BBC Adaption Review – Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling

Overall the tone is awkward. It’s not dark enough to take seriously and so you start seeing all the narrative conveniences. The original book was apparently filled with dark humour and swearing but it seems both have been toned down for a general audience for fear children might see this due to Harry Potter. People, as a contrivance to push the narrative forward with little challenge, just seem to give Strike information with little if any justification – many breaching the confidentiality of information act time and time again. The characters in this challenge of deductive reasoning be they red herrings, antagonistic persons or actual criminals are all but given pantomime level depictions in terms of their overt antagonism.

Our leading man is an Oxford drop out ex-military police investigation branch member which is as Marty Stu a characterisation as you can do short of saying he’s a blood relative of Sherlock Holmes for a detective story. But he has a prosthesis. That’s his one permanent flaw. Everything else can be changed. He is the wish fulfilment figure for women who wish to ‘fix’ the men they’re involved with. Robin finds him down and out but through her presence he gradually becomes a better man if not detective.

Robin is… bland? I want to say bland but it’s more true to say she is a character who has no real issues (although I know how her major traumatic ‘character development’ revealled later in the series which… suffice to say it was hinted at but it’s still the most blatant ‘if you don’t sympathise with this character and fogive all her sins instantly after knowing this you’re a monster’ tactic possible). She is there as an audience surrogate but doesn’t seem to have much development beyond some quite generic ‘recognises the value in this gruff but talented man’ aspects and an innate ability to gossip and lie using a bad Liverpool accents on the phone. Her fiancé is portrayed as a bit of an arse in order to make Strike seem better by comparison and attept to force us to sympathise with her if nothing else. She has a job offered by Strike yet applies for another job and is offered it (arguably Strike’s job was temporary and she needed something more secure but the series never gives this point it’s due), gets given a dressas a ‘bonus’ for her help (which is a bit sexist ironically considering how far Rowling goes out of her way to declare herself a feminist) but overall she just seems to be another narrative device with little charm.

Their names are a little on the nose too.

Comoran, while being the name of an Irish folklore giant, is also one letter off cormorant (hilariously closely connected to a bird known as a shag in what has to be some of the most juvenile ‘pretending to be mature’ naming possible by an author I’ve ever seen) are described by the RSPB as

“A large and conspicuous waterbird, the cormorant has an almost primitive appearance with its long neck making it appear almost reptilian. It is often seen standing with its wings held out to dry. Regarded by some as black, sinister and greedy, cormorants are supreme fishers which can bring them into conflict with anglers and they have been persecuted in the past.”

… so basically the film noir detective of the bird world.

While cute little robins are described as:

“sing[ing] nearly all year round and despite their cute appearance, they are aggressively territorial and are quick to drive away intruders. They will sing at night next to street lights.

… Robin. Batman. Sidekick. Also small but ready for a fight. Even Rowling had Strike acknowledge it in the book.

So our leading man is old school, a little pompous seeming and previously persecuted (and also he strikes!) while his sidekick is small but pluckyour grizzled male lead and his plucky, red head, young side kick and probable future love interest.

Show Premise

Cormoran Strike, a war veteran turned private detective operating out of a tiny office in London’s Denmark Street, is wounded both physically and psychologically. His unique insight and his background as a Special Investigation Branch Investigator prove crucial in solving three complex cases, which have eluded the police.

… Or, as with a lot of pulp fiction writing, ‘the police solved the case with the evidence at hand BUT THEY WERE WRONG watch as our intrepid, Ayn Randian wet dream of a protagonist,hero through brute force, social connections, illegal methods and sheer ‘right place at the right time’ luck achieves the impossible and reveals the truth! Women want him, men want to be him.

As mentioned everyone seems to have, even if only for a moment before dropping out, attended Oxford or Cambridge. The dual purpose being that Rowling is writing to reflect her audience because, it seems to her, only the most educated people apparently read books (apart from, of course, everyone who bought her books who didn’t attend one or the other of those institutions thus making her a worldwide best selling author rather than a literary curio) or these sort of things only occur to ‘the beautiful people’ and social elite whose lives are just so much more interesting than we common folk.

Often you would see that happen with Agatha Christie too but in fairness she was churning so many books out she needed to have as many instantly recognised short hands, e.g. people who go to Oxford or Cambridge are highly intelligent, wordly, knowledgeable and therefore would deduce with some evidence the facts of a crime, as many different locations as possible for variety to appeal (don’t like country estates? How about a village? The seaside? How about aboard moving trains?) and thus it was a bit of a ‘cheat’ since such culturally elite people were financially capable and prone to exotic foreign travel which still wasn’t anywhere near as commonplace as it is nowadays so addeed to the writing’s appeal. It aso reflected the end of the Imperial era’s mindset of venturing into the world and conquering the local troubles – which in this genre’s case is usually a murder or theft. However Rowling is writing that era’s detective story in the modern age and it is an awkward fit resulting in, ironically, a far narrower world in direct contrast to the same figures about a century ago.

In case you’re wondering the second book involves the murder of an author so she fell into that classic ‘write what you know’ author specific trap that early in the series! Stephen King would be proud.

Not one risky step whatsoever is taken in telling the story. If asked ‘please give me the most stereotypical detective story possible’ no longer will we turn to Agatha Christie, who more or less defined the genre single-handedly so originated what others would copy until it became a cliche, but we will turn to Rowling… oh I mean ‘Galbraith’ though we all know it’s her. If you are from Britain and remember when the news covered that it had been revealed she had been writing under a pseudonym then it was this particular book that was being referred to. I guess, as far as the publishers were concerned, it wasn’t selling well enough for such a high value author so they needed to ‘leak’ her name to boost sales.

You can have cliché characters, I mean 90% of literary detectives from the past few decades could fit into the depiction of Strike, apart from his leg, and you wouldn’t notice. Grizzled, likes a drink, ‘seen things’ in combat/police work and generally dislikes humanity except when women throw themselves at them for a quickie. One day someone will write a cross over where one detective replaces the other and no one notices until they actually see their face.

I think my main issue with this adaption, on the assumption the book covers these things, is we get small, but sequence destroying, skips in events. For example does Strike ever lock his office’s entrance? It must be on a latch as every walks in and out of it freely and occasionally people are sat in there waiting though both Strike and Robin hadn’t been in since yesterday. It’s a narrative device we often unconsciously witness. As an example: if you see a character pick up a key the audience acknowledge this and therfore you can skip to them opening the door and without  literally depicting them put the key in the lock – but here we don’t even have the ‘key’ mentioned in passing let alone seen sometimes before seeing the results. In the context of this series it seems everyone immediately gives Strike their life story and not barrier stops him except for tension (e.g. the safe opening). Nor, if I’m honest, do there seem to be any repercussions to certain actions. Does no one wonder where Lula’s will came from when Strike hands it over? Do we really think it would be as easy as Strike pretending to be taking a phone call to walk right into the studio of Guy Some? The police detective seems to just give Strike case information freely without quit pro quo. Strike pays off a criminal to steal the Satnav from the car and it’s never mentioned otherwise.

Everything slots too easily into to place to the point there is no risk nor resistance to Strike uncovering the truth – he even gives chase through a crowded market with little issue though he has an apparently ill fitting prosthesis! It all just comes too easily. If solving the mystery, as with Agatha Christie, isn’t the focus then give us more nuanced character development not just characters who are deemed highly intelligent because you name drop Oxford and Cambridge, are not morally good or physically capable just because they served in the army (was the criminal suggested to be ex-military? If so the depiction of ex-service men as either hero or villain is damning and isn’t a positive considering how many in real life find themselves incapable of re-adapting to civilian life thus falling between the cracks if they’ve no support) and not strangely flawless just because they’re female.

Apart from Rochelle, who seems more a figure of pity, all the women seem successful intelligent and only have faults because of the men they’re involved with. It’s a strangely anti-feminist (e.g. ‘here’s a dress as a bonus’, engagement issues being the main issue for Robin and Strike’s ex seems to instantly not just get re-engaged but marrying someone else in what seems to be a very brief time period), yet simultaneously misandranistic, tone posing as feminist as Rowling has with women where they’re both depicted as perfect, highly intelligent, beings surpassing their male counterparts with ease in every way but at the same time completely reliant upon them though every man has so critical flaw making them anything but sympathetic save for Strike as the leading man whose only permanent ‘flaw’ is a physical one. Most of the male characters are depicted as unrepentant in their antisocial behaviour and yet our leading man Strike, to a limited degree since this is the first book in an assured series (which other authors cannot reply on happening so their characters will evolve over a book), has some small progression from a misanthrope drunkard to a man slowly overcoming his limitations and finding worth in his life. Which is implied to be thanks to our heroine and her plucky attitude entering his life and not his own personal development having closure on what seemed a mutually destructive relationship with his ex. He just hadn’t met the right woman yet to make him a better man. The closest we got to a negative depiction of a woman was Strike’s ex who, after apparently having a very troubled relationship with him which they repeatedly tried to repair, quickly moved on though it’s presented as hypergamy. Oh and the ‘blow job for a fiver’ woman who just seemed, in the context of the series, to be a repugnant caricature of working class people or those on benefits – which Rowling famously once was before the first Harry Potter book got published and found it’s audience. It’s the sort of depiction of the less well off you only see in works of the pre-Victorian literature unless it’s by someone like Charles Dickens, Irvine Welsh, Niall Griffiths or Dorota Masłowska and others where it’s used for social commentary to discuss why these people ended up like this and with their often jaded worldviews.

You don’t get that with Rowling. Bad guys are bad guys. Men are flawed and most can’t be redeemed. Women are perfect except when they rely on men. Men need a woman’s intervention to change. Working class people are very likely criminal scum unless they’re too stupid to be. Basically J K Rowling would like to be the 21st century Agatha Christie but hasn’t accounted, realistically, for shifts in both literature and society.

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Marvel Missions – Trading Card Game

Over 270 cards to collect.

8 per packet.

 

Cards in the pack I bought:

22: CHARACTER: Howard Stark [Captain America: The First Avenger]: Power Value: 38

25: CHARACTER: Nick Fury [Captain America: The Winter Soldier]: Power Value: 69

90: ALLY: Captain America and Scarlet Witch [Avengers: Age of Ultron] Power Value: 69

117: ALLY: Thor and Jane Foster [Thor the Dark World]: Power Value: 53

151: WEAPON: Hydra Chitauri Blaster [Avengers: Age of Ultron]: Power Value: 66

184: VILLAIN: Heinz Kruger [Captain America: The First Avenger]: Power Value: 45

234: CHARACTER: Natasha Romanoff [The Avengers]: Power Value: 73 [mirror foil card]

248: CHARACTER: Black Panther [Captain America: Civil War] Power Value: 83 [holo foil card]

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HOW TO PLAY

Step 1: Know your cards!

Marvel Missions is a game for 2 players. To win, you must complete game missions by defeating opponent!

Step 2: Assemble your team!

Take 20 cards from your deck and shuffle them. Then hold them face-up in your hands.

There are 2 great ways to play Marvel Missions!

BEGINNERS: Play until all cards have been used. Whoever has completed the most Red, Blue and Black Missions wins! Choose your Mission before you begin. Both players must play the same mission.

ADVANCED: Take on Avengers-level Missions where the first person to complete an Iron, Steel or Gold Mission wins! Choose your Mission before you begin. Both players must play the same Mission.

Step 3: Commence your Mission!

Both players take the first card from their hand and compare the Power Values.

Step 4: Complete your Mission!

The Player with the winning card puts it in their chosen Mission pile and the losing card returns to the bottom of the deck. Keep playing until you’ve got a winner!

TOP TIP: Make sure you have cards from a mixture of categories, as different categories will be needed to complete particular missions!

USE EVERY CARD TO WIN!

As well as Characters and Villains there are Weapons, Allies, Vehicles and Locations. All must be used to gain victory and complete Missions!

In the event of a tie, draw the next cards.

