Moscow State Symphony Orchestra Concert

Held at St David’s Hall, Cardiff on 17th May 2016.

A performance of Prokofiev’s Russian Overture 13′, Prokofiev’ Piano Concerto No 3 28′ and Shostakovich’ Symphony No 5 48′


The evening consisted of the following:
Pre-Concert Talk (FREE) – Jonathan James & Noriko Okawa, 6.30pm – 7.00pm, Lefel 1
Join Bristol-based music educator Jonathan James in conversation with pianist Noriko Ogawa.

Young Artists Showcase (FREE) – Beatrice Acland (soprano) & Ella O’Neill (piano),
7pm, Level 3 foyer stage
Young soprano Beatrice Acland is a current MA Opera student at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. She is joined by fellow student Ella O’Neill, for selections of vocal music by Rachmaninoff and Dvořák.

Post-Concert ’30-Minutes’ (£1.50) – Katie Lower (flute) & Joshua Abbott (piano),
9.30pm, Lefel 1
Prokofiev Flute Sonata in D, Op. 94

Post-Concert Tickets £1.50 (No Ticket Service Charge applies)


Moscow State Symphony Orchestra
International Concert Series

Tuesday 17 May, 7.30pm to 9.30pm

‘The Moscow State Symphony Orchestra might well be the world’s least-heralded great orchestra … With these revelatory Russians, a free seismic test is part of the bargain.’ – Los Angeles Times

The Moscow State Symphony Orchestra is led by their Conductor Pavel Kogan and accompanied by the piano soloist Noriko Ogawa.

For almost seven decades the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra has been one of Russia’s leading orchestras, forming a legendary partnership with their conductor Pavel Kogan. Hear them in work by two of Russia’s greatest composers, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Noriko Ogawa is the soloist in Prokofiev’s high energy, sardonic and sometimes bitter-sweet Third Piano Concerto and the concert ends with a classic: Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, a dark tragic courageous reply from an individual to the state.

This UK tour by the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra is supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation.


Standard Price £7.50 | £15.50 | £19.50 | £26.00 | £32.50 | £39.50
Platinum Tickets (including prime seat in Tier 1, a glass of champagne and a programme) £48.00
Friends of St David’s Hall £2.00 off
Under 16 £ 5.00
Students (up until 6.00pm on the day of the performance) £ 5.00
Claimants £2.00 off
Disabled people (plus one companion) £ 7.50
(Wheelchair users plus one companion seats at lowest prices)


 

REVIEW
I missed the pre-show talk but the Young Artists Showcase of Beatrice Acland (soprano) & Ella O’Neill (piano) was on the same level as my seating and was a really good pre-show ‘warm up’ for the audience. WMC (Wales Millennium Centre) also do a similar thing in their foyer of letting younger acts do a short performance and it can only do good to give them an opportunity.

pre show

It would have been nice if they were introduced by a member of staff rather than having to do so themselves as it would give them some respect as contributors to the evening’s events.

The joke I am reminded of by these circumstances is the one about a restaurant advertising for musicians to play for free, to promote themselves, and someone replying by imitating the poster’s use of language and advertising in rebuttal for free meals at their home to promote the restaurant.

I’m sure they were treated well but from the look of it they turned up, got on stage and did their thing then left without any significant staff interaction.

I can only imagine, when that worse case scenario does occur at any venue, it would be setting the venue up for a downfall in the future. Of course there would have been a staff turnover by them so there is always a slight aspect of inheriting a poison chalice if the previous senior staff were not cordial with people who were only beginning their careers at the time.

Beatrice and Ella were both very good and I hope to see their names again in the years to come. Despite how I make it sound they did receive applause after each piece and seemed happy with the performance.

For the main event I saw for the first time in person the seating behind the stage being used. I personally was sat towards the front in the stalls. Ironically the behind stage seating, when an orchestra is the sole aspect of the performance, is probably preferrable. Definitely when Okawa’s grand piano was being wheeled to the front it was the only seating that didn’t have a lot of the stage obscured.

20160517_192456

 

In order to get the piano to the front, after the overture had been performed, a 5 – 7 minute impromptu interruption occurred leaving the audience just sat in silence staring at the stage staff adjusting things. When you are sat there doing nothing even this short period of time can seem like an eternity despite there obviously being no other options available. The violinists and cellists had to leave the stage, the conductor’s podium moved deeper into the stage and the grand piano actually overlapping the podium. The stage area is very limited so I can only imagine how cramped it was. Once the lid to the piano was opened Kogan was probably unseeable for most people. I was actually concerned that if he lost his footing he would fall directly onto the piano as the rail of the podium had to be left off due to the overlap. That is my only significant criticism of the evening. I imagine they discussed what to do earlier and sadly this was the only option but it was such a distinct interruption to the proceedings I wish they had perhaps agreed to alter the set and have the piano and Okawa’s part performed at the start of the second half instead.
Under the orchestra staff they had to put long pieces of cardboard for friction so no one’s chairs moved about. Do they usually do that? I have never been sat close enough to the stage to notice before.

The performance was, as you would expect, an excellent world-class experience and St David’s Hall is truly the best location still for the acoustics it delivers even in contrast to WMC. Ozawa excelled in her part and ‘stole the show’ if such a thing can be suggested. Kogan, despite never addressing the audience save for gestures and smiles, seemed very jovial and after receiving rapturous applause even performed a short humourous piece which was unexpected and much appreciated by the audience.

The real gem of the evening was the intimate performance of Prokofiev’s Flute Sonata in D, Op. 94 on level one (in the room I am certain used to be a restaurant). The musicians were Katie Lower (flute) & Joshua Abbott (piano). Katie introduced herself and Joshua then gave a small overview of the piece and its history. The ticket was only £1.50 and worth every penny. Sadly there were only about 14 people there which I assume is because it was about 9.45PM and so anyone needing the train or other public transport would have had no choice but go due to scheduling. It is a shame as it was a very enjoyable 30 or so minutes.

20160517_213634

I don’t know if musicians would prefer a small but focused audience, like this, or a larger, if inattentive, audience as Beatrice Acland and Ella O’Neill had prior to the concert. Both have their pros and cons I suppose.

A wonderful evening and I hope the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra return again in year’s to come.


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Boris Godunov – Opera

The Royal Opera House

Music Director – Sir Antonio Pappano

Director of Opera – Kasper Holten

Boris Godunov – Opera In Seven Scenes (Original Version) ( Борис Годунов)

Music – Modest Petrovich Musorgsky (Модест Петрович Мусоргский)

Libretto – Modest Petrovich Musorgsky adapted from the historical tragedy by Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (Алекса́ндр Серге́евич Пу́шкин)

The edition of Boris Godunov used in the performances is published by Verlagsgruppe Hermann, edited by Michael Rot.

Performed by arrangement with Alkor-Edition Kassel and Faber Music Ltd, London.


Conductor – Antonio Pappano

Director – Richard Jones

Set Designer – Miriam Buether

Costume Designer – Nicky Gillibrand

Lighting Designer – Mimi Jordan Sherin

Movement Director – Ben Wright

Associate Director – Elaine Kidd


Royal Opera Chorus

Chorus Director – Renato Balsadonna

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

Concert master – Peter Manning

Directed for the Screen by Jonathan Haswell


Live from the Royal Opera House:

Monday 21 March 2016, 7.15PM

(Lottery Funded)

(Supported using the public funding by Arts Council England)


Synopsis

After the death of Ivan the Terrible the boyar Boris Godunov was appointed regent – Ivan’s older son, Tsar Fyodor, was physically and mentally frail, and his younger son Dmitry was an infant. Dmitry died mysteriously at the age of eight; many believed Boris had arranged his murder. Now Fyodor is dead, and with no direct heir to the throne, Boris is the most likely candidate to be the next Tsar.

Scene 1

Boris has retreated to a monastry. A crowd gather outside and entreat him to accept the throne. Shchelkalov, clerk of the Boyar’s Council, tells the crowd that Boris is reluctant to rule.

Scene 2

Boris is crowned Tsar in the Kremlin and his coronation is hailed by the people.

Years pass. Boris proves to be a good and wise ruler, and a devoted father. Under his rule Russia prospers. Then, unexpectedly, the country is visited by dreadful famines. The superstitious believe this is a divine punishment, visited on Boris for the murder of the Tsarevich Dmitry.

