andrei Zviagintsev, one of the most successful Russian directors of the past decade, THE EDGE, nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 2011 Golden Globe® Awards and BREST FORTRESS, which recounts a pivotal event in Russian history during World War II and serves as an example of Russia’s ability to produce some of cinema’s finest war dramas.

Two stunning children’s 3D animations will also have their Australian debut at the Festival including the first ever Armenian-Russian co-production, KUKARACHA, and a fantasy film adaption of the iconic ballet, THE NUTCRACKER IN 3D starring Elle Fanning and Nathan Lane.

Russian Resurrection is the largest celebration of Russian culture within Australia and guests can once again look forward to experiencing some famed Russian hospitality and entertainment at each capital city’s event. The Festival will take place around Australia from August 18 until September 21 and in Melbourne will run from August 18 to 28 at Palace Cinema Como.

Highlights

STOKER (2010)
Genre: Art House Drama
Duration: 83 mins
Format: 35mm
Director: Alexey Balabanov
Cast: Mikhail Skryabin, Yuri Matveyev, Alexander Mosin
Awards: Nominated for Best Film and
Best Director (2010 NIKA Awards)

Synopsis: Set in the mid 1990's, this chilling mafia tale explores the criminal underworld of St. Petersburg. The Stoker (Skryabin), a shell-shocked Afghan war hero, shovels coal into a furnace to heat a building. In his spare time the Stoker remembers the past, his ancestors, and tries to type an epic narrative about a historical outlaw. He is visited by a mafia hitman who uses the furnace to dispose of corpses. The Stoker chooses to unwillingly comply with the situation but when immediate family members become involved, he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands. The blunt provocations and ironic tone is unsettling and present an image of a world where gang liquidations are the norm. Symbolism within the film is prominent with the boiler representing the home, and the fire the corruption and evil that inevitably destroys it. The Stoker is a fantastic and grimly evocative modern tale from the master of Russian crime cinema that looks at life from the perspective of the innocent.


PYRAMMMID (2011)
Genre: Crime Thriller
Duration: 105 mins
Format: Digital
Director: Eldar Salavatov
Cast: Aleksei Serebryakov, Fyodr Bondarchuk, Pyotr Fedorov, Ekaterina Vilkova, Nikita Solopin

Synopsis: ‘Today is always more expensive than yesterday’. This is the fundamental rule of a pyramid scheme. Russia in the early 1990s was undergoing a painful economic transition. The cunning mathematician Sergei Mamontov took advantage of this chaos and devised ‘MMM’. The company quickly became the biggest pyramid scheme in the world having attracted 15 million loyal followers. Through Mamontov’s clever ad campaign ‘MMM’ became so pervasive and so powerful that it threatened to bring down the government. Based on real events, the film is an account of how Mamontov built the pyramid and how it exploded. It is a story of deceit, corruption, schemed wealth, glamour and messianic ambition for the salvation of Russia and the common folk. It is a story of an ordinary man who through extraordinary means took on the politicians at their own game. A taut, smart political thriller that presents a brilliant analysis of the power of money and the depths that the State will plumb to maintain control of their racket.


LUCKY TROUBLE (2011)
Genre: Family Comedy
Duration: 97 mins
Format: Digital
Director: Levan Gabriadze
Cast: Konstantin Khabensky, Ivan Urgant, Milla Jovovich, Sergey Garmash, Nikolai Alipa
Facts: No.1 Russian Box Office Hit

Synopsis: Who said you have to win to get what you want? Sometimes losers triumph. Slava Kolotiloff (Khabenskiy), a tousled school teacher from a sleepy seaside town, comes to conquer Moscow with the manuscript to his first novel. But instead, quite by accident, he conquers the heart of beautiful Nadia (Jovovich). As their wedding approaches, Slava needs only to quit his job and tie up loose ends in his home town before returning to Moscow to start a new life with his new bride. But a number of increasingly bizarre circumstances prevent him from leaving. Meanwhile in Moscow, the wedding celebrations commence and Nadia has to fend off the attentions of her arrogant ex-boyfriend who is desperate to win her back. This is a delicious, warm-hearted romantic comedy with some deft moves and a sporty twist.