Step 5: MISSIONS COMPLETED

Mission Index

Red Missions [Beginner]

1: 1 Character / 1 Vehicle / 1 Villain

2: 2 Characters / 1 Vehicle / 1 Villain

3: 3 Characters / 1 Vehicle / 1 Villain

Blue Missions [Beginner]

1: 1 Character / 1 Ally / Weapon

2: 2 Characters / 1 Ally / Weapon

3: 3 Characters / 1 Ally / Weapon

Black Missions [Beginner]

1: 3 Characters / 2 Weapons / 2 Villains

2: 3 Characters / 2 Allies / 2 Vehicles

3: 3 Characters / 2 Weapons / 1 Location

Iron Mission [Advanced]

4 Characters / 3 Allies / 1 Vehicle / 2 Villains

Steel Mission [Advanced]

4 Characters / 3 Allies / 1 Weapon / 1 Location

Gold Mission [Advanced]

5 Characters / 2 Allies / 1 Weapon / 1 Villain / 1 Location

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REVIEW

I paid £1 for a packet of 8 cards which I supose is better value than some other series I’ve reviewed. It promotes that there are ‘Guardians of the galaxy vol. 2 cards inside lucky packets’ so to me that means they’re advertising you’ll get cards associated with the most recent, as of writing this, Marvel film but in reality they’re the ‘chase cards’ – or in plain English the cards they have printed very few of so you buy more packets in order to get them. I didn’t notice until noting the information down but the ‘mirror’ and ‘holographic’ foil cards are hardly distinct at first glance. It hardly seems worth their effort to have had both versions. I can only imagine the ‘super holographic’ foil cards have that diamond patterning that other cards series refer to as their holographic ones.

This series has high quality cards in terms of materials and the quality of the still frames from the films or the promotional photos used for the cards but otherwise feel incredibly bland. In truth you could argue that has been Marvel’s marketing strategy across the board when you consider how their use of digital correction in the films leads to there being no ‘true’ black to shadows leading to a washed out look and the indistinct music used in the films [go on, test yourself right now and see if you can hum the following: Batman’s theme, Superman’s theme, Spiderman’s Theme (the cartoon version more than the films admittedly is the one we all know)…. now how about Captain America’s? Thors? How about Iron Man’s? Leif motifs aside, which you can argue are the themes we remember, can you recall any music in the Marvel films? And no any of the tracks from Quill’s tapes in Guardians of the Galaxy do not count. It’s that generic a sound Marvel have opted for].

I don’t feel the game is going to be that enjoyable if you did get enough cards to play it to be honest. How many packs would you need to play it too? I would imagine, accounting for randomisation, about 5 if you’re lucky so that’s a £5 investment for 40 cards minimum. It plays similar to Top Trumps but with a few more restrictions. It’s a little too fiddly for first time card game players, which will likely be young children who have the Marvel bug and want to play it, but then I can’t see the strategic possibilities that could attract the more seasoned table top card gamer to embrace it. It sits in that awkward middle ground between the two markets and might be forgotten sooner than even a standard ‘picture on the front, standard blurb on the back’ collectable card series would be.

To their credit they’ve tried something new but it doesn’t look like it will work out as they’ve tried to be something for everyone and the only way this project will recoup costs is if it became an international fad. Then again with how much recycling has been done with stock photo assets here it’s probably been incredibly cheap, for a well established multinational organisation, to produce in order to gain a little of a market they have rarely been involved in. I know that there are the Heroclix available in specialist shops but these sorts of games don’t tend to last long in the mainstream and are the passion of a niche community which Marvel, regarding their cinematic universe, don’t invest in preferring to get a few dollars from many people across the globe than have the investment of a smaller community who will spend high amounts should the game appeal to them and a community exist (the latter being the most important variable and one they have very little control over).

But I suppose that’s the point. It’s just testing the waters and will be deemed an acceptable loss in the long run. After all did any of us really think the Pokemon card game would still be going strong over a decade after it began? No doubt they thought with Marvel’s appeal they could replicate the success but they forgot that it’s the underlying game which has kept the Pokemon version going all these years and it’s evolution in terms of rules and other elements not just because it’s part of the Pokemon franchise.

Ultimately it’s not worth buying these cards. If you want an easy to access version of this game you can play at any age and you get a full card set to be played with right out the packet go buy the Marvel themed Top Trumps set. I haven’t gone to see what it’s called but I have no doubt there is a Marvel themed set considering all the franchises they’ve done sets for by now. In fact for all I know there are sets for each individual film. Even if you spend £5 to buy the Top Trumps set it’s still more cards and potential game play than spending the same amount of money on these collectable cards. These might appeal to Marvel fans or collectors speculating they’ll be rare in the future, due to no one buying them, but that’s a gamble I don’t feel will pay off as all the ‘modern rarity’ speculation requires you buy everything and people just don’t have the money or patience for it. The imagery on the cards is all available at a quick internet image search or freeze frame of the films so… that just leaves the game and that feels incredibly weak and not worth the effort of investing in as there’s little if any strategy even for children to enjoy. If you get a special foil card of your favourite character you might like it but… no.

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Look out for special cards in packets including Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Cards:

Mirror foil cards 1:1

Holographic foil cards 1:2

Super holographic foil cards 1:3

 

Published by Topps Europe Limited,

18 Vincent Avenue, Crownhill,

Milton Keynes, MK8 0AW, UK

Produced by Topps.

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(GB) Warning! Not suitable for children under 36 months. Small parts – choking hazard.

(DK) Advarseli! Ikke egnet til born under 36 maneder. Sma dele – kvaelningsfare.

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a 1962 play by Edward Albee. It examines the breakdown of the marriage of a middle-aged couple, Martha and George. Late one evening, after a university faculty party, they receive an unwitting younger couple, Nick and Honey, as guests, and draw them into their bitter and frustrated relationship.

The play is in three acts, normally taking a little less than three hours to perform, with two 10-minute intermissions. The title is a pun on the song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” from Walt Disney’s Three Little Pigs (1933), substituting the name of the celebrated English author Virginia Woolf. Martha and George repeatedly sing this version of the song throughout the play.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won both the 1963 Tony Award for Best Play and the 1962–63 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play. It is frequently revived on the modern stage.

Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill star in a new production of the play, directed by James MacDonald, at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London currently (early 2017). This is the production I shall be discussing in this post from this point on though I do discuss the play in a broader aspect too while doing this.

Stage Layout

whose afraid of virginia woolf staging

 

Beige: stage floor

Light grey: Raised areas

Dark Grey: The entrance and the stairs leading up to the bedrooms.

Green: Access off stage. The lefthand door goes to the kitchen, the middle is the entrance to the house and living room and the one on the right leads to the toilet.

Purple: Offstage. I guess those sat on the right would have had some limited view but most events occur towards the front of stage.

Orange: The drinks trolley and the record player.

Red: the seating.

Brown: On the left the fireplace, centrally the table and the cabinet on which the piece of art sits.

Yellow: The triangle is the art piece they comment onn in the first act, the circles the bells that get hit at one point and the diamond a free standing light.

Thick black: Walls.

This image is an estimation of how everything was placed on stage. Kirsty Walk, during the brief break between acts 2 and 3 told us about the staging. The couch and lower level is set out like a boxing ring into which the characters enter to confront each other with the fireplace, doorway and reading areas act as the ringside where they take respite from the frisson of events as observers.

Plot summary

Act One: “Fun and Games”

George and Martha engage in dangerous emotional games. George is an associate professor of history and Martha is the daughter of the president of the college. After they return home, Martha reveals she has invited a young married couple, whom she met at the party, for a drink. The guests arrive – Nick, a biology professor (who Martha thinks teaches maths), and his wife, Honey. As the four drink, Martha and George engage in scathing verbal abuse of each other in front of Nick and Honey. The younger couple is first embarrassed and later enmeshed. They stay.

Martha taunts George aggressively, and he retaliates with his usual passive aggression. Martha tells an embarrassing story about how she humiliated him with a sucker-punch in front of her father. During the telling, George appears with a gun and fires at Martha, but an umbrella pops out. After this scare, Martha’s taunts continue, and George reacts violently by breaking a bottle. Nick and Honey become increasingly unsettled and, at the end of the act, Honey runs to the bathroom to vomit, because she had too much to drink.

Act Two: “Walpurgisnacht”

Traditionally, “Walpurgisnacht” is the name of an annual witches’ meeting (satiric in the context of the play). Nick and George are sitting outside. As they talk about their wives, Nick says that his wife had a “hysterical pregnancy”. George tells Nick about a time that he went to a gin-mill with some boarding school classmates, one of whom had accidentally killed his mother by shooting her. This friend was laughed at for ordering “bergin”. The following summer, the friend accidentally killed his father while driving, was committed to an asylum, and never spoke again. George and Nick discuss the possibility of having children and eventually argue and insult each other. After they rejoin the women in the house, Martha and Nick dance suggestively. Martha also reveals the truth about George’s creative writing escapades: he had tried to publish a novel about a boy who accidentally killed both of his parents (with the implication that the deaths were actually murder), but Martha’s father would not let it be published. George responds by attacking Martha, but Nick separates them.

George suggests a new game called “Get the Guests”. George insults and mocks Honey with an extemporaneous tale of “the Mousie” who “tooted brandy immodestly and spent half her time in the up-chuck”. Honey realizes that the story is about her and her “hysterical pregnancy”. The implication is that she trapped Nick into marrying her because of a false pregnancy. She feels sick and runs to the bathroom again.

At the end of this scene, Martha starts to act seductively towards Nick in George’s presence. George pretends to react calmly, reading a book. As Martha and Nick walk upstairs, George throws his book against the door. In all productions until 2005, Honey returns, wondering who rang the doorbell (Martha and Nick had knocked into some bells). George comes up with a plan to tell Martha that their son has died, and the act ends with George eagerly preparing to tell her. In what is labelled the “Definitive Edition” of the script, however, the second act ends before Honey arrives.

Act Three: “The Exorcism”

Martha appears alone in the living room, shouting at the others to come out from hiding. Nick joins her. The doorbell rings: it is George, with a bunch of snapdragons in his hand, calling out, “Flores para los muertos” (flowers for the dead), a reference to the play and movie A Streetcar Named Desire, also about a marriage and outside influences. Martha and George argue about whether the moon is up or down: George insists it is up, while Martha says she saw no moon from the bedroom. This leads to a discussion in which Martha and George insult Nick in tandem, an argument revealing that Nick was too drunk to have sex with Martha upstairs.

George asks Nick to bring Honey back for the final game – “Bringing Up Baby”. George and Martha have a son, about whom George has repeatedly told Martha to keep quiet. George talks about Martha’s overbearing attitude toward their son. He then prompts her for her “recitation”, in which they describe, in a bizarre duet, their son’s upbringing. Martha describes their son’s beauty and talents and then accuses George of ruining his life. As this segment progresses, George recites sections of the Libera me (part of the Requiem Mass, the Latin mass for the dead).

At the end of the play, George informs Martha that a messenger from Western Union arrived at the door earlier with a telegram saying their son was “killed late in the afternoon…on a country road, with his learner’s permit in his pocket” and that he “swerved, to avoid a porcupine”. The description matches that of the boy in the gin-mill story told earlier. Martha screams, “You can’t do that!” and collapses.

It becomes clear to the guests that George and Martha’s son is a mutually agreed-upon fiction. The fictional son is a final “game” the two have been playing since discovering early in their marriage that they are infertile. George has decided to “kill” him because Martha broke the game’s single rule: never mention their son to others. Overcome with horror and pity, Nick and Honey leave. Martha suggests they could invent a new imaginary child, but George forbids the idea, saying it was time for the game to end. The play ends with George singing, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” to Martha, whereupon she replies, “I am, George…I am.”

Review

When people debate the greatest plays ever written this one is regularly in top 10s and rightly so, when acted well it is one of the most devastating evenings of theatre you can encounter.

However the live broadcast of the current production I saw of it was not…

In a sentence I found that subtlety was thrown out for overt caricature which led the dark dry humour of the play to be performed as if it was an American sitcom.

There are only four roles in the play.

Martha – (Imelda Staunton) A screeching loud New Englander

the daughter of the president of the college

George – (Conleth Hill) an associate professor of history

A put upon ‘family man’ with a whiny nasal tonality

Nick – (Luke Treadaway) A stereotypical all American corn fed jock

a biology professor (who Martha thinks teaches maths)

Honey – (Imogen Poots) A squeaky voiced, ditzy, North West all American girl

Nick’s childhood sweetheart and wife

I think what set it off on the wrong foot was the preceding short documentary we were presented with about the play’s history with talking head after talking head telling us of how Albee has humorous dialogue. This led to certain members of the audience laughing at every few lines as if a laugh track was playing in their head telling them when, where and to what degree to laugh.

Do you ever feel like you’re the young child in the children’s story ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’? That is how I feel about this particular production. It has received glowing reviews but the bitterness of the characters and their predicament is lost in people doing the broadest impressions of Americans they can manage. For the time period and location the play is set it’s not inaccurate but I kept getting the feeling more effort was put into that side of the production than working on the nuances of each exchange between the characters. Maybe I just feel Imelda Staunton is too old to play the role. Yes controversial. How dare I say such a thing of a living legend. But it reminds me of when, in opera, you have people with visible grey hair performing the role of teenagers because they’re the ones with the ability to do so. The performance is good but when you have a very short woman in her 60s. Playing a woman in her 50s, pawing at a tall 32 year old (playing a 28 year old) it comes across as false he would have, at least in this production, an all but implied sexual liaison while his wife lies drunk in the toilet.