Scene 3

In the monastery within the Kremlin, the monk Pimen is interrupted by the young novice Grigory, who has had a nightmare. Grigory asks Pimen to talk about Russia’s past. Pimen talks of Ivan the Terrible, of the saintliness of Ivan’s son Fyodor, and of the murder of the Tsarevich Dmitry. On hearing that Dmitry resembles him and was about the same age, Grigory formulates a plan to impersonate the Tsarevich, and stir up rebellion.

Scene 4

Grigory (now in secular clothes) comes to an inn near the Lithuanian border, with the monks Varlaam and Missail. The Frontier Guard arrives, searching for Grigory, and carrying an edict for his arrest. Grigory realizes that the Guard cannot read and doesn’t know what he looks like, and so reads out the edict, describing the monk as resembling Varlaam, rather than himself. Varlaam protests his innocence and reads the edict correctly. Grigory escapes.

Scene 5

In the Tsar’s apartments, Xenia laments the early death of her fiance, while her brother Fyodor studies a map of Russia. Boris meditates on what he has achieved since he came to power. Prince Shuisky arrives with news that a pretender, calling himself the Tsarevich Dmitry, has appeared in Lithuania. Boris orders Shuisky to seal the border, and demands reassurance that Dmitry really did die. Shuisky describes Dmitry’s murder, but hints that the Tsarevich’s dead body may have miraculous powers. Boris, frightened, orders Shuisky to leave and, giving way to guilt and remorse, hallucinates that he can see the dead Dmitry.

Scene 6

Outside St Basil’s Cathedral, the crowd are talking about the pretender Grishka (Grigory) Otrepiev. A holy Fool sings a nonsensical song, and some urchins steal a penny [kopeck] from him. Boris and his retinue leave the Cathedral, and the hungry crowd beg for bread. The Holy Fool suggests that Boris should order the murder of the thieving urchins, just as he ordered the murder of the Tsarevich Dmitiry. Shuisky demands that the Holy Fool be arrested, but Boris instead asks the Holy Fool to pray for him. The Holy Fool refuses to pray for ‘Tsar Herod’ and laments the fate of Russia.

Scene 7

At the Kremlin, the Boyar’s Council agree that Grigory and his followers should be executed. Shuisky reports that Boris claims to have seen the dead Tsarevich Dmitry and is deeply troubled. Boris appears, still in the grip of his hallucination. Pimen enters and tells Boris that the Tsarevich Dmitry has become a saint from beyond the grave and cured an old man’s blindness. Boris collapses in a seizure. He calls for his son Fyodor, bids the boy farewell and calls for God’s blessing on his children. He names Fyodor the heir to the throne, begs forgiveness and dies.


 

Cast

Boris Godunov – Bryn Terfyl

Andrey Shchelkov (Clerk of the Boyar’s Council) – Kostas Smoriginas

Nikitich (A Police Officer) – Jeremy White

Mityukha (A Peasant) – Adrian Clarke

Prince Vasily Ivanovich Shuisky – John Graham-Hall

Pimen (A Monk and Chronicler) – Ain Anger

Grigory Otrepiev (Later ‘The False Dmitry) – David Butt Philip

Hostess of the Inn – Rebecca De Pont Davies

Varlaam (Monk) – John Tomlinson

Missail (Monk) – Harry Nicoll

Frontier Guard – James Platt

Xenia’s Nurse – Sarah Pring

Fyodor (Boris Godunov’s Son) – Ben Knight

Boyar – Nicholas Sales

Yorodivy (Holy Fool) – Andrew Tortise

Russian populace, Boyars, Soldiers, Pilgrims – Ensemble


The opera lasts approximately two hours, ten minutes.

There is no interval.

The production ‘realistically’ depicts and revisits the murder of the young crown prince (Tsarevich) Dmitry. They advise that it is not suitable for children under the age of 12 years old.


Above is the information, with a few alterations, you are provided at a cinema screening.


Review:

Staging: The stage is divided into two halves. on the upper level is the golden prayer/coronation chamber. This is also where the murder occurs. The lower, darker grey, level is where most events occur and has some large mobile scenery which can be moved in and out to change scenes.

boris godunov stage loayout

There are to the rear three moving raised platforms used by the chorus when they are dressed in traditional robes during the coronation scene and on one or two other parts. The smaller props include a yellow painted chair to represent the Imperial Throne, a bar set used during the inn scene and two manuscript scenery pieces which were very impressive. The first is during scene 3 where we see the manuscript Pimen has been writing with large illustrations of the previous Tsars. Watching this in cinema you get a close up view of the areas where they wipe the paint/ink clean after each performance where Pimen writes in Cyrillic during this scene.

The backgrounds for the upper section consist of 3 windows with are back lit. They display, depending on the scene, three bells for the monastery scenes or are unlit for those in the Imperial palace. This was minimal, but very effective, to allow an economy of staging. My only crticism would be that this upper part, unlike the lower level, seemed to have no depth and so the Boyars who walk back and forth seem very cramped and almost like characters from a 2D computer game marching back and forth during some scenes. Perhaps this area is meant to represent Boris’ inner mindscape as the murder of Dmitry is repeated her a number of times but I can only imagine the issues this alcove causes for any audiences who do not have a clear line of sight to it in the theatre.

On the lower section, after Boris’ coronation any interior scenes have the background host a line of icons of the Tsar otherwise the background is unlit and in the case of Scene 3 light is projected through the right doorway to indicate the low lighting of the monastery’s interior. On the provided simple illustration I indicate the door ways with green lines to either side of the staging. There is also a rail on the upper level and at one point one of the performers holds it with such force it rattles which was amusing but also a safety concern.

Costume: This to me was the weakest point by far. There is an odd mix of traditional clothing and more modern clothing but is set in the sixteenth and first few years of the seventeenth century. I wish they had gone in one direction or the other. Of course you have the detailed golden robes of the coronation but throughout the rest of the production you have modern clothing hinting at tradition which feels ill at ease e.g. ‘grandfather collared shirts and women in headscarves, patterns on material which is distinctly Slavic contrasting with Boyars dressed in burgundy trousers with grey blazers which distinctly are no earlier than the mid twentieth century in design.

Accessibility: This is a very good opera but also very dense to the point the fourth scene feels almost completely out of place in its efforts to offer some small effort towards a respite from the intensity. As you might have noted this is Mussorgsky’s original version and although I have not seen the adjustments by Rimsky-Korsakov, to amend perceived weaknesses, might have served to make it more palatable to a general audience those the variations have fallen out of favour so Mussorgsky’s individual harmonic style and orchestration can be valued for their originality. The music is very heavy so I would suggest anyone who like the works of composers like Puccini and have not experienced ‘heavier’ orchestrations best listen to some pieces on YouTube to see if it would be to their taste. Anyone familiar with Wagner will probably be fine. For those familiar with Rimsky-Korsakov’s alterations I would be interested to hear how you view this original draft of the opera – especially in comparison to his own works. Mussorgsky has other, unfinished works, and I would like to hear them but I am of a mind that perhaps he found the form of opera something very troublesome and despite his best efforts never truly felt at ease with it.

Subject matter: If you are not familiar with Russian history you best read the brief synopsis of the scenes so you can keep up with what is happening as there are some big jumps in time at the start.

It is best to bear in mind that this opera is based upon Pushkin’s tragedy.

Pushkin wrote of his play:

“The study of Shakespeare, Karamzin, and our old chronicles gave me the idea of clothing in dramatic forms one of the most dramatic epochs of our history. Not disturbed by any other influence, I imitated Shakespeare in his broad and free depictions of characters, in the simple and careless combination of plots; I followed Karamzin in the clear development of events; I tried to guess the way of thinking and the language of the time from the chronicles. Rich sources! Whether I was able to make the best use of them, I don’t know — but at least my labors were zealous and conscientious.”

So in context what we are watching is heavily influenced by the writers of each period assimilating and adapting the works of others. Therefore with each stage comes a divergence from reality and an embrace of the romaticised notion of a historical figure. With the mention of Shakespeare there is too obvious a comparison to made here. This opera is the equivalent of an operatic version of Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’. The central character does not realistically represent the historical figure but a caricature. No more obvious is the parable like nature of this work than when the Holy Fool, Yorodivy, tells Boris he cannot pray for him as that would make the Virgin Mary sad. In Russia there is the fairy tale figure of Ivan the Fool (Иван-дурак or diminutive Иванушка-дурачок). The moral of these stories is that Ivan The Fool is rarely the fool, he is merely perceived as such by others owing to his simple nature and joviality. It is by being a fool, in this tradition, Yorodivy alone is allowed to state what others may not and is ultimately the final nail confirming to Boris his guilt is not only his own but one endorsed by society’s perception of him.