INNOCENT SATURDAY (2011)
Genre: Drama
Duration: 99 mins
Format: 35mm
Director: Alexander Mindadze
Cast: Anton Shagin, Svetlana Smirnova, Stanislav Ryadinskiy, Aleksei Demidov
Awards: Nominated for Golden Berlin
Bear (2011 Berlin International Film Festival)

Synopsis: On a sunny Saturday in April 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded. In the town of Pripyat, just outside the Chernobyl zone, weekend activities continue as per usual. As the reactor burns, everyone seems relaxed - girls dress up, some go shopping, there are weddings to attend, drinks with friends and concerts to play. The events of the film take place in the first 24 hours after the reactor explodes. Valera, a loyal young party official, learns the whole truth about the explosion by chance and becomes an unwitting witness to the catastrophe. He sees the panic of those in charge and realises that every second counts. This is the true story of his attempted escape from the reactor zone. He is faced with an enormous moral choice: save his friends, tell the other residents of the town or follow orders and not stir up panic. Marking the 25th anniversary since the catastrophe, this is an extraordinary film by the great screenwriter, Aleksandr Mindadze, and thrusts us into the merriment and the madness of that time.

TO LIVE (2010)
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 75 mins
Format: 35mm
Director: Yuri Bikov
Cast: Sergei Belyayev, Alexei Komashko, Denis Shvedov
Awards: Nominated for Best Film (2010
Kinotavr Film Festival)

Synopsis: Out in the wild, Mikhail, a pudgy, decent middle-aged man is out hunting with his trusted dog. Suddenly a young man emerges from the woods pursued by three heavily armed gangsters. The young man hijacks Mikhail's car in order to escape. Now the hunter becomes the hunted. Mikhail has no choice but to go with him. The two men are radically different to one another, but they are forced together by their will to survive, to get back to civilisation and to escape the savage gangsters. But at what cost? Every man has a different response to fear and a different moral threshold. The first feature by actor Yuri Biykov and produced by super-mogul Alexei Uchitel is a tight, superbly performed crime thriller.


ELENA (2011)
Genre: Drama
Duration: 105 mins
Format: 35mm/Digital
Director: Andrei Zviagintsev
Cast: Andrey Smirnov, Nadezhda Markina, Elena Lyadova, Alexey Rozin, Evgenia Konushkina
Awards: Un Certain Regard, Special Jury Prize for Best Film (2011 Cannes Film Festival)

Synopsis: One of the most successful Russian directors of the past 10 years, Andrei Zviagintsev (The Return), brings to the screen his latest cinematic gem. Elena and Vladimir are an older couple who have been together for ten years, though they seem to have little in common. Vladimir is wealthy and cold. Elena comes from a modest background and is a docile wife. They met late in life and each one has children from previous marriages. Elena’s son is unemployed, unable to support his own family and is constantly asking Elena for money. Vladimir’s daughter is a careless young woman who has a distant relationship with her father. A heart attack puts Vladimir in hospital, where he realises that his remaining time is limited. A brief but tender reunion with his daughter leads him to make an important decision: she will receive the bulk of his wealth and Elena a mere monthly annuity. Back home he announces his decision to Elena. In one striking blow, her hopes to financially help her son disappear. The film is nothing short of a masterpiece – a story of moral choice and sacrifice – and a harrowing analysis that questions whether values and morality will have a place in the future of Russia.


WHO AM I? (2010)
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 98 mins
Format: 35mm
Director: Klim Shipenko
Cast: Alexander Yatsenko, Zhanna Friske, Sergei Gazarov, Anatoliy Belyy, Mikhail Babichev
Awards: Nominated for Best
Cinematography (2010 Golden Eagle)

Synopsis: A provocative mystery based on true events about a man who has lost his identity. One early rainy morning at the Sevastopol train station, the police pick up a man without documents. He has lost his memory. He remembers key historical dates but can't recall his own name, family details or hometown. Who is he? How did he end up at the train station? A police investigation begins. A psychiatrist diagnoses the man with dissociative amnesia. He remembers some fragments from the previous day, a beautiful woman by the seaside, a concert, a casino but he struggles to put the pieces together. Meanwhile, a dead man is found in the city. This crime is no less confusing as again no documents are found on the body. As the police investigation unfolds, questions arise as to whether there is a connection between these two men. This taut police mystery-thriller is meticulously plotted, superbly staged and will leave you guessing until the very end.


