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Russia Year in Review 2011

FPA Russia Blog Studios presents……Russia’s top box office hits of 2011

GOODBYE BREZHNEV

As the traumatic events of the 90s send Mother Russia into a coma from which she takes a decade to recover, dutiful son Vova worries that any further shocks to her system might trigger a catastrophic relapse. Thus, he decides to dupe her into thinking she is still living in the Brezhnev era. Using an elaborate collection of props salvaged from the historical scrapheap, he and videographer friend Surkov recreate the late Soviet landscape by cracking down on free speech and assembly, and turning all television programmes into crude pre-recorded montages of vapid government pronouncements leavened with old Soviet movies. Yet as she goes about her illusory life oblivious to the changes outside, Vova and Surkov decide to steal her wallet and deposit her life savings into their Swiss bank accounts. Grateful for her son’s care but suspecting that she is being lied to and patronised, she eventually sneaks out of the apartment and into the streets, only to be quickly detained by riot police for her own safety.

Director’s (Censored) Cut Edition now available in diamond embossed DVD box set. Recommended retail price: $40 billion. Complimentary Swiss watch with each purchase.

UP IN THE AIR (THE STORY OF A MAN NOT READY TO LOSE AN ELECTION)

Vladimir Putin plays an ageing but suave and smartly (un)dressed strongman in his 50s, who is unable to slow down and give up his increasingly alienating job – one that involves firing (at) journalists and democracy activists. Blinkered by his ambition to achieve a life-long goal of four presidential terms, he finds himself no longer able to develop emotional ties with the people. Thus, even the announcement of his imminent appointment to 12 more years at the helm fills him with a vague and anticlimactic sense of emptiness. The otherwise poignant film (Putin delivers a powerful cross between Al Pacino in Scarface, Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler) is let down by a weak supporting cast: the novice Dmitry Medvedev forgettably plays his democratic understudy, while Mikhail Prokhorov is unconvincing as Putin’s potential liberal rival for the future presidency.

Director: Vladislav Surkov. Total potential running time: 24 years

THE DAMNED UNITED RUSSIA

Formerly undefeated United Russia have hit a brick wall. Despite all-star players and fearsome all-powerful coach, the team is torn apart by a crisis of confidence ahead of a decisive championship game. They’ve sat at the top of the table for too long and got too complacent with the fans, who are now defecting en masse. Rattled by narrow defeats at the hands of hardscrabble underdogs Khimky Forest and Rospil Rangers’ rising striker Alexei Navalny, United Russia’s coaches crack under pressure and decide to fix the decisive match. But they are still unprepared for the force of the opposition. Booed by their own supporters, United Russia achieve an ignominious draw despite imprisoning key opposing players, bribing the ref, hiring an army of football hooligans, stuffing the goals with extra balls and fielding 13 players instead of 11. As a result, United Russia get relegated. A haunting tale of hubris and megalomaniacal self-destruction.

In cinemas until early 2012 at the latest.

THE BRICFAST CLUB

This stereotype-busting drama follows five pubescent countries experiencing an unlikely bonding experience while in detention away from the “developed world economy”. At first glance, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa seem to have nothing in common. But over the course of several summits, they realize that in fact, they all share extraordinary levels of corruption and inequality.

As the heady coming of age story unfolds, former foes India and China bond over their young educated population and breakneck economic dynamism. Feeling out of place due to their negligible productive and high tech sectors, Russia and South Africa instead develop a stirring romance based on their populism, single party statehood, rent-seeking and passion for using commodity profits to fund political clientalism. In a saccharine finale that stretches credulity, Russia celebrates entry into the WTO despite the fact that it will likely hurt its competitiveness even further.

OLIGARCH TWIST

“Please sir, can I have some more?” That old chestnut is given a new lease on life by Boris Berezovsky’s bravura performance as Oligarch Twist, an orphaned Russian bobber baron who, fallen on hard times in Dickensian Knightsbridge, hands a writ demanding billions more dollars from his former partner Roman Abramovich. From his London poorhouse (Dolce and Gabbana on Bond St.), little Twist spots the reclusive and monosyllabic Mr Roman marching into opulent Hermes next door. Slipping in through the legs of Roman’s private legion, Boris delivers the fateful line before slapping Mr Roman with a court appointment. The second half of the film veers away from feel good musical and becomes a tense courtroom drama as Twist, a thief with nothing left to lose, lifts the curtain on a decade long web of deceit, plunder and political corruption. As documents are revealed that could have the power to bring down Mr Roman and his cronies, what’s really on trial is no less than the entire history of 90s Russia and the inner circle of the ruling regime.

In broken English with Russian subtitles. Memorable quotes from Abramovich: “Da”.

GRUNT: LOST IN SPACE

15 years and $170 million in the making, this eagerly awaited big budget scifi thriller describes an audacious attempt to land a spaceship – presciently named Grunt, or Ground – on one of Mars’s moons. Yet what could have been another conventional spacefilm (or even porn-film, given the title) is redeemed by a decidedly Russian twist: with just hours to launch, the engineers discover an electrical wiring issue and, instead of postponing liftoff, decide to fix the wire and glue it all back together using a can opener and a tube of Elmer’s. But then the unthinkable happens: as the jerry-rigged seal sheared off by the heat of the launch, the turbo boosters fail to detach, the entire probe is sent into a collision with Earth, and the Americans end up getting to the red planet first.

Available on Glue-Ray DVD.

MARS 500: SPACE MODESTY

This low-budget arthouse sequel to Grunt: Lost in Space proves that Russia remains more than capable of first-class space exploration, as long as it doesn’t involve actually going into space. Inspired by Vladimir Putin’s hit reality show Big Brother, the entire film takes place inside a capsule where six men are constantly filmed sitting in close proximity, playing card games and eating out of toothpaste tubes. Shot in realtime at a disused warehouse outside Moscow using just a portacabin, some ikea furniture, and a couple of two way radios with voice delay, this meditative psychodrama marries the breakneck pacing of Antonioni with the cutting edge special effects of Thunderbirds and Team America: World Police.

Russian-EU co-production. Estimated sitting time: 12 months. Rated PG13 for non-explicit scenes of simulated space flight.

ROMAN HOLIDAY

(Russian title: LUNA PARK)

Roman Abramovich goes on holiday to Italy and ruins everyone else’s by parking Luna, his obscenely huge yacht, in the centre of town, thereby totally eclipsing the historic view.

Dishonourable Mention at Venice Binneale, 2011.

DEAD DESPOTS SOCIETY

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can’t change the world!” With those rousing words, maverick Professor Vladimir Puting courageously stands up to the prevailing revolutionary winds sweeping the world, in favour of the geopolitical status quo. Advising his friends Gaddafi and Assad to carpe diem in dealing with the protesters while he stalls the international community’s efforts, the inspirational teacher inspires his friends through thick and thin. Yet for all his troubles, in the end, Puting remains all alone. Gaddafi and Kim Jong Il are feeding the daffodils. Kazakhstan teeters on the edge. Castro is on his last legs. Chavez is unwell. One day, Assad too will fall.

Viewers are advised to bring hankies (in case of tear gas).

 

Author

Vadim Nikitin
Vadim Nikitin

Vadim Nikitin was born in Murmansk, Russia and grew up there and in Britain. He graduated from Harvard University with a thesis on American democracy promotion in Russia. Vadim's articles about Russia have appeared in The Nation, Dissent Magazine, and The Moscow Times. He is currently researching a comparative study of post-Soviet and post-Apartheid nostalgia.
Areas of Focus:
USSR; US-Russia Relations; Culture and Society; Media; Civil Society; Politics; Espionage; Oligarchs

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