Despite Russia prospering under his rule he is only judged by one act: the sin of murder. He was a good ruler for the country as a whole but for its people he is a figure or fear – a man who would go so far to have power he would murder an innocent child. He is a tragic figure for whom repentance has been denied.

The murder of Dmitry is reprised a few times during the play. This consists of a short actor in an oversized papermache head having a knife drawn across his throat by three assassins and he smears a blood packet across his chest to denote the murder. If you watch this in cinema you will see it up close and it begins to look more comical the more they reprise it. That is not intentional. Part of me wishes they had just had Boris’ son play this role also as it seems this productions intention to mirror the two roles to indicate how, now with a son on his own, Boris feels greater guilt than ever for the murder. The murder is in and of itself not visceral but i understand why they have been cautious enough, in these days where even a ‘U’ rated film has to carry warning of ‘mild peril’ why they have included the warning about the graphic nature of the murder.

Conclusion: This is not an ‘introductory level’ opera. If you want something easy to follow then go check out Puccini or Bizet. If you have dealt with composers like Mahler or Wagner then try it but realise it has its awkward moments. The entire cast does well. There are a number of very impressive performances here but Ain Anger as Pimen steals every scene he is in, Rebecca De Pont Davies is a one act wonder with her bug eyed performance as the Hostess of the Inn and the solos provided by members of the ensemble each stand on their own. If I had one criticism, apart from the costume designs, it is that the preamble VT featured Bryn Terfyl talking about, as a Welsh speaker from North Wales, he finds it hard to do a Russian ‘L’ sound and for the rest of the performance that is all I could focus on with him. It reminded me of a time when  I read an Oxford Press foreword for Turgenev’s ‘Father and Sons’ where Richard Freeborn in his introductory essay gave away major plot points including which characters died and so I couldn’t bring myself to read it. It was just to big a distraction. This is a heavy opera but if you are willing to stay with it you might find it to be a tour de force and something very different from the yearly repeated performances of lighter works.


Comment, like or follow – All are welcome 🙂

http://www.roh.org.uk/productions/boris-godunov-by-richard-jones

 

 

 

 

Anton Chekhov’s ‘Предложение’ (a.k.a A Marriage Proposal / The Proposal)

Предложение (a.k.a ‘A Marriage Proposal‘ or ‘The Proposal‘) is a one act farce by Антон Павлович Чехов (Anton Pavlovich Chekhov), written somewhere between 1888 to 1889 and first performed in 1890. It is a fast paced play of dialogue based action and situational humour. Usually it is performed in combination with other short pieces of Chekhov‘s such as Медведь: Шутка в одном действии (‘The Bear: A Joke in One Act’ or ‘The Boor’).

I was reminded of this piece by the marriage proposal story line featured in ITV’s Dr Thorne mini series which concluded last night. A turn of fortune changes the mind of the future groom’s mother regarding the marital appropriateness of Dr Thorne‘s niece and so there is a marriage and the mother in law is teased for her preoccupation with the families fortunes wishing for her son to marry for money and not love. This theme was prevalent during the nineteenth century with the most widely recognised examples being in the novels ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (1813) and ‘Wuthering Heights’ (1847 – albeit in the latter part of the novel which is often omitted in adaptions).

Dramatis personæ:

  • Stepan Stepanovitch Chubukov, 54 years old, man (or 70 as he claims at one point to be ‘twice [Ivan’s] age at one point.
  • Natalia Stepanovna Chubukova, his daughter, 25 years old
  • Ivan Vassiliyitch Lomov, 35 years old, a neighbour of Chubukov, a large and hearty, but very suspicious landowner

Plot:

Ivan Vassiliyitch Lomov, a long time neighbor of Stepan Stepanovitch Chubukov, has come to propose marriage to Chubukov’s 25-year-old daughter, Natalia. Stephan gives his permission and Natalia is invited into the room, while Stephan steps out, so Ivan may make his proposal to Natalia.

However instead they get into a disagreement about the ownership of the Oxen Meadows adjoining their properties which Ivan intended to gift her as a dowry. The passionate disagreement results in Ivan, a foppish hypochondriac, suffering supposed palpitations and a numbness in his leg. Stepan, rejoining them, notices this and he himself argues about the sort of bad people the Lomov family have been in the past and has Ivan leave his house. While Stepan rants about Lomov, he expresses his shock that “this fool dares to make you [Natalia] a proposal of marriage!” She immediately starts into hysterics, begging for her father to bring him back which he does immediately.

Natalia and Ivan get into a second argument, this time about the superiority of their respective hunting dogs, respectively Squeezer (who is unfit to be a hunting dog) and Guess (who is old and lame). Stepan gets involved and is close to losing his temper and makes this clear to Ivan. At this junction yet again, after accusing Stepan of being an intriguer amongst other things, foppish Ivan gets a case of vapors and collapses from his exhaustion over arguing . Thus Stepan and Natalia, after checking him, fear he is deceased. Stepan also begins to over react at the junction and Natalia cries over the sudden death brought on by the argument.

However, after a few minutes Ivan regains consciousness, and Stepan, insisting they leave him alone afterwards,  all but forces Ivan and his daughter Natalia to accept the marriage proposal with a kiss. Immediately following Ivan’s kiss on Natasha’s hand, the couple restarts their argument over the dogs and Stepan resigned tries to change the subject by calling for champagne to celebrate while decrying this is how they start their union.

The End.

Review:

This is a light hearted skit mocking the over sentimentalisation of marriage proposals alongside the etiquette and behaviour of the the middle classes.


At the start the participates formally address each other using the personal Christian/first name and the patronymic name (based on the name of the individual’s father) indicates how this is a serious proposal but quickly this falls into farce as the arguments arise between the individuals. The equivalent of Mr, Miss, Ms or Mrs were very uncommon and even today tend to be used more often regarding foreigners although it should also be noted the use of the patronymic today is reserved usually for formal occasions while it was more common in use during the past. Later in the piece all sense of etiquette is thrown out as the squabbling takes its place and even after order is restored the personal behaviour of the couple erupts once more over a trivial matter.


You may note how the men in the play are mirrored by the dogs. Ivan is Squeezer who is ‘overstrung’ and Stepan is Guesser who is ‘old and lame’. Natalia speaks dotingly of her dog Squeezer and perhaps this gives an indication of how her marriage will continue in which she will both argue and yet dot on her husband in the future (and it can easily be seen this is how it will go as such a pairing was very commonly portrayed in dramas of the time regarding married couples and you can see reflected in what would become a cliche in televised sitcoms from America focused on a central married couple even today).


If you saw an adaption without Chekhov‘s name attached and with a localised setting would you realise that this is the work a playwright from over a century ago? I doubt it. These character’s archetypes are universal and timeless. If you changed the names to a more local variant you can see them time and time again reflected in later works worldwide. A central male character, usually middle age or reaching it, who over reacts to events around him in situations he has no control over. A woman who is concerned regarding social matters and very argumentative with cutting comments directed towards her partner (which it is fair to comment is a sexist stereotype nowadays). An old man or woman, usually the parent of one of the more prominent characters, passing comment on events and mentioning the past both positively and negatively. These dramatic caricatures repeat as theirs is a simplistic truth pinpointing the faults of society and its nature to confuse the trivial with the sincere within the grander intentions of the people involved.


This is a simple piece and highly entertaining. As I noted earlier it is often performed accompanied by other short pieces by Chekhov and they offer views of society which still hold as true a view of society today as they did during their writing over a century ago. I would highly recommend seeing live performances as there is an energy there which is hard to replicate through recorded versions. I provide the audio book above, which is a fair simple audio performance, so you can experience the dialogue but nothing beats a live performance.