SIX DEGREES OF CELEBRATION (2010)
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 90 mins
Format: 35mm
Directors: Timur Bekhmambetov, Yaroslav Chevazhevskiy, Dmitry Kiselev, Ignas Jonynas, Alexander Voytinskiy
Cast: Ivan Urgant, Vera Brezhneva, Sergey Svetlakov, Alexander Golovin, Sergey Garmash
Facts: No.1 Russian box office hit

Synopsis: On New Year’s Eve when lives collide, miracles happen, dreams come true and people change for the better. In Kaliningrad, the children of an orphanage are preparing for NYE celebrations. Varya tells the other kids that she has a father but it’s a secret because he is the Russian President. Of course they don‘t believe her, but insist she ask her 'father’ to pass on an encoded message during his televised address to the nation. Varya's friend Vova decides to save her from ridicule and use six degrees of separation to get the message to the President. Across the country a diverse range of characters come together to help the girl: a love-lorn taxi driver and a pop star, a businessman and an actor, a snowboarder and his archrival a downhill skier, a downtrodden refugee and the President. They all have to negotiate tricky personal situations. They all need a miracle. King of the Russian box office, Timur Bekmambetov (Irony of Fate, Night Watch) produced and directed this film almanac, a kind of Russian Love Actually, where diverse characters find themselves intertwined in a gloriously warm-hearted comedy.


DARK WORLD (2010)
Genre: Fantasy
Duration: 100 mins
Format: 35mm
Director: Anton Megerdichev
Cast: Svetlana Ivanova, Ivan Zhidkov, Elena Panova, Sergei Ugryumov

Synopsis: Following the tradition of past festivals where Night Watch, Day Watch and Black Lightning garnered a cult following, 2011 introduces Dark World a supernatural fantasy based on Russian folk tales. A group of students travel on a folklore expedition to a number of isolated northern villages. In one of the villages, the main character – a girl fascinated by mysticism and the romanticism of life beyond the grave – finds an ancient tomb and in it a magical shield. When she touches the shield, she awakens the slumbering spirits and brings their anger down upon herself, while at the same time acquiring superhuman capabilities. The students get caught up in a drawn-out struggle against the powers of evil. Dark World is a fun and exciting trip into the complex world of evil. As the director Megerdichev notes “The result can be absolutely unpredictable because the border between the good and the bad is hard to see, but easy to cross.”

KUKARACHA (2011) 3D and 2D
Genre: Children’s
Duration: 77 mins
Format: Digital
Director: Armen Adilkhanyan
Cast: Vladimir Epifantsev, Velimir Rusakov, Natalia Lesnikovskaya

Synopsis: Kukaracha is a 3D animated adventure, perfect for younger children. The film is the first Armenian-Russian joint produced film and is set to be an exciting adventure. Bite is a cockroach that lives in a computer processor with his friends, Tail the mouse, Roller Dan and Bore. One day, Bite falls in love with a girl cockroach and it is love at first sight. However, the girl cockroach is already in love with a Rhinoceros Beetle, Chuck. Bite must prove himself and survive the ongoing battle between the predator-like pigeons and beetles. This heartwarming tale will enchant its young audience and the 3D effects are sure to make their small hands reach out in joy towards the screen.

LOOT (2011)
Genre: Black Comedy
Duration: 124 mins
Format: Digital
Director: Konstantin Buslov
Cast: Maria Berseneva, Roman Madianov, Giya Gogishvili, Georgi Gurguliya, Mikhail Meskhi

A new, exciting black comedy set in present day Moscow. Two thieves find and steal a bag containing one million euros. They believe they have finally struck it rich. Wouldn’t you feel the same way? But for our two heroes it’s impossible to even imagine what trouble they find themselves in. To say that a full-blown chase is mounted just to retrieve the stolen money, would be an understatement indeed. As the money flies from one person to the next, dull lives are sweepingly made happy. And it seems it all started because millionaire Gregorii did not want to pay his fair share of taxes. Fast paced, saucy and never short of a good laugh, Loot has its international premiere at Russian Resurrection in 2011. Temptation is a desire - you just can’t say no!

NUTCRACKER IN 3D (2010
Genre: Fantasy (Children’s)
Duration: 110 mins
Format: Digital
Director: Andrei Konchalovsky
Cast: Elle Fanning, Nathan Lane, John Turturro, Frances de la Tour, Richard E Grant, Yulia Vysotskaya

Viewers Advice: Certain scenes may scare younger children

Andrei Konchalovsky (The Inner Circle, Runaway Train) brings to the screen the story of The Nutcracker – a musical adaptation of the iconic ballet by Tchaikovsky. Konchalovsky strikes a mix of live action and CGI, a cast of British and Russian actors and Tchaikovsky’s famed compositions to tell the story of nine year-old Mary (Elle Fanning). Mary’s dull Christmas is magically transformed into an exciting adventure when her beloved Uncle Albert (Nathan Lane) gives her a gift - a wooden nutcracker who goes by the name of NC. On Christmas night, NC comes to life and takes Mary on a wondrous journey into a magical world of fairies, sugarplums and some rather nasty creatures. Mary must help save NC and his kingdom from the evil and tyrannical Rat King (John Turturro). The Nutcracker is a bizarre and visually stunning musical which features new songs by Oscar winning lyricist Sir Tim Rice (The Lion King).