The whole production is oddly paced and plays out in the style of a 1960s sitcom in tone. I think what suits it better is to play it far more straight, to allow the black humour of the passive aggression play out without flourishes. Perhaps what I instinctively felt was there was no energy between the performers. Of course it’s about dysfunctional relationships but even that has an energy to it which I found lacking here and instead replaced with energy you expect of a comedy which doesn’t fit the tone I was expecting.

Imelda Staunton all but yells her lines. Each. And. Every. Time. This is a great acting by a living theatre legend? Her performance is praised but there is no nuance. Either she’s shouting, thrusting herself at Nick or rattling off stories intending to shame her husband… until the final scene which is performed well but is too little too late. Nuance be damned. It’s far too over the top. I saw her, in person, performing the role of Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother Rose in the 2015 production of Gypsy and can’t help but feel she has brought over some of that behaviour when reprising the American accent which was a mistake. She is a good actor but something in the direction has led her and the others astray. Less shouting and I probably would have enjoyed it more. There’s a way to be loud without coming across as if every line should be shouted and she is more than skilled enough to do so.

Conleth Hill… I don’t know what to say. He plays the role of a put upon family man from a 1950s American sitcom. Burton played the role as a mild mannered yet passively aggressive man of letters while Hill plays the role as… Varys from Game of Thrones (who he plays) so I am a bit concerned he lacks range as I’ve not had the chance to see him in other productions. If you know Nathan Lane and how he performs comedy roles just imagine him in the role and you’re more or less where I was watching this. What are meant to be bitter barbs of a frustrated man come across like catty comments more fitting of a stereotyped gay character. Maybe that’s something they were implying in this production though I feel I’m giving them more credit that they deserve.

Luke Treadaway plays his role overly safe if not quite bland. Imagine a jock from a comedy film or all American young hero from a war film. There you go you know how he came across both aurally and physically. Admittedly the character lends himself to being played that way but it’s too blunt. The liaison between Nick and Martha comes across as so sudden and forced due to how things have been staged that it’s as if you put two cats on heat in a box and watched them writhing into each other. Partially intentional of course but a bit too forced here when the others are in the room still.

Imogen Poots also plays her role somewhat safe if not overly straight with little if any nuance. Someone apparently watched Grease and decided to replicate a Pink Ladies. The role is a foil for the others and is meant to offer some levity to the deeply embittered proceedings but here, where everything is on the verge of spilling into slapstick, it’s hard to make the role have any weight sadly. She is a good actress and makes the most of what she can thus stealing a few scenes but usually gets left in the sidelines. Often quite literally by being offstage for most of acts two and three.

There is, as the preceding documentary insisted, humour in the dialogue but by drawing attention to it with slapstick like delivery undermines the underlying tragedy of the narrative involving a marital breakdown and how the characters feel trapped by social conventions.

Each person is ignoring reality and perpetuating a socially acceptable facade. They do so to appear as successful members of society when in reality each of them is, in their own way, severely damaged. In their overwrought efforts to fit social norms they only exacerbates their problems until confronted with their reality which ultimately breaks them. Be it Martha marrying George because she wanted to remain a part of her feckless father’s world in which she herself could never impress him. George never becoming head of the History department. Nick who married his childhood sweetheart because that’s what everyone expected of him (especially after the phantom pregnancy) or Honey who you could argue remains a cypher to us beyond her existence as Nick’s wife.

The costumes were what you would expect so there is no fault there and the stage design gives an over burdened, claustrophobic, atmosphere helping emphasis the intensity of the character’s interactions with it’s excessive furniture tightly packed into a small area. Some liberties were taken in order to make it more of a chamber drama than other productions might but on the whole you don’t miss anything substantial.

The play is good. This production is not.

If you have never seen a production of this play before then go watch the film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. I never suggest watching the film as, of course, it’s a completely different experience – however in this case I think the real life relationship of Burton and Taylor lent the dialogue exchanges a depth that is hard to replicate though, by their own admission, it took a toll on their relationship and Taylor felt she was playing Martha too much in real life afterwards. I feel the play is better played understated and straight while this version has overplayed the humorous aspects.

Personally I feel the delicate balance required for this play is lost and makes me wonder if, in trying to play up to the humour inherent in Albee’s dialogue, James MacDonald unintentionally played up the humour to differentiate this production from others and in doing so completely undermined the drama of the piece. It discredits the themes of reality versus illusion, as all comedy requires some level by trivialising or satirising of reality in order for us to cope with it’s harshness, and the social expectations both we and society expect of each other which few, if any can live up to.

Playing it for laughs too much means the impact of the reality is muted and because Martha is played over the top we see her more as a caricature not as a tragic figure who feels the need to exaggerate her actions in order to garner a reaction – first from a father who all but ignores her when she doesn’t serve his purpose and then a husband she feels is inattentive to her needs.

Nick is the overachiever being both an athlete and a prodigy who got his masters at 19 years old. He has to get things right at all times because that is what is expected of him. Even in the bed room he is expected to be a stud but ultimately, like all the men in Martha’s life, failing her as a ‘flop’. Honey gets pregnant (albeit it’s proven to be a phantom pregnancy soon after) so of course he will marry her as any good guy would. Failure is not an option.

Contrasting to him is George to whom failure is the only option and like any underachiever he plays the role of satirist playing out fictional narratives over and over to trivialise the dramas of reality. He fails Martha by not having children and by not being able to stand up to nor replace her father as a potent, in both senses, male figure in her life.

Honey… is a cypher. Is Honey even her real name or just a moniker everyone calls her by just like Lady Bird Johnson in real life because that’s the only name anyone around her uses? Do we hear of anything she does exclusive of Nick? Thus she is in the role of the trophy wife, as George was the trophy husband expected to have achieved but ultimately failing too for Martha.

Honey and George mirror each other as ‘failures’ – he as an academic and husband and she as a traditional housewife meant to serve her husband and cause him no trouble. Both fail to bear children in comparison to their alpha partners who, over the nights proceedings, are drawn to each other and have a tryst which ultimately leads them to realise that it’s not an equal they need but a partner who compliments and supports them. Honey, despite drinking, plays the doting wife to her husband obeying him when leaving while George, as Martha mocks at one point, makes her laugh and as the play ends he tries, but fails, to comfort her as she admits she is deeply scared now her bravado has been stripped away and she accepts reality now George has stopped humouring her about their son and no doubt any number of unspoken illusions they have maintained with one another until this point.


This review might be a bit patchy but I keep writing things and not posting them so expect, in the following few weeks, reviews of things that are a bit out of date…

Eurovision 2017

Grand Final: Saturday, 13 May, 2017

Location: International Exhibition Centre, Kyiv, Ukraine

Host broadcaster: NTU

Presented by Oleksandr Skichko, Volodymyr Ostapchuk & Timur Miroshnychenko

EBU Supervisor: Jon Ola Sand

The theme this year was ‘Celebrate Diversity’.

How best to represent that? Three conventionally attractive white, male model looking, presenters groomed to within an inch of their lives. The real theme seemed to be to cause as much epilepsy across Europe as possible considering how many rapidly flashing lights were used constantly throughout the night this year. I myself ended up with a headache. Also they seemed really petty about people saying ‘Kee-ehV’, like the food, instead of the correct pronunciation ‘Keh-eff’ to the point they used the alternate transliteration to enforce it. I doubt it made any difference in the end.

Also, since it was such a big story, it has to be mentioned that the Russian entry, Julia Samoylova performing Flame is Burning, was refused entry into the country. The Eurovision organisers, in fairness, tried to ensure Russia could compete by suggesting another entrant be submitted at short notice. Russia refused on principle. So the offer that Julia could perform via satellite was made but this too was refused. It’s either their entrant can perform on the same stage as everyone else or nothing at all. In the end it was nothing at all.

‘Eurovision isn’t about politics’ I often hear said. It’s hard to make that claim when there is still block voting for neighbouring countries by their judging panels and things like this occur.

Hearing the song again after the final event it’s better than some that did get to compete but wouldn’t have won. At least it would have stood out. I just find it hilarious that in a competition with the theme of celebrating diversity the judges are all industry manufactured male models and a wheelchair bound competitor is refused access. It can be argued Russia was trying to embarrass Ukraine since her application was a last minute thing but still. Dark comedy gold…

The presenters came across as very obnoxious on the whole. In fairness Timur, the bearded one, was likeable but I guess his English wasn’t deemed good enough though he doesn’t sound artificial and insincere like the other two. He got relegated to doing the waiting room bits. Maybe the Eurovision staff don’t like facial hair who knows? They liked Conchita Wurst.

Oleksandr and Volodymyr reminded me of the sort of presenters, at least here in the UK, who were male models first and then selected for training in media presenting as they ‘look the part’ thus don’t naturally develop a unique style which causes an artifice and arrogance, intentional or not, to be present in their mannerisms so they never seem sincere.

At one point when Katrina, of Britain’s winning entry in 1997, was giving the the British points one of the them commented that the year she won was the year the other judge had been born. That’s a great display of manners, let alone presenting skills, to remind people of their age and that they won, quite literally, ‘a lifetime ago’ as far as you’re concerned… It also didn’t help they flirted outrageously with other point announcers as if they were in a bar and felt like hooking up with anyone who appealed to them.

One of them did the prisyadka (knee bending) a.k.a. ‘the Cossack squat dance’ part of the Kazatsky (Ukrainian hopak stage dance) because they need to send the message ‘hey guys we’re just some fun loving dudes who happen to be presenting an international song contest but we know how to chill out like everybody else’… but the whole thing is so forced and intended for him to show off it comes off as self promotion when he does it with ease while others,who’ve never learned the correct technique can’t… plus he has plenty of space to kick forward while they’re packed in behind him. Yeah… I just found them needlessly irritating throughout the whole thing. Usually it’s joked that the presenters of the Eurovision each year are cheesy and artifical but these guys had it down to a fine art.

There also seemed an odd monochromatic colour scheme amongst the contestants this year. They were all wearing all white, all black or a combination of both. Some contestants, rebels that they are, wore grey! It was surprising to see any contestants wearing muted, let alone bright, colours. If you watch this event in black and white you wouldn’t be missing much.

So let’s carry on to the, hopefully, humorous comments about each entry this year.

1 Israel : IMRI : I Feel Alive

An off key boy band. What a way to start the events! However the pyrotechnics were good. Not much to add otherwise… an incredibly weak song to start the evening with. A real ‘we want to be part of the competition but definitely not win’ effort. Awkward. Even off key singers should get to perform #CelebrateDiveristy…

#CelebrateDiversity by singing off key!

2 Poland : Kasia Moś : Flashlight

As seems Poland’s ‘go to’ option every few year you get maximum cleavage exposure to gain the ‘dad vote’ e.g. 2015’s Donatan & Cleo performing My Słowianie. The dress seemed to be Leelo’s bandages outfit from The Fifth Element but with a semi-opaque skirt attached. The song itself reminded me of someone trying to emulate a James Bond film’s theme song. I am guessing there’ll be high points awarded from Britain due to the number of Polish nationals who have moved here for work in the past decade. (I was right – We gave this entry 10 points).

On a side note last year their entry, Monika Kuszyńska – In The Name Of Love, was in a wheelchair and that was a gambit Russia was going to play had their entrant been allowed into the country this year you might speculate.

#CelebrateDiversity … by being a statuesque blonde in skimpy clothing.

3 Belarus : Naviband : Story of My Life

A cute couple to garner lovesick fools’ votes. It reminded me of La Seine from the animated film Un monstre à Paris (A Monster In Paris) because of how it was staged. It was very enjoyable and uplifting. Very ‘Eurovision’ but in a good way. I wouldn’t mind hearing more from them so this is a good platform to introduce themselves to an international market who might not know them already. They should have been the first song to perform this evening just to enthuse the audience watching.

#CelebrateDiversity through Heteronormative relationships.

4 Austria : Nathan Trent : Running On Air

A sappy love song. The sort of thing people will buy once it’s been played to death on the radio at least once an hour, every hour of every waking day over a month, to the point they’ve been all but brainwashed into buying it. Then years later will wonder what the hell they were thinking at the time. At easy listening song. Inoffensive. A feel good pop song you will forget seconds after the video ends. I have and I’ve heard it a few times now while editing this post.

#CelebrateDiversity by being incredibly generic and forgettable.

5 Armenia : Artsvik : Fly With Me

Lady Gaga, during one of her more sombre moments, copies Madonna’s style in the late 1990s while doing an imitation of a Shakira song. The dancers are very impressive in a ‘this is a parody of interpretive dance’ way… they wouldn’t look out of place in a 1980s music video to be honest. Nonetheless they will definitely be getting a lot of work offers after this. A good song paying respect to Armenian music in an updated style. Very good but the dancers are very distracting.