I often want to see adaptions of Chekhov’s works and they are apparently often repeated in repertoires but somehow never seem to be performed near me. I attended the performance of ‘August’, Anthony Hopkins‘ adaption of ‘Uncle Vanya’, when it was premiered at the New Theatre, Cardiff but since then it seems a far rarer thing in South Wales to see the works of Chekhov despite my every care and attention regarding the yearly repertoires in the performing arts of Wales.


People seem intimidated by the works of Russian writers – after all how often do we hear Tolstoy‘s Война и мир (War and Peace) being used as a synonym for ‘immensely long and difficult to read book’? This is due to Tolstoy‘s personal predilection of going into prolonged commentaries about society which pad the book up quite a bit and do not reflect Russian literature at all. The works of Dostoevsky are influenced by Dickens and read just as easily with a focus more on narrative than reflection. The works of Chekhov are expedient, in comparison to previous generations indulgences in the poetics of language, in how concise the dialogue is. The only limit seems, according to a Russian friend,  to be how the Russian productions of these works usually over sentimentalise them, which effects foreign productions perceptions of how to adapt them, when they can be produced in a far more relevant way to today’s audiences.


Yet with this said the BBC‘s recent near cinematic production of ‘War and Peace’ proves even Tolstoy can be translated in an easily understood adaption. Albeit, as is inevitable with many adaptions of literature, some of the aspects are lost for immediacy or because hearing the inner thoughts of a character is a difficult concept to translate without giving them long running monologues or a voice over which takes you out of the scene.


There is a stigma sadly but, once you have dipped your toe into the water and realise how absurd the prejudice is, there is a world of universally recognisable character archetypes in  Russian works.

‘August’ was also made into a film.
 For whatever reason WordPress is refusing to let me space the review part out properly so I used the ‘horizontal line’ tool to break it up and make it a little bit more easy and pleasing to read layout wise.

Eurovision Song Contest 2015

I have posted videos of each entrant, in order of performance, during the grand finale with my own comments as I was watching the programme live. In the end it seemed far more earnest this year and therefore less fun. It comes across as if the acts are trying to promote their own career to a wider international audience, which would happen anyway, than providing an enjoyable performance. There were far less ‘fun’ acts than in any previous years I can remember – perhaps because with the advent of the internet and digital downloads having an international career is far more possible compared to previous generations.

1-Slovenia: Maraaya: Here For You: Good upbeat song but the wind machine blowing her overly stiff hair and the unintentionally sinister diamond armed dancer were not necessary.

2 France – Lisa Angell: N’oubliez Pas: Bleak. Reminded me of ‘downer’ bad ending credits for some computer games if you made bad choices or even ones where it’s a sad end as the hero died but the future now holds hope thanks to their noble sacrifice. A good song but not something that will do well at Eurovision.

3 Israel: Nadav Guedj: Golden Boy: It sounded like an out of tune 90s boy band and although the production was good it fell flat for me.

4 Estonia: Elina Born & Stig Rästa: Goodbye To Yesterday: The singing was really good and I liked it immensely. I noted she even shed a tear while singing. Staged or not that was a nice detail. I would actually like to hear more from them.

5 UK: Electro Velvet: Still In Love With You: Nice upbeat 1920s style electro-swing piece and the neon clothing light effects in the ultraviolet light went really well. We are not going to win but at least we are showing we can be original and give people something to remember without being ridiculous. Ironically considering how often Terry Wogan complained about the cheesiness in the past we are the cheesy novelty entry this year it feels like in retrospect. But it was fun and we are improving year on year since the disapproval after the Middle East conflict…


6 Armenia: Genealogy: Face The Shadow: an awkward mix of voices with a clock theme throughout the performance. They didn’t seem to harmonise and it seems like a catastrophe for them on the night and rather awkward from an audience perspective as they didn’t gel as a group. I think one of them was from Wales as it was made up from people of Armenian ancestry from around Europe internally selected by the Public Television of Armenia to sing Face The Shadow, a “powerful anthem about peace, unity, and love”

7 Lithuania: Monika Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila: This Time: Good fun and energy. Potential winner? A good duet nonetheless. Lithuania initially wanted a solo entry to represent them in the contest, but double act Monika Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila won over both TV viewers and the professional jury with their duet.

8 Serbia : Bojana Stamenov: Beauty Never Lies: Good song. Very fat girl. Can tell from her face she would be very attractive if she got her weight under control. Sadly she starts screaming and there is a euro electro-disco part towards the end which ruins it. One male dancer has the beard and topknot look which is popular amongst hipsters right now. She beat two other candidates in the Serbian national selection, but Bojana Stamenov isn’t just a powerful voice – she’s also deft hand at knitting and cooking… She ate them and will become a crazy cat lady after the show.

9 Norway: Mørland & Debrah Scarlett: A Monster Like Me: Good mellow toned song however the singers seem to be off key at the start possibly. He warbles while she croons. It’s a very nice song and the further they go the better it gets but those opening moments…

10 Sweden: Måns Zelmerlöw: Heroes: Pop with electro folk: Very nice front projection effects. The bookies favourite and to be honest mine too at this stage in the contest it blows everything else out of the water.

11 Cyprus: John Karriyannis: One Thing I Should Have Done: Classic pop love song effort. The sort of thing you wouldn’t mind on the radio on a Sunday afternoon but nothing that stands out.

12 Australia: Guy Sabastian: Tonight Again: Upbeat modern pop song clearly having fun and unpressured. Obviously not going to win but hopefully they have enjoyed the event.

13 Belgium: Loïc Nottet: Rhythm Inside: slow, hipster influenced, modern pop song: I like it but many people probably won’t remember it tomorrow.

14 Austria: The Makemakes: I Am Yours: Slow start but a classic song you could imagine from previous years of Eurovision and you would want to know the name of. Setting the inside of the Piano on fire adds nothing to the perfornance as its not as if he is playing it so frantically the strings sponaniously ignite in a cartoonish style. The host nation always hobbles themselves however as I doubt anyone wants to host it a few years on the trot.. It became dull towards the end.

15 Greece: Maria Elena Ktriakou: One Last Breathe: classic Eurovision song style of grandiose pop music. Not much to say really. Good effort but nothing to grab peoples votes.

16 Montenegro: Knez: Adio: enjoyable. At least they are not singing in English… it has an element of Montenegro’s musical culture in it. This is how it should be i.e. representing your nation not trying to be all things to all people. Not going to win but respectable.

17 Germany: Ann Sophie: Black Smoke: R&B influenced as many seem to be this year in tone. Good but no doubt forgettable. She stepped in at the last moment as the one who was going to do it decided not to in the end. Good on her for doing this and you wouldn’t know about the change.

18 Poland: Monika Kuszyńska: In The Name Of Love: Last year it was Donatan & Cleo – ‘My Słowianie – We Are Slavic’ giving us the message hot blooded Slavic girls are the best in every way and do everything the best (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, get the dirty old man vote) with busty ‘milk churning’ milkmaid for those who don’t understand the lyrics to get the message of what they are saying. This year they have a singer in a wheelchair…Poland must love making everyone feel awkward. They are trolling the contest. There is no other explaination for these acts. I wonder how they will upstage this entry – a choir of children with learning difficulties, a quadriplegic playing the mouth organ and a dance troop of Alzheimer’s afflicted old age octogenarians next year? I really want to believe Poland, like Britain, don’t take the contest seriously, but they actually actually send in entries to mess with voters rather than just moan in the commentary. Last year it was the ‘dad’ vote, this year the ‘if you don’t vote for us its discrimination against the diabled’ moral guilt vote. That aside it is a good song with the uprising anthemic quality you expect of Eurovision entries. “Monika Kuszyńska brings with her a strong Eurovision message: she wants to “to build the bridge of tolerance in the name of love” with her performance” – i.e. Poland want to see how far they can push it before being kicked out by pretending they don’t know its trolling.

19 Latvia: Aminata: Love Injected: the classic Eurovision singer with an ‘overly extravagant dress’. Nice designs flashing in the background. Generic Eurovision entry. A wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen. One of the definitive ‘also ran’ entries of this year. The song title is indeed either poor english or a very dark suggestion of what the song is really about.

20 Romania: Voltaj: De La Capat/ All Over Again: A lot of the songs have this echoing anthemic thing going on this year. Again credit due to them as they don’t sing in English. Don’t know about the monochrome look… Has a sort of ‘song you hear on an advert’ quality meant to be inspirational in those 30 seconds they play it’s chorus but you get sick of it after a while and people still remember the song years later with distain. Oh there is a bit of English… well that’s okay I guess thoguh everyone singing in English seems disingenuous.