SILENT SOULS (2010)
Genre: Drama
Duration: 75 mins
Format: Digital
Director: Aleksei Fedorchenko
Cast: Yulia Aug, Igor Sergeev, Viktor Sukhorukov
Awards: Winner FIPRESCI Prize & Best
Photography (2010 Venice Film Festival) Nominated for Best Film & Cinematography (2010 Nika Awards)

Synopsis: When Miron‘s beloved wife Tanya passes away, he asks his best friend Aist to help him say goodbye according to the rituals of the Merya culture, an ancient Finno-Ugric tribe from Lake Nero, a picturesque region in West-Central Russia. The two men set out on a roadtrip across thousands of miles of boundless lands. Accompanying them on their journey are two small caged birds who will play an important role in shaping their destiny. Silent Souls is a transformative work of cinema that manouvres loss, memory and longing in a funeral ritual that is as much about a disappeared culture as it is about the death of a loved one. Although the Merya people blended into Greater Russia in the 17th century, their myths and traditions live on in their descendants’ modern life. Along the way, as is custom for the Meryans, Miron shares intimate memories of his conjugal life to turn grief into tenderness. But as they reach the banks of the sacred lake where they will forever part with the body, he realises he wasn't the only one in love with Tanya.


THE EDGE (2010)
Genre: Drama/Action
Duration: 124 mins
Format: 35mm
Director: Aleksei Uchitel
Cast: Vladimir Mashkov, Sergey Garmash, Aleksei Gorbunov, Anna Ukolova, Vyacheslav Krikunov
Awards: Nominated for Best Foreign Film (2011 Golden Globe Awards)
Best Film (2010 Nika Awards)
Best Film (2010 Golden Eagle Awards)

Synopsis: At the end of WWII in a far-flung prisoner of war camp in Siberia, a decorated tank commander returns from the front with an insatiable passion for trains. Alpha male Ignat (Mashkov) upsets the delicate balance of the settlement and the authority of its one-armed commander. Posted as a train engineer, Ignat learns that on an isolated island there is a ruined German-made steam-train. He gets to work restoring it to its former glory. But hiding within its carriages is the feral Elza, the sole surviving member of a German party that had come to Siberia in 1940 as train engineers. Although neither speaks the other's language, Ignat tames Elza, forcing her cooperation in repairing the train's engine and the broken bridge and eventually, with the train running at full speed, they tame the settlement together. The larger-than-life characters and the heaving steampunk aesthetic, where trains are celebrated as deities, make for an epic cinema experience.

BREST FORTRESS (2010)
Genre: War/Action
Duration: 138 mins
Format: 35mm
Director: Alexander Kott
Cast: Andrey Merzlikin, Pavel Derevyanko, Veronika Nikonova, Anna Tsukanova, Aleksei Kopashov
Awards: Nominated for Best Film and
Best Director (2010 NIKA Awards)

Synopsis: The Red Army’s defense of the Brest Fortress against the Nazis in June 1941 is one of the most resonant episodes of the Great Patriotic War. Based on the true story of how Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, the film looks at three main resistance zones headed by the regiment commander, Gavrilov. This is intertwined with the romantic tale of 15-year-old Sasha Akimov and the beautiful Anya, whose affection for each other is harshly interrupted one afternoon when Sasha is thrown into the bloody events of the war. The film, a modern masterpiece of Russian cinema, celebrates the myth of the fearless warriors who managed to hold their own for nine days against the might of Hitler’s armies initial onslaught. One of the best war films of the past 15 years, Brest Fortress is a must-see film of epic proportions.

INADEQUATE PEOPLE (2010)
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Duration: 102 mins
Format: Digital
Director: Roman Karimov
Cast: Ingrid Olerinskaya, Ilya Lyubimoff, Yevgenii Tsiganov
Awards: Grand Prix for Best Film (2010
Window to Europe Festival, Vyborg)
Viewers Prize for Best Film (2010 Window to Europe Festival, Vyborg)
Guild of Film Critics’ for Best Debut (2010 Window to Europe Festival, Vyborg)

Synopsis: Vitalik, a translator with a mysterious past, arrives in Moscow to start work on a glossy magazine. Going through a mid-life crisis and tormented by the tragic death of his girlfriend, Vitalik begins visiting a psychologist. At the same time he begins tutoring English to the beautiful schoolgirl living next-door. Kristina is also going through her own crisis - adolescence. Kristina feels that she can set Vitalik’s life back on track. The question is however, whether he will accept this or not. The highs and lows, the upbeat soundtrack, hip cast and witty comedic scenes of this romantic comedy, combined with the charming debut performance of Ingrid Olerinskaya, all make for a memorable cinematic journey for all.