#CelebrateDiversity by creating a performance mixing your cultural heritage and modern techniques – and then undermine it by having two white dancers in alabaster make up to make them even paler… but they’re a blonde and a brunette which is diverse.. if you go by the dictionary definition.

6 The Netherlands : OG3NE : Lights and Shadows

A set of twins and their sister. The sister is, as Graham Norton put it, ‘the tall blonde one’. Their song reminds me of a country music song from America. The words flashing up… when it said ‘Not Give Up’ I just found it to be poorly implimented English. Their outfits are a 1980s sequins hell. Yes this is definitely a 1980s country music performance. Also I can’t look at their group name without it making me think it’s the name of a gynaecology organisation…

Do you see how they represent this year’s theme? That’s right – they are not all thin and they dress like very, very old women going on a night out in town. #CelebrateDiveristy!

7 Moldova : Sunstroke Project : Hey Mamma

They think they’re cooler than they are. People usually refer to something like this when joking about how dads embarrass their teenage children by trying to be cool but, in reality, being incredibly out of touch with current fashions. The fake saxophone playing is in that awkward position of ‘too real to be done as a joke’ but ‘not enough that it’s funny’. Also the fact that their dance moves equate to ‘shaking your leg after wetting yourself whilst drunk’ doesn’t help. The backing female singers costume change as soon as they walk towards the front of stage was pointless though singing into their bouquets (hiding their microphones) was novel. It all came across as an awkward ‘dad fantasising he’s still cool at a wedding reception’ moment. It’s enjoyable enough on it’s own but got drowned out during the competition.

#CelebrateDiversity by dad dancing and celebrating Heteronormative marriage (again).

8 Hungary : Joci Pápai : Origo

They are Romani so at least this entry does celebrate diversity unlike many of the other more standard Eurovision entries. He uses a mini milk churn as an instrument. The violinist wiggles her hips. The traditional swirling Romani, barefoot, dancer distracts you from thinking how potato shaped his head is and if he has a jawline beneath the beard. And is there some rapping too? Well, I liked it but we all know people traditionally dislike the Romani so…

Across the board this is the sort of entry Eurovision should have where it’s celebrating a country’s culture by mixing traditional and modern techniques to create unique music. Instead we usually get bland ballads, pop songs, techno dance or soft rock. So this is my moral victor of the evening. They’re my moral victors of the night. It’s one of the few that actually does #CelebrateDiversity by mixing traditional and modern musical techniques.

9 Italy : Francesco Gabbani : Occidentali’s Karma

Is he intentionally trying to come across as a stereotype of a sleazy guy? The moustache is one thing but then that raspy voice too is pure caricature… Then suddenly the gorilla appears. I’m sure there’s a good reason and it’s not just there as a hook to make people remember the song when the tele-voting section comes around. Apparently it’s a highly respected choreographer playing the gorilla role too. The backing singers look like they escaped from a ‘united colours of Benetton’ advert. #CelebrateDiversity (via mindfulness and consumerism). Meditation = celebrating another’s culture = celebrating diversity so that’s good but… it’s awkward when presented by ‘that creepy waiter you hope doesn’t serve your table again tonight’. The songs good but how they staged the performance is… odd.

#CelebrateDiversity by acting like a creepy waiter trying to have a one night stand with a tourist known to be into mindfulness and mediations… and dancing gorillas (furries).

10 Denmark : Anja : Where I Am

It’s actually an Australian performing. She moved there a suspiciously short time before the event. If you ever wanted the most generic Eurovision entry ever this is it. It’s intensely generic. It defies you to find anything unique about it. As if someone from the Disney channel was commissioned to create the most wide appeal, inoffensive, entry possible. It’s the sort of song you hear over the closing credits of one of their films. It’s good but highly forgettable.

#CelebrateDiversity by having a blonde white Australian sing for you representing a Scandinavian country…

11 Portugal : Salvador Sobral : Amar Pelos Dois

Graham Norton said it was a ‘marmite’ song which you’ll either love or hate. I found it to be the best song of the night. (It ended up winning in the end by quite some votes). It reminded me of a tear-jerking song from a Studio Ghibli film. How could this not be universally adored? The only downside is he hunches his shoulders, gesticulates a bit too much and apparently has really bad health due to his heart. His sister, who composed the song, had to perform it a few times during the preliminaries apparently… so he might be dead by next year. Be an inspirational figure overcoming your poor health to win the European Song Contest only to be dead by next year because of the strain it put on you. Dark comedy gold. I hope he will be okay though.

He actually made my night when he said it was a victory for real music over disposable music… saying that at the Eurovision song contest of all places. Balls… Of… Steel. You can’t help but admire him. And for the reprise at the end he did it as a duet with his sister so no questions a well deserved win. The sort of thing that would make the Grinch’s heart grow three times larger (ironically).

#CelebrateDiversity by having someone with chronic health issues, involving their heart, perform at a highly stressful, internationally live broadcasted, event…

12 Azerbaijan : Dihaj : Skeletons

A very 1980s formal wear inspired look. They brought their own chalk board wall covered in inoffensive graffiti including such words as BADBOY, SENSATION, READY, THORN, FANTASY, NOW I AM INTO DAYDREAMS, MY HEART, GRAVITY… It’s as if they’ve never gone into a real public toilet or the rough part of town in their life.

At the start she’s like a cat about to spit up a hairball. Wait – where are her hands? Is she… is she…. no she can’t be pretending to do that could she? There’s a guy on top of a ladder wearing a horse mask because… reasons. It’s all about sexual repression I guess. Then the walls come down and she takes her coat off. Yeah! She’s not going to be bound by societies norms! She’s going to stand up for her rights! If she wants to touch herself in a public toilet, while a guy wearing a horse mask stood on top of a ladder watches, she’s not going to let them stop her! #CelebrateDiversity!

It comes across like a performance art piece done by an amateur dramatics group. Skeletons – yeah, because… we all have one so we’re all the same under the skin… right? I actually quite liked it overall. It had it’s own distinct identity and should have done better. Also woof woof. Definitely blonde hair with black lipstick seems the theme this year for many female performers.

#CelebrateDiversity being kinky isn’t wrong… even when it involves a guy, in a horse mask, on top of a ladder watching you.

13 Croatia : Jacques Houdek : My Friend

He should have done this, as Graham Norton said afterwards though I was thinking the same thing, in a ‘half man/half woman’ costume split vertically. The long tails formal leather jacket is odd but not as much as him wearing bright white trainers with it. A classic ‘only in Eurovision’ entry. It’s novel… I enjoyed it… I just don’t feel it’s something I could enjoy outside of it being a one off novelty. He has those ‘over the thumb’ sleeves I see Bulgaria’s entry wearing later. So that’s this years fashion for the men then besides ‘the close shaved on the side of the hear with a big bouffant of hair on top hairstyle’ which is fashionable now anyway independent of the competition. Also as he’s very fat they’re really showing they #CelebrateDiversity.

#CelebrateDiversity by going so far as doing both parts of the song thus ensuring only a white man gets paid for singing… and being so barrel shaped to the point you wonder if he might die before the guy with the chronic health issues.

14 Australia : Isaiah : Don’t Come Easy

Looks like a pretentious prick. Just does. Get a haircut. He looks possibly ‘gender fluid’ (without being – similar to comedians who act like they’re gay but aren’t) thus can claim to #CelebrateDiversity. He also walks like he just lost control of his bowels. A very bland song and a punchable smug face (and sadly not the only one tonight either). Also put some socks on!

#CelebrateDiversity by looking like a woman in the autumn of life dressing casual smart for work or a special occasion.

15 Greece : Demy : This is Love

Half naked male ballet dancers in a shallow pool of water. Poland went for the dad vote, Greece is going for the mum vote so it’s very much #CelebrateEquality more than #CelebrateDiversity. Another ‘the dancers are far to distracting’ performance. They’re very good though they do at times pose like they’re dancing ducks. The songs enjoyable but I think it should have been staged differently as the dancers take away too much attention. Are they implying at the end the dancers are gay lovers? Well that definitely does #CelebrateDiversity.

#CelebrateDiversity by dancing like a duck.

16 Spain : Manel Navarro : Do It For Your Lover

Hawaiian shirts. A karaoke style song very reminiscent of 1950s surfer rock. The ‘do it for your lover’ chorus – Are you telling people to be more open about their affection or telling them to let their lover ‘experiment’ when they really don’t want to? It has that vibe due to the repetition. Just do it. Just do it. Just do it for your lover. If you really loved them you’d let them put _____ in your _____ while they _____ and _____ your _____! JUST DO IT! DO IT FOR YOUR LOVER! IF YOU REALLY LOVED THEM YOU WOULD DO IT! They need to hook up with the Azerbaijan guys – they’d teach them a thing or two about doing it for your lover…

#CelebrateDiversity by coming across like the sort of people teenagers are warned to avoid when given sex-ed in school.

17 Norway : JOWST : Grab The Moment

A wannabe Daft Punk look. Oddly the guy shows his face in the pre-performance VT so the mask during the performance is a little redundant. It’s easy listening reggae which suddenly kicks into talking about how he’ll ‘kill that voice in my head’. It’s different but the sort of thing Eurovision judges react poorly to – especially as it includes the word ‘kill’ in it. It’s got a good hook but the voice sampled modulation doesn’t really add much.

#CelebrateDiversity by coming across as if your mocking the mentally ill afflicted by ‘voices in their head’ they wish they could get rid of and hiring a guy who performs in an LED mask like many other DJs right now e.g. Deadmau5.

Half Time Break:

Look it’s Vitali Klitschko – the one Ukrainian sportsman everyone definitely knows even if they don’t follow sports. The VT skit is a self appraising piece of time filling to allow the behind the scenes team can catch up if somethings started going wrong.

The trio of male models learn from last year’s presenter who is also a male model in looks and now gets to live out his power fantasies via the VT. It’s a hard life being beautiful. All the jokes, and I mean all of them, fall flat. Any more mutual self appraising during this skit and it would be the preamble to the sort of scene on a DVD sold only in ‘private shops’ and be unsuitable for broadcast at this time of day.

#CelebrateDiversity through power fantasies.

On a side note I find there is this odd English diction I only ever hear used by Eurovision presenters… I mean I hear people speaking English as their second language, at all levels of ability, a lot and it’s only here they have this distinctly odd enunciation. Is it just me? Because the ‘accent’ is always the same no matter what country the contest is held in the presenters have that exact style of diction.

#CelebrateDiversity by having all presenters use the exact same diction no matter what country they’re from.

Anyway this little skit was appalling. They should have had them just strip and do body building poses while each stood on an individual small rotating platform for women (and some men) to ogle at for a minute or two while the rest of us went to get a drink. The sad thing is I think they would have happily done it. Timur would have just to not be left backstage while the others get all the glory.

Being this beautiful isn’t a crime and means anything you say, intending to be funny, should be deemed comedy gold and passed on through the generations because people ‘want’ you. Women (and gay men and anyone in between) want you, men (and f2m transexuals) want to be you.

#CelebrateDiversity

18 United Kingdom : Lucie Jones : Never Give Up On You

She is Welsh so I am biased. It’s better than many other performances if a little safe.

#CelebrateDiversity by playing it safe as you don’t want your country coming near the bottom of the ranking like previous years. (we were top of the bottom half – That’s an achievement!)

So instead of commenting on her I’ll mention I noticed a few of the female performers have had writing on their inner right arm so when they spread their arms I feel like they could have something really inappropriate written there in script and no one would notice until it was too late though it’s probably just lyrics from a song or poem they found to be inspirational. It seems some performers had to cover their tattoos while others can show them off.

#CelebrateDiversity by covering your tattoos because you’re not a salty sea dog laying drunk on the dockside.

19 Cyprus : Hovig : Gravity

A modern pop song performed by, presumably, middle aged men. A good effort but not enough to stand out. Embarrassing dance moves too at certain points – the sort of thing I saw in nightclubs years ago performed by drunk ‘lads’ out on the pull. Another dad dancing act.

#CelebrateDiversity by acting far younger than you are (or you look far older than you are) and doing ‘cool’ drunk dad dance moves

20 Romania : Ilinca ft. Alex Florea : Yodel It!

Ilinca woof woof. A dress that’s impossibly short and …she yodels. Instant marriage material no question! A woman with that specialised a talent is the sort who isn’t going to get embarrassed easily by anything so you can have fun and do what you like with someone casting a critical eye. Then there’s yodelling and rapping all in one act! The songs fun and what with the cannons and all might just be crazy enough to do well or even win (They didn’t but it was one of the highlights of the evening).