21 Spain: Edurne: Amanecer: She is Manchester United’s Goalkeeper’s girlfriend apparently – Nice visuals. Sung in Spanish. I could see this winning. The dancer/stagehand in the dark holding her cloak, pretending to be the wind and pull the cloak off, is obviously there despite their staging efforts. Then there is the reveal of the ‘classic leg revealing’ dress. Then there is a bit of dancing in an instrumental part just to keep the energy going which is a good mix between static and dynamic aspects to give a rounded performance. Spain are obviously going all out to win this year. Really working the crowd well and got a good reception.

22 Hungary: Boggie: Wars For Nothing: Serious message time. This will be sung over a video of starving war torn communities during a charity video. It’s a really sharp change in tone from the Spanish song entry. Its good but would have been better placed after one of the more subdued earlier entries. Austria decided the running order and no doubt knew the reaction this would get after the previous song. I’m not saying anything suspicious was happening just that you would never put these songs together if you had any sense… also to English speakers Boggie is just a hilarious name in contrast to the song’s serious message sadly. A moral victor raising issues but will go nowhere in the votes.

23 Georgia: Nina Sublatti: Warrior: Rock chick entry. Smoke screen and the heavy flashing effects are obscuring her on stage. Gothy warrior look – 🙂 phwoar! (I’ve been watching a lot of early 90s music videos so this look is kind of fixed in my head at the moment as a very appealing look) This more energetic song could have done with backing dancers as the staging seems a bit too bare with just her there obscured by the dry ice smoke. If not for that then this would have been the song and performance I would personally consider song of the night though it wouldn’t win (I mean it’s not as impressive as when Lordi entered and won – which makes me think they may have been a quasi-joke entry except they really went for it and won everyone over which they richly deserved). Warrior is the sort of energetic song I can imagine being the theme song to an action adventure series. Another person whose works I will be checking out. Actually singing in English which I didn’t realise initially.

24 Azerbaijan: Elnur Huseynov: Hour Of The Wolf: A very nice slower song and the ballet dancers were very good. It will be forgotten as its very ‘now’ however. A very ‘American pop singer going solo’ style song.

25 Russia: Polina Gagarina: A Million Voices: Going for the victory hard. Anthemic drum beat call to alms (yes not ‘arms’ – its wordsplay… I have explained the joke and it now lies dead like a dissected frog on a lab table), with a refrain and choral section. The drummer does look like Andrew WK pre-nosebleed however. Excellent song. No one stands a chance. If it doesn’t win it will be top three at the very least. They definitely put a lot of work into it although people like a bit of a show too so the all-white look might not work too well to get everyone’s votes). It’ll be interesting to see how Ukraine votes in regards to them considering they were always [12 points] block voting for each other in the past. Russia women always seem to have a lot of beauty marks on their skin in contrast to other countries – maybe its just they don’t cover them up with foundation, etc, makeup… She looks a bit like a more ‘Welsh’ version of Katherine Jenkins (who of course is Welsh but not ethnically ‘crab face’ Welsh i.e. small, squared, jawline and chin).

26 Albania: Elhaida Dani: I’m Alive: Already screwed before they began due to Russia’s absolute winning over of the audience. It’s very nice with a slower lead in. Absolute cleavage with a masking screen. It’s a very good song and if the running order was different it would have stood a better chance but it seems Austria has made the running order bottom heavy with all the impressive ones towards the end.

27 Italy: Il Volo: Grande Amore: Boy band look – apparently pop opera band. Ladykillers. Was a very good song I would like to hear again. Being the last probably means they are dead in the water sadly. They could easily win it though as they were very distinct should people not overlook them.

‘Voting time’ entertainment: Orchestras, male voice and female voice choirs, people whose heads were bridges (as if someone played Silent Hill 2 and got ideas…). The venue was ‘green’ i.e. in a big tent. Actually went really well on the night although if it rained it would go down in the history of the contest as one of the bad venues. I wonder if they destroyed the rain clouds by scattering silver into them as you can do if need be. Then they have a thirteen year old boy sing acapella. The traditional visit to the greenroom where you just know some acts have gone back and drunk as much as they can with some assurance they won’t have to perform, in the unlikely event they win, because there is no chance. Conchita Wurst featured far more this year than past winners were featured previously. Yes you have bearded woman Austria, yes she won the contest but she isn’t a great presenter so stop milking her.

Votes: Always the slow bit where the commentators complain about the block voting… I can’t be bothered to edit this bit so it may come across as quite cruel but then if you haven’t ever heard the British commentaries by Terry Wogan (who once called two presenters Dr Death and his assistant) or Graham Norton then I assure you I am being nice. HA ha ha one of them disappeared from technical faults so the presenters had to come back to them later. Russia are getting a lot of cheers until they are in the lead then there’s the drone of boos. (To be honest at least it’s not automatically boos like leaving housemates get on the British edition of Big Brother…) Moldova score giver has a very 1970s star trek parody porn star look… Russia/Italy/Sweden are in a three horse race for victory when we are only 8 of 40 countries into the running… the hosts remind everyone that tonight is about the music not politics regarding Russia being booed – which would have been nice if the hosts years ago said that in defence of the UK when there was the Middle East Conflict but then we didn’t get one vote and as Oscar Wilde once said “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”. Estonia vote announcer phwoar extravagant necklace but link went down. Wow Austria’s technical side is terrible with all these connection issues… Armenia vote announcer phwoar… Sweden Announcer looked like she escaped from a 1970s sci-fi series… Germany’s vote announcer looks like the opera diva from the adventures of Tintin… I notice Conchita Wurst is sat with the Russian group to ensure getting more screen time… Australia announcer is an anorexic lady of East Asian descent… COVER YOUR ARMS… Oh, Wurst is there to do the midway interview… Polina speaks very good English (I mean I assume she is Russian and not just representing them as other countries have done in the past coughEnglbertHumperdickcoughCelineDioncough)… Spain phwoar nice dress with Moroccan kind of panel patterning… Austria cutesy dorky face… Macedonia gave Albania 12 points and they didn’t cheer or thank them which is poor sportsmanship (althoguh they may not have known the cameras were on them admittedly)… Slovenia votes announcer loos like if Celine Dion dressed up as 1970-80s Cher … Hungary’s vote announcer has the loo of a middle aged mother of two ‘on a night out with her girlfriends and has done her hair and makeup’… UK announcer Nigella Lawson looks like a privileged twit with a broach over her major selling points but does the votes in foreign languages which was nice gesture. She still just seems to ‘be there’ and do very little nowadays… Georgia’s vote announcer has a 1980s lead vocalist look – AND THEY LOST HER… Lithuania’s vote announcer is mid-twenties to early thirties but styling herself as a cutesy tween and looks a little creepy with the clawed hands… Netherlands’ vote announcer dress looks bad with ultra-ultimate cleavage down to crotch with exposed spanks on the lower half as if she had the same dress as Albania’s singer and had to adjust it quickly… Poland’s vote announcer phwoar flower ring crown and showing the cleavage – Graham Norton noted she was the milkmaid from last year’s Polish entry so apparently he can recognise that cleavage anywhere (he is gay for those who don’t know who he is and does the commentary for Eurovision now Terry Wogan retired a few years ago)… She’s obviously making sure people don’t forget about last year’s entry although her face is a bit sharply featured it seems due to how she did her makeup or she had a really disturbingly severe face lift… Sweden now pull ahead of Russia and look like they may become runaway leaders… Russia announcer is Dmitri Shepelev with Action Man Eagle Eyes feature tries to joke about giving Russia 12 points and it didn’t go down well though he seemed nice… San Marino vote announcer showing the cleavage off with a low neckline lace dress and low hanging necklace… At this point it is clear Sweden has won but we still have a countries left… Iceland vote announcer her arms look as thick as her waist which is really disturbing though it’s because of dark panels on the sides of her dress… then the German commentator invades Graham Norton’s coverage and he doesn’t know why… Sweden is announced the winners though there were a few more countries left and ones they had skipped… Norway vote announcer has liquorice sweets patterned shoulder pads tried to joke falling off screen but fails and told to hurry up since the results are obvious and everyone wants to go home now… Portugal vote announcer phwoar though shiny skin and pastel pink dotted dress make her look like a Barbie wannabee… Estonia vote announcer Tanja phwoar with nice necklace most women would want… Georgia vote announcer Natia Bunturi phwoar with the 1980s band lead vocalist look… Yes these vote announcing bits are boring and have bad attempts at humour…

TL;DR: Sweden won with 300+ points though it was a close run thing with Russia up until the end and Italy just behind them. United Kingdom got 5 points ultimately. This year’s winner is given a crystal microphone.

