28 панфиловцев a.k.a. Panfilov’s 28 Men a.k.a. Battle of Moscow

A 2016 war film based on the Soviet propaganda legend about a group of soldiers, Panfilov’s Twenty-Eight Guardsmen, who heroically halt and destroy Nazi tanks headed for Moscow before they all perishing together on the battlefield. It is set in the Eastern Front of World War II and covers the 8th Guards Rifle Division operations during the 1941 Battle of Moscow

Supported by the gamers of War Thunder. The film was crowd funded by the donations of 35,086 people. Thus allowing the specially set up Panfilov’s 28 film studio to be made for the project with financial support from the Russian Ministry of Culture and the Russian Cinema Fund with assistance of the Kazakhstan Ministry of Culture and Sport in partnership with Shaken Aimanov Kazakhfilm with the assistance of the Russian Military-Historical Society.

… so yes. Just like the American army gives money towards Hollywood films that promote them, including the Transformers franchise, so too do Russian and Kazakhstan government departments. However if the Russian Military-Historical Society had access to the vehicles they are the ones who contributed the most although my assumption is they were more likely acting as the background extras in the scenes that required it while trained actors were at the forefront ad the vehicles were provided by the government departments.

Directed by

Kim Druzhinin
Andrey Shalopa

Produced by

Anton Yudintsev
Andrey Shalopa

Screenplay by

Andrey Shalopa

Starring

Aleksandr Ustyugov
Yakov Kucherevskiy

Azamat Nigmanov
Oleg Fyodorov
Aleksey Morozov

Music by

Mikhail Kostylev

Cinematography

Nikita Rozhdestvenskiy

Production
company

Panfilov’s Twenty Eight
Gaijin Entertainment

Release date

November 24, 2016 (Russia)

Running time

105 minutes

Country

Russia

Language

Russian

Budget

$1,700,000

Box office

$6,346,968 (January 2017)

₽385 million CIS
₽366.6 million roubles (Russia)
₸61.3 million tenge (Kazakhstan)

PLOT

USSR, late November 1941. Based on the account by reporter Vasiliy Koroteev that appeared in the Red Army’s newspaper, Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star), shortly after the battle, this is the story of Panifilov’s Twenty-Eight, a group of twenty-eight soldiers of the Red Army’s 316th Rifle Division, under the command of General Ivan Panfilov, that stopped the advance on Moscow of a column of fifty-four German tanks of the 11th Panzer Division for several days. Though armed only with standard issue Mosin-Nagant infantry rifles and DP and PM-M1910 machine guns, all useless against tanks, and with wholly inadequate RPG-40 anti-tank grenades and PTRD-41 anti-tank rifles, they fight tirelessly and defiantly, with uncommon bravery and unwavering dedication, to protect Moscow and their Motherland.

SYNOPSIS

“Commemorating war does not only mean sorrow and grief. We also remember the battles and heroism that brought victory.”

– Commander, Panfilov Division, Bauyrzhan Momyshuly

November 14, 1941

A training barracks outside Moscow.

‘Of course mental strength matters most. Physical strength and courage too, but not so much.’ is the opening dialogue of the film.

Notably though in the dialogue you hear tovarishch ( Товарищ ) the subtitles omit this. Good in one way to avoid excessive subtitles but it omits indicating who is a citizen and who is a party member for those with a bit more of an in depth knowledge of the era.

A group meeting is held outside as the commanding officer or sergeant explains a tank’s weaknesses. Molotov cocktails are handed out.

The commander rides off on a white horse as the meeting continues.

A practise is arranged to train how to attack a German tank. The officers smoke saying the battle will be historic with looks of foreboding concern clear on their faces.

A war story report about a comrade Filin who was killed taking out an anti-tank gun with grenades is read by a lieutenant. The soldiers discuss the bulletin half mocking how often they’ve heard it repeated as they cut wood to make the tank model for their practise.

At sun set the wooden frame tank is dragged by the soldiers as one stood in a hole is informed how to act.

Inside the officers discuss recent military movements and the impending confrontation.