2011 FESTIVAL PROGRAM – RETROSPECTIVE:

RED TENT (1969)
Genre: Adventure
Duration: 158 mins
Format: 35mm
Director: Mikhail Kalatozov
Cast: Sean Connery, Peter Finch, Claudia Cardinale, Hardy Kruger, Nikita Mikhalkov
Awards: Nominated, for Best Foreign Film (Golden Globe Awards 1972)

Synopsis: Sean Connery stars in this Italian-Russian film based on the true story about a mission to salvage the crew of the crashed Airship Italia. Rather than purely retell the story of the mission, the film assesses the psychological effects upon Umberto Nobile (Captain of Airship Italia, portrayed by Peter Finch), where the ghosts of the deceased crew form a jury in order to determine the extent to which he is guilty for the failure of the expedition. This compelling psychological drama is serious and philosophical, attempting to define courage, leadership and what drives people to discover the unknown.


LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (1981) La Vita e bella
Genre: Drama
Duration: 101 mins
Format: 35mm
Director: Grigoriy Chukhrai
Cast: Giancarlo Giannini, Ornella Muti, Otar Koberidze, Regimantas Adomaitis

Synopsis: A taxi driver living in a dictatorship is kicked out of the military for refusing to fire upon women and children. He is then wrongly accused of conspiracy against the state, imprisoned, tortured and threatened by the resistance who believe that he is a government spy. This Italian-Russian co-production is a dramatic, suspense filled film focusing on political persecution and a love story. Giancarlo Giannini stars in this film where surprises lurk at every turn.


ASSASSIN OF THE TSAR (1991)
Genre: Drama
Duration: 98 mins
Format: 35mm
Director: Karen Shakhnazarov
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Oleg Yankovksy, Armen Dzhigarkhanyan, Yuri Sherstnyov
Awards: Nominated, Un Certain Regard, Karen Shakhnazarov (1991 Cannes Film Festival)
Best Actor, Oleg Yankovskiy (1992 Nika Awards)

Synopsis: Boasting an amazing array of actors including Oleg Yankovsky and Malcolm McDowell, Tsar Assassin is a film about the assassination of Russian Tzar Nikolay II and his family in the town of Ekaterinburg on the night of 16 June 1918. Several decades pass and a patient at a mental hospital, who considers himself to be the assassin of the Tsar, begins to recount the events of that horrible night. “It is one of my favourite films that I have made. I am very fond of the film and the memories that it afforded me of going to this very great country and sharing their hospitality and working with an all Russian cast and director Karen Shakhnazarov.” (Malcolm McDowell on making Assassin of the Tsar).

STATION FOR TWO (1982)
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Duration: 141 mins
Format: 35mm
Director: Eldar Ryazanov
Cast: Lyudmilla Gurchenko, Oleg Basilashvili, Nikita Mikhalkov
Awards: Nominated, Palm d‘Or (1983 Cannes Film Festival)

Synopsis: This tale of romance is full of surprises, essentially making it a rollercoaster ride with comedic highs and moving, touching lows. Oleg Basilashvili plays the quiet pianist Platon who is traveling to meet his father on a train. He becomes involved in a series of unfortunate events. First his passport is stolen and then he is accused of causing a car accident. He becomes romantically involved with Vera, a waitress working in the station's restaurant. This film was one of Lyudmila Gurchenko's greatest performances and is being screened this year in memory of her passing. Station for Two is a classic that is made all the more special by providing a real insight into the true Russia of the early 1980s.

MOSCOW DOES NOT BELIEVE IN TEARS (1980)
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Duration: 142 mins
Format: 35mm (English Version)
Director: Vladimir Menshov
Cast: Vera Alentova, Irina Muravyova, Alexey Batalov, Raisa Ryazanova.
Awards: Best Foreign Language Film (Academy Awards, USA 1981)

Synopsis: The wait is over to finally see what is commonly regarded as the most prominent Soviet Era film, breaking all domestic box office records and winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Since then, it has become part of Russian pop culture, quoted in any given situation. The film illustrates the story of three provincial girls who come to Moscow, share the same room in a dormitory and eventually become friends. It follows their loves, dreams, wishes and careers. This unsentimental film tells an enormously uplifting story that provides a realistic insight into the struggles faced by women in the Soviet Union and their eventual triumphs.

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