The entrants have been taking it far too seriously the past couple of years and the show is no longer fun, the spectacle of the extravagantly staged performances isn’t as wonderful and eclectic as it once was in past years. Either you have the classic songs, the modern songs or the ‘sod it its not like we will win’ songs nowadays. Austria really messed up the international connections repeatedly and it really won’t be forgotten by the organisers in future so hopefully they will review what happened and ensure it doesn’t occur again as such faults should be a thing of the past.


Comment, Like, Follow – All are Welcome 🙂

I will tidy this entry up when the chance arises in the next few days but thought it best to just put the initial version up now. (Did that and can’t be bothered to alter it any further now)… Yes I use phwoar alot recently… I did a lot in the ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’ review too… Go read more of my stuff if you like.

Child 44 (2015)

During Stalin’s rule of the Soviet Union in the early 1950s, disgraced Ministry of State Security (MGB) Agent Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) uncovers a strange and brutal series of child murders by a serial killer who everyone claims does not exist because it is Soviet doctrine that capitalism creates serial killers, not communism.

I saw this film because Soviet Russia is not a topic often represented sympathetically in Western made films. They are the default ‘enemy’ in many spy films e.g. James Bond’s S.P.E.C.T.R.E. /SMERSH, movies and books respectively (though the latter did exist in real life briefly), where they are just cannon fodder decrying the evils of Capitalism while their leaders inevitably are corrupt hypocrites accruing as much wealth as they can. If the villain isn’t a Nazi during the early to mid twentieth century it can be assured Russian Communists are somewhere nearby listening through planted bugs. I hoped we would see individuals, flawed but rounded, dealing with events with a range of emotional responses befitting the situation but what we got was the usual ‘Russians feel only anger or nothing’ stereotypes but this time set within the frame work of a very weakly implimented murder mystery which seems to be forgotten about most of the time so it can be reitterated, for the hundredth time, how bad Communism was as if it wasn’t obvious already.

Cast: A selection of good actors with a poorly implemented adaption of the novel’s labyrinthine narrative to portray. Tom Hardy, as Leo Demidov, is very good in the leading role and proves he is a versatile actor but the script doesn’t give him much emotional range beyond anger and remorseful resignation to his situation. Gary Oldman, as General Nesterov, is serviceable but his role is limited during the film with his character going for a vindictive superior to being a steadfast ally with no real middle ground to explain his shift in behaviour. Noomi Rapace, as Raisa Demidov, was miscast. She has a face that I couldn’t get used to throughout the film. Maybe it’s that her eyes and nose looked very small for her face yet I have seen her in other films and had no issue with her appearance but there was something off about her here… if I am honest I have watched quite a few actual Russian films and so I must admit that her face is not at all appropriate and, if I am honest, her character felt very much dependant as being a foil to protray Leo either positively or negatively whenever the story required it thus leading her to come across as very opportunistic. However she was not as badly miscast as Fares Fares as Alexi Andreyey who just seems terribly out of placein his acting ability although it may have been due to his character being quite two dimensional as Leo’s friend, who inevitably is going to die at some point to increase the drama stakes of the narrative, so there was little to work with. They both give good performances with what they have to work with but do not fit the setting although you might argue no one here does.

I should note that there don’t seem to be any Russian actors involved. There is one Polish actress, Agnieszka Grochowska as Nina Adreeva, in a minor role but, aside from Josef Altin playing Alexander, who is of Turkish descent, everyone is a mix of Western European ethnicities especially it seems Swedish which is the ‘go to’ nationality for people playing Russians in Western films e.g. Rocky IV as they most often fit the propagandist image of the New Soviet man Stalin endorsed and Western propaganda, up until the fall of the Soviet Union, used often in films i.e. blonde haired, blue eyed and usually tall and physically imposing though that is not as much the case here. All the supporting actors, especially Joel Kinnaman as ‘evil team mate’ and antagonist Vasili Nikitin, do well in their roles but the main cast seem to be pressured into using the Russian accent which I felt hampered their performances as they had to juggle maintaining it and thus were unable to focus on giving the best performance possible.

Technical aspects: The film is really bogged down by certain style choices such as having everyone (apart from one actor with a single line of dialogue towards the end which is very jarring once you are used to the accent and hear his crystal clear elocution) speaking in very pronounced Russian accents. In contrast we have only Ron Perlman, as a comic relief caricature of Hollywood’s usual depiction of Russian soldiers, doing a hockey ‘Rooshian Akksent’ in 2001’s ‘Enemy At The Gate’ so all the dialogue is otherwise perfectly audible without having to over focus on it.

The colour palate of the film is of course very much geared towards earthy tones with some harsh contrasts in key scenes. The red of the uniform epaulletes, rich browns and greens of Leo’s Moscow apartment, the steely blues of the industrial areas and luscious greens and browns of the forest scenery. Ultimately the film could have been better served by being desaturated as the eye acknowledges the colour scale used and it is not aesthetically pleasing. There is an overt focus on showing the grimness of Soviet life but in doing so they forget to make the scenery interesting to maintain the audience’s attention believing the dry, expositional, dialogue alone will do this for them.

The cinematography is very standard which in a film like this, with so much dialogue and half-hearted efforts towards world building, really fails to maintain the audience’s interest. It is one of the only films where I have been uncomfortably shifting in my seat and looking at my watch within 40 minutes of the start. If they had panning shots of the scenery during conversations or mixed up close and long shots during events it would not be such a tired, dragging, experience. Perhaps this was intentional to further indicate to the audience how life was in the Soviet Union however this could easily have been done through showing the run down scenery, having the actors move with no great sense of urgency when moving – ultimately there are any number of techniques which could have been used to express this rather than sopping all movement of screen dead and have talking heads. Imagine if you went to the theatre and the actors just walked to the front of stage and recited their lines then returned to the side when it was the next persons turn to speak or you read a comic where all the artists depicted was talking heads. This is a technique that you are constantly made aware is exceptionally lazy when learning about these narrative styles yet this film relies on this flawed technique far too much when the dialogue itself is plodding and dull. Contrast the imagery of this film with A Driver For Vera, Водитель для Веры, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Driver_for_Vera ) set in 1962 and the contrast in the looks of the scenery are immense. One has an agenda for making every single moment of existence a grim, claustrophobically harrowing experience, while the other has an appreciation of the scenery and landscape.

It is worth watching and there are plenty of channels with the full film on them with English subtitles should you go look.

Life in the Soviet Union was brutal, the authorities were corrupt, people in authority abused their position while average citizens lived in fear of being persecuted based on unfounded allegations!

This is the overriding and heavy-handedly delivered message of the film. It is the same message you get in any films set in the Soviet Era when done by non-Russians (though for them it was a given and no doubt the older generations have reiterated their own first hand experiences of the Soviet era to them at every family gathering so it is a given). I would assume it was a given to anyone nowadays but there you go…

Who is this film for? The murder mystery is not the real focus but Leo’s conflict with the corrupt authority figures he encounters and the social ambivalence and apathy he encounters. The depiction of the Stalinist era is generic and has been seen time and time again in other films giving no new insight into people’s daily concerns. Everyone is a character archetype not a fully rounded individual. It seems like the multi-facetted novel has been unflatteringly adapted when the multiple threads would be better suited to a mini-series perhaps or even if they stripped the narrative bear ad only focused on one or two threads and omitted others?

So now onto a few points I noted during my viewing of the film in the cinema i.e. the ranting bit of the review:

Yevgeny Khaldei’s ‘Raising a Flag Over the Reichstag: After a close quarters gun battle Leo Demidov and his friend, Alexei, were the ones to put the flag over the Reichstag building. Alexei had a large number of watches he had taken off the dead and the photographer (is it meant to be Khaldei?) told him to take them off so the photo can be better used for propaganda purposes thus referring to the historical issues people had with the real photo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raising_a_flag_over_the_Reichstag ). I don’t know if this is actually meant to suggest it is the real life event or a sort of pseudo-real equivalent of the event. It was like someone making a film set during the Nixon administration of the USA and you got a sequence where the main character was one of the body guards present at JFK’s assassination. It felt a lazy attempt to make the audience feel the character is historically significant though an artificial construct.