Many are Asian, specifically from Kazakhstan, which you wouldn’t see in a western film of these events despite the geographical area Russia covers as the old propaganda always depicted Russians as 7 foot tall, platinum blonde, white men with heavy athletic builds – which ironically meant they then had to go hire Scandinavian actors, e.g. the Swedish Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV, to depict this stereotype as it really isn’t as common in Russian heritage as they would like to think (though of course you have the Slavic ethnic group we most common think of when thinking of ‘a Russian’ who share a common genetic heritage with the Ukranians, Polish, etc). Of course this all came to a head with Arnold Schwarzenegger, a universally well known Austrian, in Red Heat. The irony being that, in the Soviet era, they depicted Americans in much the same way, overtly tall and muscular brutes, and so there was a lot of surprise after the fall of the Berlin Wall, from both sides, that actually they look more or less the same as each other being a mix of ethnicities and appearances.

The officers remain and discuss their concerns as the soldiers have a snowball fight outside ignorant of their impending fate as they’ve been stationed doing little if anything besides digging trenches pointlessly for some time now.

Everyone prepares to move out the next day.

A soldier leaves his woman behind. Is she his lover, wife, girlfriend, cousin or sister? We never know. (I looked away for a second but I don’t think the scenes given any more context than ‘cliché scene to insert for soldier’s beginning to move out leaving their loved one’s behind’. We never see her again nor is she mentioned.

Later the commanding officer addresses the assembled soldier backlit by a spotlight. He says inspirational things – how they’ll defend their beloved motherland and the ‘great’ German army will know failure. History has known many brave warriors but none more so than them defending not only Moscow but the rest of their homeland.

Marching a soldier tells a story of a village who were being attacked by bandits so chose to fight and hired an expert – a samurai. 40 bandits vs 7 men. The warriors built fortifications. The gang was defeated. Someone says they heard it but it was in America and cattle herders. They laugh and joke.

The officers discuss not being detected by the Germans and ask the commanding officer not worry about it. The CO tells them to dig in and hold their ground. Stand firm but stay alive – that is the paradox they are presented with he admits.

The soldiers continue discussing their tales of heroic warriors. Now they move onto the battle of Thermopylae. (As seen in Frank Miller’s 300 or it’s film adaption by Zack Snyder). Perhaps it is just me but this film is being a bit apocryphal citing seven samurai and 300… would Soviet soldiers know of either of those events? Of course the film makers are alluding to their films by Kurosawa and Snyder which themselves are based on the embellished legends of historical events and therefore this is a knowing wink to the audience that the film-makers here too acknowledge what they are depicting is somewhat fantastical but intended, as the story was meant to at the time, be inspirational but at the same time early in the film, if not the first scene, we have the soldiers mocking such propoganda which isn’t something you see in American made war films. Quite refreshing really though of course this is one of many such films based on historical war events.

Later the soldiers are digging trenches and mock an old woman calling them heathens ‘worse than Muslims’ joking she mistook the Asian Kazakh Russians for Muslims and then asked if they ran out of ‘Russian Russians’. (again I would like to think this is a knowing wink to the audience but I have little doubt Kazakh troops faced prejudice at the time just as was the case in other countries including America which split their troop along racial lines often). They laugh and their supervisor scolds them it’ll be sunrise soon so they need to finish up and the Krauts will be there soon.

A machine gun is set up looking across the frozen fields before being put back into the hole.

A swerving trench is dug into a treeline. A captain criticises the placement of a cannon but decides they’ll test it later

Soldiers mock a soldier who, having read a political leaflet, asks where he can get a white flag… then add the Germans will kill you anyway so you’re stuck in the red army.

