So you were expecting ‘Pociąg’ or ‘O slavnosti a hostech’? On the weekend they will be done and posted a few days apart. Instead here is a running commentary about a Russian film I saw. Not a formal review but a running commentary about the film with time stamps of when the events occur and my view of them. It’s just rambling but then look at the name of the blog.
Piter FM is a 2006 Russian comedy romance film directed by Oksana Bychkova and starring Ekaterina Fedulova, Evgeniy Tsyganov and Aleksey Barabash. The plot revolves around the serendipitous and unexpected romance between a young man and a young woman living in post-Soviet St. Petersburg.
Ekaterina Fedulova as Masha
Evgeniy Tsyganov as Maksim
Aleksey Barabash as Kostya
Irina Rakhmanova as Lera
Natalya Reva-Ryadinskaya as Marina
Oleg Dolin as Fedor
Evgeniy Kulakov as Vitya
The subtitles, as the version I watched admitted, are a bit off but are understandable. But what version did I watch you ask? Good question. I don’t remember. There is no official release of this film with English subtitles so it is what it is. I saw the film a while ago and these are old notes I made when watching it with the intention of doing a review but this is more like a running commentary which should be more or less in line with whatever version you end up watching.
The opening sequence: The fast flowing cuts around the buildings remind me of sequences in Japanese television shows where they pan around a person at Dutch angles to make something seem impressive but because it is done at such an oddly specific constant speed it comes across as… exceptionally artificial is the only way I can describe it. I dislike the effect. It is like a cat looking up at you while it’s sat on a toy train track set.
The radio station’s jingle: I see… so radio jingles for local radio stations really are universally cheesy then!
4.40 – The radio studio girl, Lera, has exceptionally short blonde hair. I never find it is a good look for women unless they have very, very, fine features like Audrey Hepburn. Felix looks out of place in how he dresses as if he was at home. Also his shirt has ‘by eck’ on it which is a very Yorkshireman thing for someone to say but the image is of a female superhero from an American comic… it’s just a weird dissonance to me.
6.25 – The turtle pet is random… is it meant to be this film’s mascot? Masha’s top is odd too. It’s like a tabard that wants to be a tank top…
I get the impression this film will be one of those ‘like boats in the night’ ones like ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ or ‘While You Were Sleeping’ were no real romance occurs though we are informed in the advertising it is a romantic film.
9.50 – A convenience to set up the plot. He has her phone and he has hers now… ‘with hilarious results’ as the pitch meeting for the film no doubt went. Things wouldn’t work like this in real life. You would call, meet and exchange. If you couldn’t see the person you would ring the phone and see who answers.
… then suddenly I have a flashback to primary school remembering when some homework got blown out of my hand and I dropped my Pepsi can shaped pencil case to go get it. When I returned my pencil case was gone. A girl kept saying she picked it up and would return it to me everytime I saw her walking home. She never did. Evil little thief…
Masha’s finance, Kostyk/Kostya, is either going to be a designated a villain by default or will be a nasty person… oh he had a bit of an issue with her getting a phone call to return her phone. So apparently he will be a jealous kind then… oh so he also has no time to be with her as he is busy with work… ticking quite a few boxes for the ‘designated bad guy’ boyfriend here when in real life these are real issues that people try to work through together… or maybe they don’t. Maybe I am an idealist every once in a while and would like to think people work together to resolve issues rather than find fleeting happiness elsewhere.
13.16 – Quite amusing the guy gets the impression he is a womaniser.
15.56 – A cross dresser? Tatyana Petrovna. Street cleaner guy is random…
18.36 – Would a woman really walk down the road with massive curlers in her hair? Oddly camp greasy haired suit wearing guy…
19.07 – A fat cat being taken out for a walk. I am sure the St Petersburg tourist board were very happy with this oddball portrayal of the city’s inhabitants…
21.03 – A bro fist pump between the protagonist and the guy dressed just like him… too many coincidences. The protagonists keep making eye contact just to enforce how close they get to each other but fate keeps them apart… I like the statue (bust on a column) he is stood by. I assume it is an aeroplane pilot for the early twentieth century.
23.20 – Impressive graveyard. Random guy with guitar. Random car alarm. Stolen road sign. Random moments. He has a girlfriend? Well this is one of those awkwardly immoral films isn’t it? Flirtatious ‘true love’ wins over fidelity in romantic cinema. Partners too busy right now to have time together, because they are building towards a future together with their partner, are set aside for the flames of passion.
26.10 – I made you dinner. I don’t want it. And the bit with Maksim which I didn’t really follow except they have different schedules of work and she waited for him but he’s not into it… So this is our romantic lead is it? A sort of latter day Byronic hero, but without the smouldering brooding charm and sense of morality, just the unremitting antisocial aspects left in.