The issue of Russia’s views on homosexuality are addressed: At one point, after Leo has left Moscow as he would not denounce his wife; there is a station master who was witness to a murder. It is revealed he is a homosexual and he is then persecuted. He is interrogated by Gary Oldman’s character, General Nesterov, and the names of other homosexuals are taken from him as they are, by default of being homosexuals, considered to be suspects in the murder of the children. These men are then rounded up and the last scene we see of the station master is him walking up to the unbarred train track and throwing himself under the train. Very Anna Karenina… It was a common issue worldwide during this period to assume homosexuals were also by default paedophiles in the tradition of Ancient Greek ‘boy love’. It is one of the more shameful prejudices that doesn’t get mentioned much nowadays, in more enlightened times, so at least the novel, and by extension the film, notes it and shows how arbitrary the assumption is when made and its tragic consequences. Let us not forget that this was well within the living memory of the generation that refused to acknowledge Alan Turing’s achievements due to his homosexuality for which he was convicted of indecency in January 1952. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Turing ). The film unfortunately seems to imply this was an exclusively Russian perception of homosexuality and not a generational one globally.

Russians are misogynistic: The film begins with a dinner party where Leo recounts how he met his wife and she had given him a false name. Once there are exiled from Moscow into a run down, backwaters, industrial town she reveals that not only did she lie about being pregnant, in order to save her own life thus damning them both, but also married him out of fear as he was part of the authorities and would have done something to her had she refused. After this they suddenly become far closer which to me was jarring and especially at the end when they decide to adopt the orphaned farmer’s daughters. There felt no development in their relationship but sudden leaps from one step to the next in order to progress the narrative. The film criticises how she feared him as a man and yet she ultimately becomes just a tool in his investigations by then end so the film seems to want its cake and eat it too. Whenever women appear in this film they are very maginalised, not due to the film’s subject, but the film makers maintaining the status quo for big budget American thrillers where men deal with serious issues while women are window dressing unless they are a vicitm. If you see how they do the ‘I married you out of fear’ scene you will understand how it could have been done far better and lost what was going to be quite a powerful scene where Leo would have to confront his own position in society as one of the MGB who citizens intrinsically feared. Instead we got a scene that made me feel like she was an ungrateful, self centred, coward who damned both of them which was definitely not the intention when originally written.

Communism was corrupt: There is a heavy reiteration that the bureaucracy of Soviet Russia was corrupt and there were repeated efforts to get people to obey government views unquestionly. Early on, after a list of names is given by a, presumably innocent but nonetheless chased and interrogated, man Leo is expected to get a confession from his wife admitting she is a spy for the British government. He refuses to denounce her as there is no evidence and so is sent away from Moscow and demoted to the local militia. His wife tells him on the train it was nothing but an experiment in blind obedience. I think I could sum it up as the wife was very unlikeable and was meant to be the voice of reason but instead seemed to endorse every negative misogynistic stereotype the film seemed to want to challenge but instead seemed to take pleasure in depicting.

Killers are all the same one dimensional creatures: We really learn nothing about him throughout the film until the final monologue he does and even then it really comes across not as the justifications, understandable or not, for his actions but a massive amount of very sudden exposition poorly used to draw a parallel that Demidov could have become like him. Except the killer is a cannibal who was in a Nazi concentration camp and it is suggested it wasn’t that experience which made him become, out of a necessity for personal survival, a cannibal recently but he was one as far back as his childhood in the orphange though I personally took that line of dialogue metaphorically as a rephrasing of ‘its a dog eat dog world’ not literally as some other viewers apparently have. It felt very cliche to the point I can’t hel but feel if this was a better film this would be one of the major moments that would be parodied it seems so arbitrary and ridiculously melodramatic without any real set up e.g. maybe in the background seeing a boy who is very noticeable in the films introduction of Leo, when he was a child escaping the orphange, who it then remmebered in retrospect and is suspiciously similar to the man we later encounter in the film. When the killer is revealed properly he has a distinct limp though before we see his face he walks relatively normal – you can watch the trailer and see there is no overly pronounced limp present. He doesn’t have a limp early on when we see him luring children away from a distance so we must ask: was he meant to have a limp throughout? Was there perhaps a scene in the book but omitted from the film explaining it? This ‘physical fault equals moral fault’ is a very old narrative device which has been used for centurys, perhaps most famously with the fictionalised version of the titular Richard III in William Shakespeare’s play, and it appears here without much context except to visually indicate to the audience immediately who the killer is and to give an easy to see fault with him. Except this is already done as he is dressed distinctly from the rest of the cast in a clean black suit when everyone else is in uniform or mottled earthy tones. therefore, for me, this film more or less ignores the cardinal rule ‘show don’t tell’ by reiterating his impropriety with a few scenes of him acting psychotically while alone which have no real context except to show how he drowns the boys and seems to consider it a sort of slef flagulation when done to himself. ‘he is fucked up’ the film makers seem to want us to think but it left me wondering if he wasn’t some parody of serial killers in better films. There is one scene where he brings a boy back to his home from the train station to his wife and we are shown a panning shot stopping on the framed photo of a boy. Was the boy at the train station his son or just a ‘replacement goldfish’? We only see his wife in this one sequence and she is never involved in the narrative again. The film has an annoying habit of introducing things then abandoning them as if to offer red herrings and keep you the audience guessing. Yes the overriding story here is a murder mystery but that doesn’t mean that the narrative itself needs to be a mystery to us! It doesn’t present itself as that kind of film and shouldn’t have delusions of grandeur about what it is capable of. If you introduce something which is not directly involved in the case, but as part of the world building, then it shouldn’t be presented to the audience this way then dismissed immediately. It was if there were ‘easter eggs’ as seen in other films but, and it is important to note this, these are franchised which have ht a certain level of social osmosis so someone not intimately familiar will still notice a reference e.g. many thing in the Marvel films calling back to the comics though not everyone will get every reference – it helps world build but is never suggested as something you need to know to enjoy the film you are currently watching.

Repeat the tag line because the audience are stupid: ‘There is no murder in paradise’ is a phrase repeated a few times during the film. It got tedious as we are all too aware of the oppositon Demidov is facing in persuing his investigation.

The unrealistic happy ending: I felt the ending was a bit too ‘Hollywood Happy’. There is a rather brutal fight during which the protagonists are later shown to have survived serious stab wounds and serious concussions from having their heads hit against rocks repeatedly. During an early part of the film Leo and his team mates are involved in chasing an escaped suspect to a farm house. At the farm house are a farmer, his wife and their two daughters. In Leo’s absence ‘Evil team mate’, who they earlier mocked as he was incapable of firing his rifle when fighting inside the German embassy, kills the farmer and his wife execution style as they are bound and kneeling in front of him begging for their lives protesting their innocence. Leo rushes over and hits him telling everyone to stop this before the ‘evil team mate’ is about to execute the girls. My problem with this scene is that Leo’s friend and a number of other soldiers are stood around and allow the executions but they are never considered part of the moral issue of the killings here.

So how does this mean the ending is poor? The girls recognise Leo as having been involved in the killing of their parents and yet at the end of the film they choose to be adopted by him. Even if he was not directly involved it is highly unlikely they would choose to go with someone associated with their parent’s killing. Even though the film at the start and end depicts the orphanages as brutal places I still find it unlikely the girls would go with him.

Orphans: Another aspect of the film is the theme of orphans. Leo is introduced as a child in an orphanage which he runs away from before being adopted, and renamed, by a man. The killer, in a poorly implemented monologue, tells Leo he too was an orphan and so ‘they are not so different’… I will be honest you learn more or less everything about the killer during this monologue as the previous scenes of him are him pretending to be affable to draw the boys away to murder them, practising the killing technique he uses or doing ‘movie psychopath’ things we have seen a hundred times before in better films (e.g. Se7en, Silence of the Lambs, et al). So is Leo adopting the girls an act of redemption? Him making amends for the killing of their parents by his ‘evil team mate’ Vasili? Is it suggesting that the next generation will have a better life and by doing this and establishing the Homicide Department of the Russian Authorities, which involves him being compliant and agreeing murder is a bourgeois issue that doesn’t exist in Russia expect due to the evil effects of outside forces (the killer was in Germany for a time and was corrupted by them). So in the end Demidov has won a ‘battle’ to find a single killer but lost his moral ‘war’ in achieving it but the film seems to not want to end on this low note.