#CelebrateDiversity through yodelling and rapping in the same song. Then think about what you’re doing with your life and what led to this.

21 Germany : Levina : Perfect Life

She has a middle aged woman’s hair cut like the BBC sports correspondent Clare Balding. The front of the dress is incredibly conservative then you see its held on by arm straps leaving the back bare and she has bare feet. Grey, grey, grey – did she base her style on Angela Merkel? The song… I’m sat here listening to it and already forgetting it. Bland. It’s perfectly bland.

#CelebrateDiversity by dressing as if you’re 40 years older than you actually are.

22 Ukraine : O.Torvald : Time

A soft rock song. They’re wearing padded, pillow case shaped, tabards as if they’ve just come off their shift in the care home or prison canteen. It reminds me of the sort of bland inoffensive rock song you have over the credits of a live action Japanese film based on a manga. Then again I think Finland’s Lordi was more than the contest could take really regarding rock acts despite winning in 2006.

There needs to be a heavy metal version of Eurovision. Ghost BC representing Sweden, Lordi for Finland, a lad of Scandinavian death metal bands… it would be glorious.

I think that the host countries should just put in novelty acts or be allowed to only do the ‘while the tele-votes are being cast’ segments since they never put in potentially winning acts for fear they’ll have to host again next year and blew their budget doing it this year.

#CelebrateDiversity by dressing how you want to dress… even if it involves wearing padded grey tabards no one would look good in.

23 Belgium : Blanche : City Lights

A good song performed by a 17 year old in a ball gown suffering from stage fright. The intro reminds me of a song from a while ago. She has a very Adele like tone to her voice. It’s far too subdued and the gesticulating feels forced in order to have her move a little. She has potential for the future but it feels like people will vote for her because they liked the song when it was played on the radio or out of pity for how clearly she is out of her depth here performing live to an international, if not global, audience.

#CelebrateDiversity by watching a talented teenage performer with possible stage fright taking her first steps into performing for a stadium level audience.

24 Sweden : Robin Bengtsson : I Can’t Go On

The guy has a dead eyed look to him and acts up for the camera at the start walking onto the stage rather than start on the stage like everyone else. He reminds me of Robin Thicke… he just has that aura about him. Like he touched up someone back stage just before the performance with that same blank expression while admiring himself in a mirror judging his own mid-coitus performance. The song has a 1980s beat… there are lots of retro music aspects to this year’s contestants. It just comes across as insincere. Also he has trousers which are an inch or two too short which is fashionable. The use of treadmills for the dancing is a good idea though OK GO did it 8 years ago in their music video for Here It Goes Again.

#CelebrateDiversity by having a ‘male model level’ handsome group of backing dancers and having a ‘there’s something wrong about this guy but I can’t put my finger on it’ aura.

25 Bulgaria : Kristian Kostov : Beautiful Mess

Another 17 year old. He has a punchable face as he seems arrogant. It doesn’t help he has low clung trousers, the ‘thumb through the sleeve’ under shirt and the jacket design looks like he put it on back to front as if he can’t dress himself. Looks like he loves himself. Good song and performance – and he knows it. Good potential for the future as long as his ego doesn’t get too big.

#CelebrateDiversity by accepting that they’ve given a platform to an annoyingly smug yet talented teenager with a fashion style that will be outdated by next year so you know he’ll just look all the more ridiculous by then if the trappings of fame don’t get him first.

26 France : Alma : Requiem

Woof! France never fails. Another impossibly short dress. It probably would have done better if it wasn’t the final song when everyone’s got listening fatigue. A very enjoyable song with impressive graphics to compliment it. It’s the sort of song that would do better outside the contest probably.

#CelebrateDiversity by wearing a dress that defies logic it’s so short.

Thus we got to the ‘while you go and vote’ part where they put on some performers from the host nation.

First we have Ruslana performing It’s Magical.

A chain mail dress. That has to hurt when it gets caught on her skin. It’s one of those rare occassions where the backing dancers are wearing far more than the star. I mean they look like they escaped from the set of a film adaption based on a ‘young adult’ urban fantasy novel but still…

It’s a good song though. I wonder if competition entrants have a budget limit for their staging as you would imagine they would all be to this scale if they could in order to win votes via sheer spectacle.

#CelebrateDiversity by looking like an amateur dramatic society musical adaption of a young adult novel.

Then we got ONUKA and NAONI Orchestra doing a ‘megamix’ of songs.

Electro folk music… oh dear they’ve discovered my musical niche. It’s awesome. I can’t view it objectively… I mean the ‘low budget Star Wars storm-trooper’ costumes look terrible but that’s besides the point. If you were not focusing you would swear the dancers from the Armenian entry had escaped and decided to do their own thing.

#CelebrateDiversity through Ukranian folk music instruments and electronica. Awesome.

The Votes – Judge Panels and Popular vote

Then we got all the votes. The French announcer at about 11:30 is only wearing half a jacket. To be honest they all look a little odd in different ways whether it be way too poised, too delayed in reacting, under dressed, over dressed or any number of things. The hosts insulted the UK announcer at about 32:35 saying ‘1997, the year you were born’ and though the other guy tries to recover from it playing it off saying ‘I didn’t visit that Eurovision song contest’ the insult was already delivered. Flirt with the attractive younger announcers and insult the older ones. Nice.

Then they introduced the Georgian winner of the Junior Eurovision song contest who was very preconscious, in fact annoyingly so, implying she has a ‘tiger mom’ or is from a very privileged background. The sort of child you see in American productions (especially Disney Channel’s live shows) and years later have suffered from the pitfalls of the industry (drugs, alcohol, etc). She spoke clearer English that the presenters which was hilarious however.

Followed by last years winner Jamala:

Personally her song last year was overtly political and should have been changed… but you know… There is no official video of her performance it seems as someone walked casually up onto the small stage and bared their bottom to the camera. I was looking away when it happened and thought it was just someone in the crowd… but apparently it was front and centre! It’s good she remained professional however she does look like a mum of three whose been at the wine all day and suddenly fanced a song and dance when a song comes on the radio.

Then the tele-vote tallies were shown:

Suffice to say there were a few massive upsets because of it. We, here in the UK, were one place off being in the top half. I don’t care but it seemed like a do or die situation in the coverage at the time.

Also during the event Verka Serduchka (from Eurovision 2007) appeared a few times including a ‘Verka workout’ between the judge votes and the tele-votes announcements.

We have had Lily Savage and Dame Edna Everage so I’m not bothered by drag queen acts and the humour in these skits was good physical comedy. #CelebrateDiversity with drag acts.

But in the end of course Salvador and Luísa Sobral from Portugal won.

1:50 – 2:12 “We live in a world of disposable music, fast food music without any content…. this could be a victory for music… with people who make music that actual means something…”

Balls.

Of.

Steel.

To say that at the Eurovision of all places. The man is already a legend. Then he goes and duets with his sister later. I thought it was really nice he wanted his sister to perform it with him since she had written it and performed it when he hadn’t been available due to his poor health.

The presenters ushered him off embarrassed and then at 3:10 – 3:22 they boasted of how they love Ukraine, their motherland, then tell us how tolerant, modern and open a country they are.

Attach ‘… unlike Russia’ to each of those statements.

That was the intended subtext and you know it was despite them not mentioning Russia at all during the evening.

It was enjoyable. Not many standout performances nor many ‘zany’ novelty ones either in a similar vein to Verka as there was some crack down a few years ago on not allowing them or something which is a shame. It’s become a more po-faced annual affair because they’ve suddenly decided to take themselves far too seriously.

#CelebrateDiversity and make it an enjoyable event like it used to be rather than have a crackdown on what can or can’t be allowed, denying politics plays it’s role and just go with the flow allowing it to be the good humoured event it used to be without trying to sanitise everything to the point it’s bland. To be honest here in the UK we didn’t used to see any of it until the grand final so it was all the more special but in this day and age they show it and it makes it slightly less unique each year. Nonetheless it’s a good platform to introduce people to world music which they might not be made aware of otherwise so ultimately it’s a good thing.

1944 (Estonian WW2 film) Synopsis and Review

1944 is a 2015 Estonian action war drama film directed by Elmo Nüganen. The film first premiered in February 2015 in Berlin, Germany, before its release in Estonia and other Northern European countries. It was selected as the Estonian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards but it was not nominated.

The film is set in the year 1944, from the Battle of Tannenberg Line (25 July – 10 August 1944) to the Battle of Tehumardi in Sõrve Peninsula (October – November 1944) and is shown through the eyes of Estonian soldiers who had to pick sides and thus fight against their fellow countrymen. Choices had to be made, not only by the soldiers, but also by their loved ones.

The film focuses on the individual in the context of the war rather than war itself, and shows the war from both perspectives – those of the Estonians in the Red Army and in the German Army.

The film was funded by the Estonian Film Institute, Estonian Ministry of Defence, Cultural Endowment of Estonia and private investments.

During the run of the film Estonian, German and Russian are spoken.

Excuse me not using names for the most part but in war films everyone seems reduced to stereotypes and can you honestly say, barring the central characters, you ever remember the names of the entire cast during these – most of whom die shortly after their ‘provide a minimal amount of character development by showing a picture of family which foreshadows they’ll die in the next scene’ moment?

Synopsis

We open on text:

‘In 1939, Soviet Union and Germany sign a Treaty of Non-Aggression. A week later, World War II begins. In 1940, Soviet Union annexes Estonia. 55 000 Estonians are mobilized to the Red Army. In 1941, Germany occupies Estonia. 72 000 Estonians are mobilized to German armed forces. Since German Army, Wehrmacht, accepts only German citizens, Estonians have to fight in Waffen-SS and other military units. Now in 1944, the Red Army is back on Estonian border.’

The subtitles at the start confuse ‘German’ and ‘Germany’ while omitting the definite article. Great start… and they move too fast to read for the last sentence or two. I notice once or twice later the subtitles seem grammatically wrong again and suspect they were done by someone whose not a native speaker or was put under severe enough time constraints they didn’t double check their work though for the most part it’s fine.

In the trenches the fast shakey camera makes effective use of the limited perspective.

OF course it lacks the ‘Hollywood sheen’ but in some ways that works in it’s favour. Also the minimal use of music during the charges of soldiers so as to not glamorise events and give way to moments over the stark depictions of combat.

One or two have camouflage on their clothing which I assume isn’t period accurate but might be. It’s the issue of so little coverage of World War 2 events which are not explicitly form German, American, French resistance or British perspectives. As a western viewer you automatically assume the attackers are Fascists but in fact it’s the Soviet forces or as seems to be the films preferred nom de plume the Red Army.

The quieter moments in the trench barracks feel far more effective as we focus on the actors and this doesn’t require big flashy events. The story of the people involved and their motivations rather than the glorification of war. Stories of how they dealt with the situation they were in and the sense of losing oneself – the loss of personal identity as a pawn in the motivations of others.

After proceeding under cover of darkness the music has a continuous tense cord with a few stark notes. THey join some Danes. This really is a narrative not explored in the West at all.

A fat Russian chokes a man. Few if any Russians would be that fat.

Some soviets surrender and are show from behind by the protagonists.

The German commanders appear. A government man appears and congratulates them and spouts the party line they’ve proved the Estonians belong to the Aryan race. He hands out signed photos of Hitler thinking they would get a wooden or iron cross

The poem ‘soldiers mother’ plays over the radio as they mock Hitler and one returns saying the Dutch have their own toilet paper and gave him pack of cigarettes.

One soldier shows the medal his father gained in World War 1/ its all that’s left of him. An argument breaks out as there are Estonians on the Soviet side. What will they do when they face their countrymen?

Outside propaganda plays over the tannoy and they begin to sing to drown it out as they move through the trenches.

The look out says its been quiet. When one of the brothers takes over a sniper shoots him in the head and the brother left behind is in shock a moment before beginning to cry. They give him something to drink. Later one reflects that his uncle in Tallinn told him not to go but he had to as there were arrests being made. An older soldier comes to relieve him and asks if being stubborn will bring his family back from Siberia . He knows it wont. They speak of the war and what its for. Whether they’ll gain their countries independence.

A procession of civilians walk along a road as military vehicles pass them. One soldier thinks going to Tallinn would be better as they could escape via a ship to Sweden. They shoot in the air to scare people off. A self defence force leader, clearly a civilian as he’s in an suit but with an armband, asks if they’ve spare ammo. He is gives them the weapons they ceased and the man jokes with out ammo they’re no batter than clubs.

A woman stops the procession and makes a man throw away furniture and take people on his cart. The soldiers joke she is the real furher. ‘men like cow’s udders’ she says as she loads a child into it.