It was a common theme to jokes during the Soviet time: you could run from the red army but where would you go? If you run away during battle you’re only delaying the inevitable conflict. If, outside of times of conflict, you got the necessary papers to travel you can only go to another part of the Soviet Union unless you”re connected in the diplomatic services or find good enough forgeries. If you did somehow get outside the borders you probably have no connections as all the white emigre (i.e. the people who fled in 1917) escaped with their entire families decades ago and anyone who defects later has to have a use to the west to ensure they can do so (e.g. be an exceptional dancer, scientist, etc) or skillset (e.g. plumbing/engineering) in order to help them gain money to survive. In other words you’ve nowhere to go to… You’re already home… so get used to it and do what needs to be done to survive here! Fatalistic black humour is a keystone of Russia’s culture during this period.

One soldier wonders if they’ve disguised the cannon enough with white cloth and such. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ he’s told how the Germans shot their air planes in the tail as there was not defensive gun there in it’s design thus leaving them vunerable until redesigned.

In the trenches others discuss fighting for their land. Because it is their land and otherwise there’s nowhere to live. Two forms of it exist: the Motherland can be burned – its where they live however the fatherland also exists – but it’s how they live. Someone asked ‘but if a Frenchman learned Russian they wouldn’t make him Russian?’ He’s teased that a German couldn’t be but if they fought the Nazis and learnt Russian then maybe a Frenchman could be.

A plane flies overhead. Its said it has paper thin armour. A soldier raises his rifle and is scolded that its foolish to do so. He shoots anyway and is joined by another.

Kazhan and other languages are spoken as the group is mixed. Soldiers discuss asking how well those outside Moscow live. A sack of potatoes. An old man is given barbed wire to fortify his shack but he says it’s pointless. The soldiers passing by couldn’t have any delicacies only what they could scrounge.

In the trenches the captain gets a radio call. They are to rise early tomorrow. The artillery commander arrives tomorrow. They’ll get support fire if needed.

Elsewhere under cover of night the Nazis run forward in formation preparing for the conflict tomorrow. In the trenches the red army men sleep. The Nazis uncover their cannons and begin shelling just before dawn. In the nearby village the old men look out wistfully. This is the last we see of them. Assume they’re dead because there will be nothing left on the horizon once the battles over.

A red army solider wonders if they know their locations or are shelling randomly. ‘3 hours no losses – except their hearing’. The captain approaches teases they couldn’t sleep. No answers one, not with this lullaby and is told they’ll have time to stretch their legs soon.

The captain mocks it is an orchestra but soon there will be an intermission and they’ll swarm the buffet. A solider is told to wear a helmet to protect his head as dirt flies past him.

The Germans begin moving forward in formation behind their tanks. When the shooting stops they’ll have arrived face to face with the Russians the Red Army captain is told.

The Russians take position under cover of the forest and wait for two shots to ring out signalling their counter attack. A solider mocks the Germans think they know the Russian weak point. Kazakhs, he says to his friend, they’ll show them Kazakh men when they attack Kazakhstan and is agreed with.

All is silent as we pan across the trenches where the soldiers are ready with their rifles poised.

A spotter reports what the German forces are composed of.

The captain signals to fire a cannon.

The spotter corrects the range.

The captain signals to fire again.

It strikes and some infantry are taken out but still the tanks move ever forward.

The Russian command centre marks of the map the events. Planes fly overhead… but they are German and the red army mock they’re like vultures ready to swoop down.

The CO is informed on the telephone of events. The trench soldiers begin firing and take out some infantry. A cannon takes out the treads of a tank. A volley nearly hits the trenches. The music is all in the minor key but building. A fragmentation shell is shot at the tanks being abandoned and kills its crew but another German tank takes out a cannon on the forest edge though the soldiers get into the trenches just in time.

The Kazakh sniper repositions as cover fire takes more infantry.

The Germans withdraw. Why the infantry march alongside the tanks seems foolish.

It’s commented they didn’t take long to leave. He’s told they’ll be back soon as he strikes up a cigarette. Isn’t it odd he says again. He’s told not to worry.

Another pair chat mocking that the Germans probably think anyone left alive will flee.

The Germans will change their tactics and hit the weak points. This was just a test.

The captain runs across a field to see a man, Pasha, being taken away on a horse drawn stretcher. He’s told everything is fine that they will be there when he returns to the front… but the captain has a look saying the bleeding wont stop and Pasha won’t make it.