27.00 – Known him most of her life. Wants something new. There’s no real reason for the leads to abandon their relationships aside from boredom it seems so far. The director really likes Dutch angles. Nice panning shot out of the window and down the river however.
30.21 – Seems she wants emotional infidelity. I just don’t connect with these characters it seems. Young professionals bored with their success wanting change. Oooh nice reflection in the silver tray moment there!
32.30 – Contrasting her overly orderly home with his very messy apartment. Nice contrast. I take it she lives in the nice area and he lives in the more run down part of the city? This is common in romance… makes the man seem more rugged and hard working.
34.10 – Tramp man looking in the rubbish? Just to show he threw out photos? Then he goes back for them? … So I assume that sets up that he is…
35.30 – Oh the boyfriend is called Kostya. I need to not follow the subtitles so much as it’s a common issue they just don’t bother with character names assuming you realise which bits of dialogue are names and which bits are words…
36.10 – The young couple singing = ‘this is what love should be like!’ moment… again the whole ‘idyllic love’ that romance comedies like is in full force here.
37.00 – a running musical sequence? AND AGAIN THEY CROSS PATHS IN SO MANY DAYS! But it is interesting for me to see the city scape usually ignored in tourism information. A random Indian style parade… random kid calls random the leading lady Cinderella… it wouldn’t happen. Just setting up she is the pretty young protagonist.
38.00 Sandals wearing random guy asking for a number. Well I suppose you have to take a chance to know if it could ever happen although part of me thinks is this ‘is a cameo by a famous actor?’ as it’s featured prominently in the trailer for the film. Then the old woman… oh she is a beggar trying to swindle money with a classic con.
40.00 He asks the mascot?! Why did she go in the telephone kiosk to use her mobile? More importantly why not just call him once she was there? Convenience for the plot. Who would give flowers to a stall-holder? Is that meant to be endearing?
43.00 Dima – climbing the building?! And has those ‘geeks wear glasses making their eyes look massive’ spectacles. One scene character who adds nothing to the film.
44.00 – Nice look at some architecture. Bumps a cyclist. Might have well asked if she was Masha just out of curiosity by this point. Oh the young couple again! Good I was worried they were a one scene thing but if it runs throughout as a contrast I don’t mind that. Bit weird to invite him in though. Music is nice throughout this film. Quite light beat.
47.00 – Who are they? Random people turning up. Oh the landlord and lady. I should have figured that out as the woman is ‘comically’ bigger than her husband. They are just a plot device to drive him into more immediate action.
49 – Calling out to him over the waves. I am sure I saw an American film with this idea. It was ‘You’ve Got Mail‘ or ‘Sleepless In Seattle’ I think.. Different method but similar ‘missing each other walking past’ idea.
50.15 – He is at the Petrograd police station? Why are there red lit hookers behind him? Oh they are in a prison cell. But for a moment they looked demonic. Oh and she calls him her fiancé… and the officer waters a plant…
51.45 – Pitr then rapid rewind of city events. Then a Kevin Spacey looking senior police officer/general. Oddly I can imagine Bridgend’s chief executive having a map of Bridgend similar to the general’s one in his office. Oh he is related to Maksim. That’s convenient.
53.20 – The teacher and his student. I always want there to be some sort of odd cross over in these sorts of moments. Characters, in their own films, having the same scene in both films but from their distinctly separate perspectives, as if to say the events are going on simultaneously. I would just find it a really funny sort of ‘the directors universe’ sort of idea like Tarantino and Kevin Smith sort of do with their films. Obviously I would have liked Vitalik to turn up in this scene now imprisoned for his affair with Kristina in ‘Неадекватные Люди / Inadequate People / Oddballs’ but obviously that film was made long after this one by different people.
53.50 – oh was that Masha’s boyfriend overcompensating with flowers? That was a good ‘crossing of paths’ moment so it’s not just the protagonists doing this.
55.00 Oh they are speaking informally to each other if you listen to their use of language… I assume this film takes place over only a few days though so that’s a bit suprising.
56.00 – Protagonist confronted with her own feelings by a caller. She runs an advice show. Reminds me of ‘The Problem with Cats and Dogs‘ in that regard.
56.50 – so Felix is meant to be a comedy character? Face on dart board and all that. Oh but he forces her to say things she doesn’t believe and threatens her job. So he is a comedic looking villain.
58.20 – they were fighting? Oh and she smokes. You wouldn’t see the protagonists smoking in Western romance comedies… well maybe you would in the 90s with Richard Curtis’ films but not now. Odd segway with the blonde girl and whistling. Should have just let the Masha drama scene play out. Nice imagery of the grinding/arc wielding behind him then blocked to illustrate his feelings. Actually quite a skilled bit of imagery there i am impressed! While she has red lights saying stop except when she tries to approach him and the wielder is on her side now. A visually impressive scene.