A plane flies overhead. They take cover in the forest. It begins to fire down on everyone. Bombs are dropped. Sainas goes to save a child but ironically is shot dead while the child is fine. Another runs for the child and saves her just in time. The driver of the soldiers truck put sout a d fire and they go to escape as the reds will be there any moment. Main guy says his sister has the same doll as the girl but she is for away now. They decide to load people onto the truck. Injured to hospital refugees to Tallinn. The girl wants her doll to tell main guy something. He holds it to his ear and after he return sit the truck leaves and the soldiers walk away in another direction on foot as a folk song plays. A storm brews as they walk across the countryside.

They see due to the open landscape there’s no way to retreat if they cant hold the location along the road on the edge of the forest. A senior member tries to rouse them with a speech of how if the Russians beat them back they’ll retake it tomorrow. Then they begin to dig the trenches. A passing man offers them food. All quiet along the western front is mentioned. Again the leader tries to rouse them about their flag flying in Tallinn but the main guy is more pessimistic. They laugh and eat. It is a moment of peace in the war.

Sept 20 a motorcyclist goes past them at speed as they’re hidden in the dry grass. A tank and supply trucks procession is heading their way. They snipe the commander and fire rockets at the tanks.A sniper takes out their sniper. Many of the characters we have been following are wiped out.

They realise they’ve been fighting Estonians on the Soviet side. Their worst fears. What will they do now it’s a reality. Both sides stare at each other. Mournful music plays out. This is the reality of fighting a war begun by others and for their agendas. The soldier who killed the poetic guy looks at the documents in his pocket and seizes them before closing the corpses eyes and laying him to rest.

At a camp we follow the Communist side. They realise it was ‘normal Fascists’ they were fighting. The commanding officer berates them then leaves. The secondary commander tells them to bury the dead and stay out of the way of the NKVD officers.

A man asks if they’re burying fascists with their own. ‘its the end of the road for everyone’ someone replies. They pity that this is how things have turned out as they bury the dead and mark them. 31 dead red army soldiers.

The same old couple who served food to the fascists now serves it to the communists. They soldiers have meat and give some to the couple. It is German stuff they had ceased. The bearded soldier pities them as the couple have nowhere to to and will be labels kulaks and sent back if not to the Gulag.

A glasses wearing soldier shows a photo of his family and everyone knows his spiel off by heart and call it before he says it. They pass through the golden fields and reach Tallin in Sept 22.

Masses of Red army soldiers are there and propaganda plays over the radio accompanied by upbeat band music.

Beard tells killer to be happy and dance. The soldiers are fed and enjoy. Else where people pick through the rubble and inhabit dark silent buildings. Killer Juri visits the apartment of the dead poetic fascists woman and gives him the letter which he took from the corpse. She reads it in silence as we hear the dead man narrate his words talking about family.

Juri asks if he can help as she is tearing up. He removes his boots. She asks how he got it. Karl was her brother. She asks if he died in battle. Juri confirms it. How does he know. Juri says he witnessed it. The family were taken to Siberia. It broke Karl who blamed himself for what happened. She asks of him. He was conscripted in 39. She asks why he didn’t fight back. They were to disciplined to disobey or were cowards he admits. His family? The soldier is are his family but there’s less and less of them. She says he and her brother were similar. The innocent feel guilty. The guilty feel nothing.

She says he must be hungry and cooks for him. She watches him as he eats in silence. He takes out a cigarette and she offers him an ash tray. Its her uncles apartment not hers. They fled two weeks ago by boat to Sweden. March 9 the red army flattened the city. Juri says he was told it was Germans. She insists only women children and the elderly were there.

A little girl drew her something at the orphanage and she goes to show it but they’re interrupted by the radio. A moment passes between them and we see them walk in the park together. bird song. Slow piano. ITs not a romance as much as just comfort in kindred souls. She goes to check a door and find sit open. They go inside the church. Their footsteps echo.

She asks if he is staying long. Or will he move on? Where to? To Saaremaa he replies. She smiles to him takes his hand which fluster him and says they’re alone. He puts his arm around her hesitantly. She says she would forgive the one who put their family ane on the list to be deported. A name Jogi was on it. Juri doesn’t react. She recalls how they lived before the war smiling and falling asleep on his shoulder.

In the morning she gestures he write. She asks his family name. ‘Tull’ he lies. He is Jogi. An NKVD man calls him to the comrade captains car. He says that they’ve fought many battle together but bourgeois nationalists are still there. He says he is young and has time for everything including hanging around at night.

The captain asks who the woman was. They had observed him. Juri lies its his sister. The Capt. says he doesn’t remember it from his file. He asks Juri to report any anti-soviet efforts to him. Juri looks unsure.

17 Nov The soldiers move out across the countryside passing a form. One breaks rank and bearded soldier , Prohhor, is ready to shoot but it told to hold. The guy is at his home town so they allow him to call to the other residents. Beard mocks his grandmother said Estonia was small but not this small..

The soldier notes no one is there sadly. After a moment he says that he’ll go find them something to eat.

At night the commanding officer , Juri, staff sergeant calls on a soldier to have the three replacement soldiers come in to speak to him at the lit table he is writing at. He notes from how they stand they fought for the Germans. He tells them to forget their past and kept their mouths shut. Juri tells farm boy to feed them as well ads the others with the potatoes he fried. Farm boy tells them eat as much as they like as there is no point leaving any for the rats.

Juri asks if he heard anything about his folks who had abandoned the farm. All the farms in the area were destroyed, the people deported to Germany. He reflects the war will be over in a year or two and everyone will be back then. ‘My house is whole and I’m alive’ he remarks before leaving.

Juri later details his strategy plan to the leading soldiers.

They all drink some vodka from a bottle before farm boy remarks that Kreml (the Kremlin… Again refer to my view the subtitles were not done by a native English speaker) wanted to see him.

We next see Juri report to the Comrade captain who was cleaning his handgun. Juri hears the gun click as he closes the door but in fact the captain was putting it away before inviting him to sit. He calls on Juri to toast ‘to the victory’. The captain notes Juri got 3 replacements and asks if he checked them, Juri says he did. ‘Juri you are from the right family and have made the right decisions so far. Just like your father in his time. You haven’t applied for the party membership?’ Juri answers no. ‘That’s even better. You’ll be trusted more. You’ll go far. We’ll send you to study, and you’ll get an officer’s rank. You’ll be the company commander soon. We’d make a good team.’ Juri notes the company already has a commander, Captain Viires, as the Comrade Captain walks away. ‘That radish… Red outside, white inside. Those kinds of guys should be kept an eye on. Don’t spoil your life, Juri’

The next day, November 19, the cannons are being loaded as battle ships fire on the soldiers proceeding along the shoreline. Mines are on either side of the road. The tanks runs over a corpse. Shells hit the tanks. Many of the infantry are taken out by the impact. Still they press forward. One soldier breaks rank and runs across a field only to be killed by a landline. The soldiers get pinned down by machinegun fire and rockets shooting the tank. The tank fires on the machine begun wall blowing it up but still the infantry have to charge for cover. The tank knocks out the corner of a hut Fascist soldiers were coming out from. The on foot soldiers split into two groups heading along shallow trenches. One is blown up by a soldier dying holding a grenade and his wrist. They reach the command post and order the people inside to emerge. They then shoot them in cold blood though they surrendered, They were not ordered to shoot. Juri asks the man if he thinks it’ll bring Sarah back. The man doesn’t answer.

Later Juri sits alone outside smoking. Beard is hunched over at the table. He asks if Juri cant sleep. Juri says her cant forget the guy whose letter he delivered to his siste.r Did he tell him? He couldn’t.. But he fell in love mocks beard. ‘You didn’t kill him, the war did’. ‘MAybe God will forgive. Or not.’

Nov 22 they’re on the move again as an overseer captain says one last push and Estonia is theirs. The company Captain tells Juri the political office is interested in him. The captain says its as if they’re eating shit everyday. He had hoped to bring the men home but asks where did he bring them? He gestures for the company to stop its advance, checks and then they move on. They notice movement Fascists in the river crossing. The Fascists shout don’t shoot as their Estonian. The company captain calls for no one to shoot and those in the river to come up. Immediately the overseer/political captain runs up and interrogates them. They were not volunteers and are 16 years old. The Germans wanted to take them but they wanted to go home. The political captain tells Juri to take them and ‘shoot these traitors’. Juri says they’re children. The captain looks back at the cowering boys and announces ‘Soviet citizens who have defected to the enemy must be shot. Staff Sergeant Jogi take your men and obey the order. They were forcefully mobilised. Juri, obey the order.

Juri says he will not shoot them.

The political captain draws his handgun and immediately shoots Juri through the heart. All the men draw their rifles and aim at him.

‘Shoot. Shoot and all your relatives will be sent to the Gulag. [The company Captain faulters and slightly lowers his aim]. Are you scared? That’s right. One must be scared of Soviet Power. Captain Viires. Obey the order.’

The political captain slowly begins to raise his handgun but a shot rings out as he is shot dead through the chest.

It was the bearded soldier.

Viires orders the company to move forward and the boys to go home. Get rid of their uniforms and go home.

Beard stops a moment and kneels at Juri’s side removing his hat. Everyone stops. Beard removes a slip of paper from Juri’s jacket. He crosses himself and everyone stand over the bodies.

We then have a narration of the letter as beard delivers it as Juri had delivered the woman’s brothers letter earlier. An old woman and a girl live with her now. From the orphanage no doubt. Juri wonders, if not for the war, had they met after the war, maybe in the church, if he could face her and tell her the whole honest truth. ‘We need to start from a blank page. This is from Juri Jori, the Red Army soldier who killed your brother in a battle. I couldn’t tell you eye to eye. You are the only one left to me. Please forgive me if you can.

Then a black screen with white writing:

‘To all who fought and suffered in the name of freedom.’

Review

I think the first thing to be said is that the title is so basic you are likely to never look at this film if you see it on the shelves in a shop or a list on-line. If it had a more distinct title, even ‘ Battle of Tannenburg’, ‘Tannenburg Line’ , ‘Battle of Tehumardi’ or anything as generic, but still distinct, as those I think it would have gotten more recognition as ‘1944’ alone makes it sound like this was one of the laziest by the numbers productions possible when in fact it has a good message, told without demonising bias towards any one party, and provides incite into a perspective on the Second World War not often given a voice in the west. It hasn’t got the gloss of American financed films but the core concept of showing the divide of a nation during occupation by both Fascist and Soviet forces is interesting as there are no definitive ‘good’ guys and ‘bad’ guys barring those who are self interested and seek political power. Everyone is swept up in the course of a war between foreign powers and has to face the reality they will be killing their won countrymen at some point.

If I have one issue with the film it is perhaps that the conflict scenes are bland. I wish perhaps it pushed those to the side as much as could be reasonably expected of a film set in this period involving soldiers and focused more on the characters. The death of the protagonists certainly comes as a shock to a first time viewer but it provides an important lesson I feel is often missing from war films – people have lives and things they are doing which come to an abrupt end because of events. OFten this is given the ‘here’s a photo of my family’ omen of minor characters who you know from that point on are going to be the sacrificial lamb of the films narrative so we see the results of war but the protagonists remain able to carry out their story to completion.

As I have said already I feel the translations for the subtitles on the DVD needed to be proof read as there were a few moments were the grammar went out the window. I have to assume either the translator, and the subtitler, were not native English speakers or there was a severely tight schedule and mistakes were made which leaves it to be criticised at leisure by consumers. Hopefully the company is more carefully in later releases as this is the sort of thing that will put people off buying their products. The DVD also was very bare bones but really I have come to expect that with many Foreign films now that are not released by Criterion, Curzon Artificial Eye or other long established Foreign film DVD makers who offer extensive extras.

The only truly antagonistic figures in the film are the political officers – those who have thrown in their lot completely with either the fascist or Communist forces to have power even if it means betraying their countrymen. Everyone else, for better or worse, only looks forward to when the war is over and they can return to their normal lives. The hardship undergone by civilians is represented by the procession of refugees fleeing their home in the country encountered by the Fascist soldiers.

On a sidenote I personally found the woman suddenly forcing a man to throw away his possessions so it could carry people, when said people had clearly already been on this procession for a long-time alongside the cart, a bit of a double standard. It is symbolically putting people before possessions, which is a good in the moment message, but could represent a willingness to abandon their own culture, represented by the objects that are discarded, in order to survive which seems at odds with the rest of the film’s philosophy of maintaining Estonia as a unique entity after the war’s end. Objects can be replaced of course but this moment in the film felt a bit to forced in and not cohesive with the rest of it.