Use of actual Russian and the adopting of Russian Accents by the cast: During the opening credits there is a shifting from Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet. I think the Cyrillic is actually in Russian but it moved quicker than I could read it. The thing I found a bit odd was how everyone does Russian accents. While it assists emersion for some audience members I found it quickly became tedious as the quality of the accents was very inconsistent. In comparison ‘Enemy at the Gates’, set in Leningrad during World War 2, where there is no attempt to do this, except Ron Perlman who seems to be in a comedy relief role, and to be honest I would prefer that as it comes across a little awkward with the cast doing it throughout. One actor, who appears only during a very brief scene, doesn’t do the accent and it really takes you out of the film and feels intentionally done. Russian is however spoken in the background throughout the film but obviously not of the time you will not be able to hear it clearly and it is usually generic things such as someone t the train station shouting ‘all clear’ to the train driver.

Anton Chekov once said that you should ‘show not tell’ your narrative. This film ignores that advice and delights in exposition heavy dialogue and reiterating its message that life was brutal during the Stalinist regime. Therefore when you want this film it is more a process in checking off the checklist of Soviet Union tropes, occasionally entertaining the concept of Leo dealing with his seemingly unloving wife and the murder investigation when he can get around to it, rather than a taut thriller. I would have preferred a hatch job adaption where they expanded the murder investigation, especially with the things they kept hinting about without context about the killer and cut out all the other tertiary plots than this half-hearted effort to cover everything with none of it feeling to hold any weight.

Apparently this film was banned in Russia. It was banned as they are about to celebrate the 70th anniversary over the Nazis and so having such a film decrying the failings of the Stalinist era would seem in ill taste at the moment. Perhaps if they delayed it a few years, as many other films tend to be between filming and distribution, it would find a more favourable view but at the moment to release it and criticise the Government for taking into consideration civilian’s sense of national pride during this anniversary seems to be distorted in Western reports of the ban. To be honest they haven’t missed anything due to the ban and more than likely anyone who wants to see it will do so despite the ban. That is the history of banned cinema with examples like Nosferatu, A Clockwork Orange, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, The Party and the People , etc so it definitely isn’t going to change now in the age of digital distribution. This ban is hardly similar to that of the Czech film The Party and The People which was made during the Soviet era and openly challenged it. This is a 2014 adaption of a novel written by a Western author criticising Stalinism. It was just poor timing and if there was a film released criticising Churchill or Thatcher on a significant anniversary I am certain it would receive criticism and be poorly received though admittedly not banned by the government though such acts are not beyond them.

Further reading:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/16/russia-child-44-film-ban-victory-nazi-germany

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/child-44-ban-rolls-soviet-789531

On an aside regarding the act of banning in Britain: I do remember the British government outright banning the Playstation 2 game ‘Rule of Rose’ because of it contained ‘lesbian overtones amongst underage school girls and sequences of intense, brutal, torture’. The lesbian overtones were mostly the innocent infatuation of children with an individual having a one sided obsession towards the protagonist and the torture sequences are always implied to be the embellished, warped, memories of the protagonist having suffered trauma at an unknown point. The overriding indication the player discovers during the game is that the protagonist was remembering her traumatic experiences at the orphanage and what was implied and imagined in childhood is made literal as we are playing through the mindscape of the character remembering her past not a physically real, in context, world where the events of the game are happening as we see them. The game begins after her parents die in an air ship fire after which she is sent to the orphanage. While there a girl, leader of a secret club of girls there who makes them do degrading things and offer her things in order to be members of this special club, becomes obsessed with the protagonist. We learn the stories of each of the girls throughout the game and it is slowly revealed or suggested than some bad things were happening at the orphanage like the head of the school was sexually abusing one girl. A key figure encountered during the game is the grounds keeper who is severely traumatised over the loss of his son. During the game the player is accompanied by a dog who helps you deal with the monsters that attack you but it is revealed towards the end of the game you are playing through the protagonists memories which have, if not become warped due to trauma, are being depicted very literally. The dog at the end of the game is revealed to have just been a soft toy she had been very attached to during her childhood at the orphanage. The tragic ‘final boss’ turns out to be the traumatised, mentally ill, grounds keeper who has dressed up as a dog to please his son having been manipulated by the obsessive girl pretending to be this son. Events take a turn for the tragic as he has already killed all the other girls you have grown to know at the orphanage throughout the game. Upon defeating him the player is given two choices: shoot him or let him commit suicide. There is a short sequence after this where we play the protagonist not as the adult we have known throughout the game but as her age during the real events as she wanders the empty orphanage and comes to terms with what happened. The game ends with her cathartically leaving the orphanage grounds at peace with her past. Why this long explanation of its plot? Because the government had a knee jerk reaction and just took others word for it that it was a game with no redeeming features rather than a darkly psychological game where we literally play through the protagonist’s memories which have become warded over the passage of time where the rumours of childhood and the later emotional maturity make her perception of events warp what we the player see literally portrayed on screen. No as far as the government are concerned it was a game about underage lesbian school girls and torture. Governments either enforce their views or try to stop controversy by ‘protecting’ people even if it is means it has to be based on reactionary, ill informed, information they are provided with instead of a full honest account. Regarding Child 44 I think the Russian Cultural Ministry were doing the latter despite what the media would like to think of them trying to force a state agenda.

If Soviet Russia interests you and you want to see Child 44 wait until you can get it cheap on DVD or can watch it on television while doing something else to ease the dragging nature of the slower scenes. Story telling is about light and dark yet this just keeps drilling down hard on the serious side of the scale and ends up alienating the audience through its insistence on trying to make everything seem so unremittingly dark. If you want Stalinist era films recommended go watch the following:

TL;DR: Child 44 had great potential with such a skilled cast but dropped the ball badly andwas a real bore with its narrative and messages.


I’m sure everyone missed these long winded posts… It is done now. For those of you who read it all here is a small reward: Elena Vaenga and company singing the World War 2 era (or ‘The Patriotic War’ as Russians know it) songs ‘Holy War’ and ‘Katyusha’ 🙂

Like, Comment, Follow – All are welcome.

Питер FM (Piter FM/Peter FM): 2006 Russian Film: Commentary and Review

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.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piter_FM

Starring:
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

Trailer:

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.

Today I Wrote Nothing Like Daniil Kharms

16. Today I wrote nothing. Doesn’t matter.

Daniil Kharms,The Blue Notebook, 9 January, 1937

23. To have only intelligence and talent is too little. One must also have energy, real interest, clarity of thought and a sense of obligation.

25. Enough of laziness and doing nothing! Open this notebook every day and write down half a page at the very least. If you have nothing to write down, then at least, following Gogol’s advice, write down that today there’s nothing to write. Always write with attention and look on writing as  a holiday.

Daniil Kharms,The Blue Notebook, 11 April, 1937


So I didn’t update for a few days due to my cat dying and issues at work. Over the next few days hopefully I will be able to knock out a few reviews of some DVDs I watched recently. Now I made the effort to type something it should hopefully come back into motion again.

Daniil Kharms  (Russian Даниил Иванович Хармс; 30 December [O.S. 17 December] 1905 – 2 February 1942) was an early Soviet-era surrealist and absurdist poet, writer and dramatist..He came to be known for his children’s literature. Not too much of his work is available in English, or at least it doesn’t feel like it is as so much of it was composed of notebooks, letters, etc which were passed around as he was deemed to be in direct conflict with the state approved and enforced Realism movement in the arts. Kharms was arrested on suspicion of treason in the summer of 1941. He was imprisoned in the psychiatric ward at Leningrad Prison No. 1. and died in his cell in February 1942—most likely, from starvation, as the Nazi blockade of Leningrad had already begun.

If you are at all interested in Russian literature or Absurdist/Surrealist writing I would recommend hunting out some of his works as, despite their fragmented style, they are amusing and an insight into the repressed counter-culture of Stalinist Russia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniil_Kharms