1.02 – Then more fast cuts in the party. With a disco ball headed man. And a guy with a weird beard. It’s all oddly early 1990s Brit flick looking to me here. Marina isn’t present again after that one scene as far as I remember. At least we learn a bit about him though and his falling in love too easily tendencies. Although just like Kostya he has a temper. Then we cut to a scene of Masha crying… good juxtaposing but then a guy in his underwear on a park bench locked out by his wife.
1.07 – oh come on! This is ridiculous they keep crossing paths this much without comment even if we assume city folk dont speak to each other. Nice taxi driving at night with the lights of the city flashing by sequence. Is she wearing a dress then? It just looks like a fitted long shirt… wait how was water splashing up on the mirror? Then cut to a nice silhouette of him crossing a bridge. And back to her smoking hanging out the window with a blanket around her.
... Wait is this actually considered a romantic film? One hour and nine minutes in and nothings really happened.
He sits hanging off the bridge. FALL IN! Is he sat on the bridge outside her place? That would have been a good bit though obviously she would be able to tell it was him as I doubt many people go sitting on bridges in such a way.
The films more about her not being in love and Maksim just seems to be… there in parallel to her. When did he mention houses to her? I don’t get the exchange at 1hour 12mins about flipping the coin to Fontanka and the Neva river. Nor the targeting the Chikik bird. I assume I am just misunderstanding it and the bird is the coat of arms. Only now he recognises her voice?! More quick cutting but in reverse. Maybe it has to be filmed in the opposite direction it should happen and so they got lazy and just did it the easy ‘in reverse’ way.
1.14 – contract discussions. Very romantic. Oh he is quitting the contract…but still.
1.15 – They are sunbathing out the window with tinfoil. I have seen odder behaviour if I’m honest…
1.16 – Shaky camera with his friends is the most idyllic romantic scene in this film so far.
1.16 – See through clothing is always odd to me. It’s meant to cover but with see through vinyl like that any kind of design is just pointless. I like the sequence with everyone in the rain though. Why is he hanging out… do Romani get viewed as street tramps? Then she does the ‘shower in the rain happily’ motion for no reason (except maybe for the films trailer as it’s a romantic film cliché).
1.18 – he is very well kept for someone living on the streets. OH HE DROPPED THE PHONE which was expected. I don’t watch these sorts of films intentionally but there we go. NOOOOOO don’t walk past each other. They obviously recognise each other by now even if not as their intended romantic partner…
1.20 – I guess he calls to contact the girl and dun dun durrr in fact contacts her direct. Intentionally or accidentally? It ends on a similar ‘and so their story began’ note as some other films I have seen…
The film ends with a black screen with the phrase (in Russian Cyrillic obviously) ‘Dedicated to our parents’… It seems a bit random to give such a dedication at the end of the film immediately as these are usually reserved for the end of the credits… is it to honour previous generations without whom none of us would be alive without their love for each other? I just don’t get why it was included right at the end of the main feature.
Actually the outtakes during the credits are fun. Did a police officer really just walk into frame to ask them about their filming!? Staff turning around with their phones is amusing. I like seeing out takes sometimes. I don’t like the outtakes during the credits you see in recent American comedies where they try out different lines as it seems forced (then a gain I have not been a fan of recent American comedies anyway at it seems they are enjoying making the films more than the audience watching the finished article and so often the DVD commentaries are better than the actual film which is ridiculous when you consider it in perspective.)
End verdict: Light hearted piece of fluff. Reminded me of ‘One Fine Day‘ or ‘Sleepless In Seattle’. I didn’t really engage with the characters but at the same time didn’t hate them. The support characters were one dimensional and in fact the young couple in love who have no real lines during the film as background characters made more of an impact than Masha’s co-worker or Maksim’s friends. I Watched it as I assumed it would show quite a wide range of St Petersburg which I haven’t been able to see in more historically based works (e.g. Russian Ark which focused exclusively on the Hermitage) and wasn’t let down in that respect as it showed a number of the normal streets. Would i watch this again? Not really if I’m honest but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recommend it to someone if they wanted to see a Russian film but obviously so far ‘Odd Balls‘, ‘Russian Ark‘ and for fantasy ‘Daywatch’/’Nightwatch’ are the ones I would recommend. ‘Oddballs‘ above all else as I think there is some really good potential there which the director of ‘Nightwatch‘ has done big budget Hollywood films and his use of CGI is a bit too obvious and distracting though admittedly his aim is for over the top action sequences as he has the budget for them.
Pitr FM was okay if not slightly mediocre all things considered although the sound track was quite nice. If you want a good Russian romantic comedy film go watch ‘Неадекватные Люди / Inadequate People / Oddballs‘. I cannot recommend it highly enough.