The sense of Estonian national communal unity is represented by the old couple who serve food to both the Fascist and Red Army groups seeing only fellow countrymen not political sides.

The sense of the nation’s division is symbolised by the brothers from the farm being on seperate sides though on a first vieiwng this might go unnoticed as the brother on the Fascist side only mentions it in passing he is from the farm while we see the brother on the Red Army side return to the homestead. Contrasting this are the two borthers who are both on the Facist side and one witnesses firsthand the death of the other via a sniper.

If anything the bereft sister, who sees both her brother and potential love interest die, seems the anomaly as she seems to live a comfortable life even in the middle of a war torn country when everyone else has either been forced to choose a side or flee their homes. I suppose she offers the contrast to the farm boy soldier who has a home but no one to be there with while she has the orphanage ( or at least the little girl and old woman) in the end thus having a community but nowhere to call her own as she is living in her uncle’s apartment.

Would I watch this again? That is the big question and the answer is… Yes but it isn’t a film I would recommend if you didn’t have an interest in North European/Baltic cinema nor World War 2. In fact I don’t care for the seemingly endless number of films based on World War 2 but this gave a unique perspective similar to War Horse, due to the shifting perspectives of each side being represented, but without the near fairytale tone nor the convenience of it being due to a horse. Both sides are represented equally unsentimentally as external forces having a negative effect on Estonia.

In the end the concept far outweighs the execution sadly. I think with a bigger budget or more unique cinematography it might have been a world cinema classic rather than just a successful film in Estonia which you find cheap in your local supermarket with a bland, non-descript, cover as they hope people will blindly buy anything World War 2 related. Time will tell how it is received in the long run but I feel it was even-handed noting the strengths and failings of each side without leaving the audience with any prejudice save that Estonians were forced to take a side or evacuate which was sadly a truth of the era they lived in and if anything they delivered this message possibly too gently in regards to what happened to citizens. A good message, fair depiction but not a film you will remember long after watching it. The unique Estonian perspective however lends it at least a novelty value for anyone interested in not seeing yet another retread of the ‘America saved the world’ slew of Hollywood depictions nor the more blindly patriotic films of somewhere like Russia.

Wałęsa. Człowiek z nadziei [Walesa, Man of Hope] 2013 film

A 2013 Polish biopic film about the leader of the trade union Solidarity movement (and later president of Poland) Lech Walesa by Andrzej Wajda. The film was selected as the Polish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, but was not nominated. Recently, on 10/01/2017, this film was shown on BBC4.

Synopsis:

Lech Wałęsa, an electrician at the Gdańsk Shipyards, participated in local demonstrations during the 1970s which became violent and left their mark on him after he returned to his daily routine. Ten years later, a new uprising occurred and unexpectedly became a charismatic leader of the Polish dockworkers.

Wałęsa’s leadership role signifies the beginning of a new movement that successfully overcomes the country’s Communist regime, and Wałęsa is pushed into representing the majority of Poland’s population. The Soviet Union authorities, previously regarded as too powerful to be confronted, eventually tolerate existence of the movement a degree. However he is at one point taken from his home in the middle of the night by Soviet officials to an unknown location. On their journey there they pass a road and Lech declares that the people will support him but his escort laugh at this and tell him to open his window and ask the people themselves. On the roadside are some poor farmers who tell him they hate him and he has done nothing to help them. At the interrogation location he is fed and openly shows defiance to the authorities before being eventually released when it’s clear they will get nothing from him. Later we see his wife accepting the Nobel peace prize on his behalf in 1983 as he believed if he left the country he would not be allowed back in.

The film ends on a note of Soviet members saying they will get him and Wałęsa being left unchallenged by opponents. The Polish example of the group Solidarity causes a domino effect throughout Eastern Europe. People in Eastern Germany follow the Polish example, starting demonstrations for freedom which achieves a peaceful reunification of Germany. The Soviet Union then dissolved alongside Yugoslavia.

In the epilogue we are told that while Europe is reshaped, Poland remains stable and peaceful. Yet a huge variety of political parties unfold and Poland is on the brink of becoming as ungovernable as the late Weimar Republic. Wałęsa is subsequently elected as the first president of the new Polish democracy; but, this is followed by feelings of resentment among the Polish people who start to think that Wałęsa is becoming overly privileged. Consequently, the Polish people start to seek out ways to diminish Wałęsa’s significance, until they finally accomplish their goal through uncovering actions from a past period.

Cast:
Robert Więckiewicz as Lech Wałęsa
Agnieszka Grochowska as Danuta Wałęsa
Zbigniew Zamachowski as Nawiślak
Maria Rosaria Omaggio as Oriana Fallaci
Cezary Kosiński as Majchrzak
Mirosław Baka as Klemens Gniech
Iwona Bielska as Ilona, Wałęsa’s neighbour
Maciej Stuhr as Priest
Małgorzata Zajączkowska as Shop assistant
Marcin Hycnar as KOR member Rysiek
Dorota Wellman as Henryka Krzywonos
Adam Woronowicz as Tadeusz Fiszbach
Marcin Perchuć as Instruktor
Ewa Kuryło as Anna Walentynowicz
Arkadiusz Detmer as Malinowski
Mateusz Kościukiewicz as Krzysiek
Piotr Probosz as Mijak
Ewa Kolasińska as Shipyard worker
Michał Czernecki
Remigiusz Jankowski as Shipyard worker
Wojciech Kalarus as Chairman
Maciej Marczewski as KOR member
Maciej Konopiński as SB agent
Marcel Głogowski as Bogdan Wałęsa (aged 8–10)
Wiktor Malinowski as Jarosław Wałęsa (aged 3–5)
Kamil Jaworski as Przemysław Wałęsa (aged 5–7)
Jakub Świderski as Ludwik Prądzyński
Bogusław Kudłek as Bogdan Borusewicz
Michał Meyer as Jerzy Borowczak
Grzegorz Małecki as UB agent
Ewa Konstancja Bułhak as Customs official
Damian Jagusz as soldier

Review:
Be honest – if you read that synopsis and didn’t think ‘this is propaganda’ then your not being critical. This is a view you must take with any biographical works as inevitably there will be a bias present no matter the intent. Either the subject themselves, in the case of autobiographies, is editting the truth in order to better fit their personal self image or intentionally presenting an image they wish to be accepted as true or, in third party works, you are viewing the events through the perception of someone interpreting their subject for better or worse. It reminds me about someone who once told me they only read biographies because they deal in reality while fiction is just make believe. For such people this film will be accepted at face value.

Andrzej Wajda is a freind of Lech Wałęsa and so there is inevitably a bias. This film romanticises events in favour of depicting Lech Walesa as a man of the people who never did anything questionable. It is a love letter to him displaying his defiant, outspoken behaviour and being seen to be rarely challenged successfully in his opposition to the Soviet era establishment. It is highly romanticised not in it’s imagery, as Wadja’s style is distinctly realist and unsensational (barring a few concessions to cinematic flare), but in how we are presented Lech’s personality, showing him often making political statements and being in control of any enviroment he is in – even when he is taken by the secret police from his family to be interrogated.

Many scenes of the film include achive footage in which the faces of the actors are superimposed onto the footage of the person they are playing. Due to the low quality of the footage in compariosn to modern high definition imagery this is done quite effectively although I would wonder if it feels jarring for those familiar with the real life individuals and this footage in its original form. Apart from this we have dramatisations of Lech’s personal life which presumably has been sourced from multiple accounts to create as close to the actual events as possible – or maybe it’s just from Lech’s perspective and therefore favours his interpretation of events.

In the final third of the film, once he is held by the Soviet authorities, all we have is speculation based on his personal accounts of events. My issue with this? In most of this film we have the intergration of modern and contemporary footage (with the actor’s faces placed over those of the actual historical figures they play) which lends itself to making us unable to distinguish which parts are fact and which parts are further along the sliding scale of fact towards we accept as ‘historical fact’.

What I mean by this is we can only base our knowledge on the accounts given by people of the time and any evidence we are able to establish. History is only what we are told happened and which re-enforces the oft cited cliche ‘the victor writes history’ as we are discovering, time and time again, when historians go back to events long ago and uncover new evidence that the previously accepted ‘truth’ is not what actually happened but was a biased interpretations of events from the perspective of one side.

Why note this distinction between fact and historical fact? This film is doing its best to establish Wałęsa’s legacy as an unquestionably noble figure who did no wrong in his lifetime to achieve his goals and yet there is a challenge to such a perception of him nowadays. Recently Wałęsa has faced accussations of colluding with the Soviet government which he vehemently denies despite growing evidence to the contrary. In the closing minutes of the film we see his interrorgaters comment, to almost cartoonish effect, they will ‘get him later’. This moment works to make the audience also refute any later accusations of collusion they will hear including those currently being discussed in light of new evidence. After all who do we believe – the Soviet authorities who are well known to have used certain methods and obscured the reality of events often or this idealised man of the people?

Further to the cartoonishly villainous declaration of revenge we are given a brief summary, via text on the screen, relaying what occurred after the events depicted. One of these asserts that because of Wałęsa’s actions, and the rise of the Solidarity group, Poland led other Eastern Bloc nations towards rebelling against Soviet control and thus were key in the fall of the Berlin Wall.

This film presented an oversimplification of historical events regarding the downfall of the Soviet Union in it’s closing moments by suggesting Wałęsa’s actions, singlehandedly, began the sequence of events that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. There were a great many other world events and internal problems within the Soviet union which led to its downfall so this film, as I have already mentioned, acts as propaganda attempting to secure the legacy of Wałęsa as one of the great historical figures in the history not just of Poland, which has been so hard fought for throughout the centuries by its citizens, but of the world.

He comes across as a historical figure not a man in this film. An image not a living person similar to how canonised saints are depicted. We have seen this time and time again in biopics which cherrypick what is depicted, how it is depicted and perhaps this is why I tend to avoid watching them because ultimately what we are watching is personality propaganda and not a fair account of the individual’s life. Rarely are such films a fair representation of what actually occurred let alone the unblemished, and sometimes unpalatable, truth. Often they instead iconise their subject either as hero or villain.

A caricature who is defined as representing some noble cause and whose example (of their mythos, not their reality) we should follow, is presented to the audience and we are asked to accept it blindly. There are too many examples of biopics being more fiction than fact but that is something to discuss another day. What is safe to say is that the actions of characters in the film must fit the narrative even if it warps the character of the real life person. Examples I can give off the top of my head are First Officer William Murdoch’s depiction in the 1997 film Titanic and of Vivian Liberto Cash in 2005’s Walk The Line both of whom were depicted negatively to enhance the focus narrative without thought to real world events.

Secondary to depictions of Wałęsa are those of the Italian reporter Oriana Fallaci, who is interviewing him as part of the film’s framing device. She is also somewhat of a caricature of the real life person and the choice for her to be used is itself indicative of Wadja’s intentions. Here she is depicted as the classic image all journalists wish to be seen as. Partisan yet invested. Distant yet intimate with their subject. Taking a stand against perceived injustices in the world yet never personally being involved (or indeed effected by it save, as journalist’s often do to create repore in hopes of exposing weakness in their subject, to express a few half hearted suggestions of sympathy – but never empathy). To be objective though they edit what they write and thus can never truly ignore their own experiences in life thus fostering an image which often overshadows the subject they cover. A journalist’s journalist.

The real life Fallaci often came into conflict with Muslims regarding her outspoken criticism of communities both in the East and West while she maintained an aloof air of superiority over them both. During her 1972 interview with Henry Kissinger, Kissinger stated that the Vietnam War was a “useless war” and compared himself to “the cowboy who leads the wagon train by riding ahead alone on his horse”. Kissinger later claimed that it was “the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press”. In 1973, she interviewed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. She later stated, “He considers women simply as graceful ornaments, incapable of thinking like a man, and then strives to give them complete equality of rights and duties”.

It is hard to suggest that this image isn’t based on one Oriana herself made every effort to enforce during her life through her actions, often intended to incite reaction, and not just Wadja trying to lend further credence to his biopic by using a respected real life journalist in the framing device. She, like any others, was more a journalist seeking glory and building her reputation through conflict than making a difference in the world through her work and reporting things people do not want to accept as reality. Despite the heavily doctored image she seemed to wish to portray of herself fault always lay outside the individual as was the case when she blamed her lung cancer on her stay in Kuwait in 1991 after Saddam Hussein had ordered troops to burn hundreds of oil well alone and not that she had been, by choice, a lifelong heavy smoker. And in this film the fault lay exclusively with the Soviets never with how people did not rise up and challenge them before Wałęsa ascension to, what this film is mythologising as, a figurehead.

Summary:
On many aspects of the film I can find no fault. The acting is impactful, the cinematography up to the standard you would expect of a world class director such as Andrzej Wajda (who sadly passed away 9 October 2016) and it really has the sense, if not the most accurate depiction, of the 1980s in Poland. It is solidly built but the message it wishes to express seems, as with any biographical work, to have a desire to frame events in a certain light and omit anything unseemly in order to create a streamlined mythological narrative about its subject – to create an icon rather than relate a flawed, but inspirational, subject.

My greatest critcism is that Andrzej Wajda considered Lech a personal friend and I feel that this caused him to not cast a critical eye upon his subject. This has led, in this love letter of a film to his freind, to the embellishment of a historical figure and securing of his legacy. It deminishes the moments of true opposition faced in order to secure the heroic, incontestable, historical mythos of Wałęsa. The reason people watch a biopic or read an (auto)biography is to see the person behind the facade but sadly, as is often the case, all we get is a re-enforcement of what was already presented to us elsewhere. If you want an introduction to the life and times of Wałęsa then this is good enough as a biased crib notes like starting point but don’t expect any insight into him or how the Soviet era effected Poland beyond trade union strikes.

If you are interested in the works of Andrzej Wajda, or depictions of Poland under Communist rule, I strongly recommend you go watch Wadja’s Man of Marble (Polish: Człowiek z marmuru) or its sequel Man of Iron (Polish: Człowiek z żelaza) which depict fictionalised characters’ experiences covering the events of the Solidarity movement. In these Wajda is less sentimental about his subject and can better present the moral ‘truth’ of events without concern for offending a friend as has sadly occurred with this biopic made far later in his career.

Москва слезам не верит / Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears (1980)

Москва слезам не верит a.k.a Moscow Doesn’t Believe In Tears
Russian Cinema Council Collection

Quoting the DVD case blurb [sic]: “An Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film. This is a melodrama about life stories of three girls. Three friends Antonina, Liudmila and Yekaterina, come to Moscow in search of their dreams. Sharing a hostel room, the work and have fun together. Antonina soon marries a good man and settles down to raise a family. For Liudmila, Moscow is a sort of lottery, in which you have to pick a lucky ticket. She attempts to conquer this big city, but ends up a loser. The life of the third girl, Yekatrerina, is a contemporary Cinderella story. She had her share of disappointments, but did not despair. In twenty years she built up a career and became director of a big enterprise. A single parent of a daughter, she finally meets the right man and, after long and bitter years of loneliness, finds true happiness…”

So, in case you missed the awkward grammar, I am watching the official international release of the film from Russia and has subtitled done by a native Russian but English as second language speaker. There are one or two times during my copy where the subtitles are awkward. For example there’s one moment where a character remarks ‘We are like personages in a drama’ where the word ‘character’ would be more correct.I will use the translation provided by the DVD so some names like Lyudmila will be appear as Liudmila instead. Also although I refer to Katerina as Yekatrina this is apparently only present on the DVD case. All the signs suggest there seems to have been no proof reading or quality control during the DVD’s production sadly and I am sure it was rectified for later editions.

The film is set in two time periods: 1958, in the middle of the Khrushchev thaw,and 1979, in the middle of the era of stagnation. My DVD copy had two separate disks separating these time periods into two parts. I don’t know why but assume it is because it is a 1999 edition and dual layered discs were not yet commonly used at that point. It is a good breaking point but I don’t think the film had an intermission between these two parts originally.

The three main women represent the 3 stereotypes of women in Soviet Russia.

Antonina is the traditional girl – she marries early on into a secure home life to a husband who is deemed ‘nice by boring’ and has 3 sons.

Liudmila the ‘tart with a heart’ – she dates multiple men gambling on there being better prospects as long as you are willing to take a risk. Liudmila initially seems to have ‘won’ by marrying a sportsman but it is short lived as he is soon retired and borrowing money from her 7 years after their divorce – presumably with no children produced and her working in a dry cleaners looking for the next ‘win’.

Yekaterina is what society would like to believe in – A self sufficient, hard working and educated person who is a productive, successful, citizen overcoming her circumstances. A single mother who overcame difficulties through focusing on her studies in youth, worked hard for a very senior position in her company and was rewarded by the universe with a man who fulfils her. Arguably she is the most recognisable to western audiences as she represents the viewer’s wish fulfilment, common in films worldwide, though it should be noted the film, as part of this wish fulfilment, glosses over the day to day hardships she faced in those intervening 20 years during the time skip which were necessary for her to arrive at the position she is in during the second part.

Perhaps it is interesting to compare them with the men they end up with.

Antonina marries Nikolai early on and settles into a successful, if dull, marriage producing three sons. As Tolstoy said ‘All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’. They play little influence in events save to be a safe haven for Lyudmila, who has no one else reliable in her life, and Katerina who has been so career focused she has forsaken all else it seems initially.

Liudmila, ever the hegemonist flirt, marries Sergei Gurin who is a rising sports star believing, at the end of the first part, herself to have hit the jackpot she so often speaks of. However in the second half we find her living alone and he comes begging her to loan him more money – even going as far as becoming physical with her out of desperation. When he is at bars he is recognised and never has to buy his own drink but is left unfulfilled with the hope of becoming a coach now his own career is over. Liudmila continues to flirt with any prospective men – even becoming jealous of a general’s wife who she believes has ‘won the lottery’. She otherwise seems to live vicariously through Antonina, who has succeeded in building a family, and Katerina who has a successful career. This leaves her in the role of acting as a sort of eccentric ‘larger than life’ aunt to the children or at worst a warning to Alexandra of what she will become if she doesn’t begin to learn from her mother’s example of taking responsibility and working hard but continues to rely on others and luck.

Katerina has a relationship with Rodion, a TV camera man (often to be found reiterating his view that TV will replace cinema, theatre, books and newspapers) who after a brief tryst abandons her to raise their daughter by herself. He even has his mother go visit Katerina to tell her to stop harassing him to take responsibility (although it was Liudmila calling to help her friend who had resigned herself to fate). Years later he is sent to interview a senior executive and doesn’t recognise Katerina initially. He then meets with her wanting to see Alexandra but Katerina refuses telling him she has done well enough without him in her life. Towards the end he arrives, unannounced, to Katerina’s apartment and, in anger, she tells Alexandra he is her father. I actually found this story thread didn’t get resolved by the end so, with how Alexandra interacts with Gosha, it is no doubt implied she rejects Rodion. At the start of the second half she is also involved with a married man who is cowardly and so she abandons him soon after we rejoin her. The most important of her partners though is Gosha who she meets by chance on a train going home after visiting Antonina’s dacha. He is a staunchly traditional man but, unaware of Katerina’s successful career, begins a relationship with her often expounding how it is a man’s place to be head of the household. Needless to say he finds out he will not be the highest earner in the house and immediately takes flight, more so over having been lied to than a bruised ego (although it is easy to argue either way considering cultural differences). There is certainly a middle aged Cinderella aspect to her storyline during the second half of the film and how she serendipitously encounters him on the train home after the arranged meetings club fails to find her a match suiting her expectations.

In fact Alexandra could be said to serve as a sort of epilogue to the accumulated experiences of the central female characters. Initially when introduced she seems all but a copy of Liudmila by being self indulgent spending her time listening to music and being no where near as active as the older women were at her age. Instead she seems to be relying on others for her pleasures as did Liudmila by dating various young men and using the dorm’s telephone as her number. However we see her develop once Gosha is introduced. She recognises the earnest morality of Gosha who, unlike her mother, engages with her involving her in cooking and other household tasks. When she admits she doesn’t know how to cook, which is very likely with her career orientated mother, he offers to teach her. Thus she is willing to better herself – not relying on improving her prospects by marriage or fortunate but through doing things herself. When he, without a second thought, goes to aid her boyfriend who has been ganged up on by her former paramour she wants her mother to know but he insists there is no need as this is just what a man should do. She begins acknowledging the value in others – he proves he is who he has presented himself as even though some doubt might have been thrown by how many superlative plaudits his friends bestow on him at his birthday (which he invites the unaware Katerina and Alexandra to thinking it no big thing). He is good for her mother and she recognises this in him even if it means she will now be expected to contribute to the home. When Rodion is revealed as her father, having forced his way into her life and upset her mother, we don’t see her reaction in any significance but considering the final scene it may be implied that she sees Gosha as more of a father figure in that he, without want of compensation, does what he can to fulfil the role acting altruistically towards anyone who needs his help. She has learned the value of hard work but, as evidence by her having a boyfriend, society has moved on but some things remain the same through the generations. So the future seems bright – she is still learning but has a strong community of support around her.

Conclusion
It was very good but definitely is a film of its period. The subtitles, done by a Russian had one or two awkward translations – e.g. someone saying ‘we are like personages in a drama’ where we would say ‘characters in a drama’. The way it was filmed was very 70s and films made in Britain had a very similar look from that period. US President Ronald Reagan watched the film several times prior to his meetings with the President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, in order to gain a better understanding of the “Russian soul”. I doubt he did as its such a hard concept to depict but certainly he would have seen its heart and that the world over people have similar hopes and dreams despite differences in language and culture.

I guess I have become used to older films being ‘remastered’ as my copy seemed a bit low quality despite being an official DVD from the Russian Cinema Council… But then it was a 1999 edition so maybe someone has improved the quality, in later released editions, since then as HD quality wasn’t a concern at the time.

What really stands out with the edition I have is the extras. Many of the main actors, the director, the scriptwriter and the composer are interviewed. There is a documentary about Moscow and photo galleries. The film comes with the original Russian dub but also a French and an English one. The subtitles come in Russian, English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Hebrew, Swedish, Chinese, Arabic and Japanese. Ironically though the back of the DVD states [sic] ‘Not for sale on the territory of the former USSR’ so it obviously is meant for the international not domestic market!

Aleksey Batalov (Алексей Владимирович Баталов) pretty much stole the show in the second half as Gosha. To put it in context his role is a Soviet version of the ‘manic pixie [boyfriend]’ trope as he seems all too perfect in his portrayal although he does have traditional views about being the man of the house. Such views were falling out of favour in their depiction in the west during the time of the film’s release but it has always been an element of wish fulfilment in romantic films that the female protagonist finds a man who can provide for her both emotionally and financially – so traditional values have never really gone out of fashion. The other characters I can easily imagine being in western films with little if any alteration so look out for that Hollywood remake (if one hasn’t already been made)!

This is one of the keystones of Russian cinema and an essential viewing experience for anyone interested in Russia, Soviet cinema or indeed world cinema. (Albeit I will add that this was filmed during more lenient times so those looking for a Stalinist era depiction, as is the common shorthand imagery used in western cinematic depictions *cough*Child44*cough* need to look elsewhere). The story is easy to follow and compelling. There are one or two moments of very brief nudity but it is very naive and a few moments of physical violence but nothing that wouldn’t be shown before the watershed (i.e. it is safe for all to watch). I highly recommend it.

Cast

Vera Alentova – Katerina Tikhomirova
Irina Muravyova – Lyudmila
Aleksey Batalov – Gosha
Raisa Ryazanova – Antonina
Aleksandr Fatyushin – Sergei Gurin
Boris Smorchkov – Nikolai
Viktor Uralsky – Nikolai’s Father
Valentina Ushakova – Nikolai’s Mother
Yuri Vasilyev – Rodion Rachkov
Yevgeniya Khanayeva – Rachkov’s Mother
Liya Akhedzhakova – Olga Pavlovna, Club’s Director
Zoya Fyodorova – Hostel’s Security
Natalya Vavilova – Alexandra
Oleg Tabakov – Vladimir, Katerina’s lover
Vladimir Basov – Anton Kruglov
Cameo appearances:
Andrei Voznesensky
Innokenty Smoktunovsky
Georgi Yumatov
Leonid Kharitonov
Tatyana Konyukhova
Pavel Rudakov and Veniamin Nechaev
Just as in Hollywood you might have someone like Bill Murray play a bit part in one scene as a cameo so you have the same here. I cannot say with authority in which scenes they appear but its safe to say many do so in the sequence where Katerina visits the ‘friendship agency’ in the second half where there is some humour about much older men wanting to be placed in the groups with women far too young for them.

Songs from the film

Bésame mucho


By Sergey Nikitin and Tatyana Nikitina:
Александра (Alexandra)

Диалог у новогодней елки (A dialogue by the New Year’s tree)

By Klavdiya Shulzhenko:
Давай закурим (Davai zakurim / “Lets take a smoke”)


Usually when I review films I go into some depth but I am trying to self edit a bit more nowadays. Hopefully this post is compelling enough though I feel I have left so much out.

I found Star Media on YouTube and it has many interesting Russia films and series on there so I may be watching quite a few of them. Any recommendations of good older films, which they will be more likely to have, are more than welcome 🙂