Back at the trenches the soldiers smoke in silence. Sombre music plays.

In the trench’s office the captain reports to the CO. Six injured and Pasha went for treatment. Told to keep it up. As if there is another option…

It won’t be a sprinkler next time, he reflects after, but a downpour when the Germans attack again.

Natarov refuses to move as he wants to shoot a plane. He is told to take cover when it fails. Volleys of German cannon fire rain down along the trenches line knocking dirt about

‘See they don’t want to fight, saving themselves for Moscow – which is good for us – puts us at an advantage’ a soldier comments.

Another mocks ‘them being cowards certainly puts us at an advantage, lets hope they don’t bomb us to bits out of fear’.

The banter continues but it is acknowledged they’re not idiots even if they see tanks burning and people dying.

A massive volley of focused shelling rains down over the trenches. A solider sees his friend is dead buried under unsettled soil.

The sergeant in the bunker who said they were fearful now changes his tone reflecting the red army ranks will be thinned so they must become a stubborn thorn in the Germans side. ‘The strategy is no heroics’. He scolds a younger soldier who comments that’s it not a matter of choice to be shot.

An injured solider is being tended to by someone saying visiting the dentist is torture this is nothing – just as a shell sends him flying.

The sergeant reiterates no heroics – just burn tanks.

The commander paces back and forth as the radio operator tries to contact the fourth company who are out of contact. No success.

Shells continue to rain down.

The forest is left in smoking devastation. Soldiers slowly crawl out of the dirt checking who is or isn’t alive.

The captain goes around checking surviving numbers and having everyone regroup.

The German tanks begin moving again as the Russian dead are moved off the battlefield.

Off the front two more carts are ordered to carry people away and a message to be sent.

The Germans begin another assault on land. The lighting in the damaged trench is very cinematic suddenly in this one scene for the radio report to the CO. only 28 men left … but no re-enforcements can be sent. He has to hold the line. The CO sits back down disconcerted knowing he’s just given the group a death sentence.

The captain says nine tanks need to be set alight to send a message. He gives a rousing speech that they’ve nowhere to run.

”we’re out of options, brothers. Although our land seems vast, and we are ready to die for it, we have nowhere to retreat. And we cannot die until we stop the Germans because we’re defending the last line. After us, that’s it. After us, it’s Moscow.”

The soldiers resign themselves to their fate and begin preparing as the tanks approach.

Yakov is asked if the story is true the Nazis tired to blast him out of a dugout with grenades and he threw 14 back at them? He mocks that the story has already been blown out of proportion to that level. Lies, he says, but when pressed admits it was 5. then later they threw a sixth so he wouldn’t have time to react. The soldier asks for more but Yakov says he’ll tell him later. ‘When?’ demands the soldier. ‘At night, before bed’. As the soldier leaves he adds it wasn’t in the dugout either…

The sergeant says now its a matter of precision so they need to let them get closer so they know they’ve definitely hit them. Someone mocks he’s happy not to be a tank crewman as it’s certain death.

An older soldier prays. A younger soldier asks what he’s doing and he says nothing ‘for the motherland’ and the younger guy says that’s how it should be.

Everyone waits tensely. A few treads are taken from tanks by cannons but return fire takes out the crew of one cannon. Then the machine gun of a tank kills the Kazakh sniper so his colleague takes the anti-tank rifle and fires at the treads of one tank successfully. He hopes his brothers in arms rest easy now.

A machine gunner takes out Fascist infantry and one soldier wields a grenade. Grenades are thrown at the tanks. The machine gun give a new belt feed. A Molotov cocktail thrown on a tank. A rifleman mocks the machine gunner must be going for a record as he’s leaving none to be shot. A tank tries to shoot the machine gunner but misses. Then the feed ends and echoing shots of lone rifles ring out across the battle field.

Another anti-tank rifle man shoots a driver mocking he wont be swinging his cross around here… as Grisha the older soldier aids him…

a grenade takes out a tank and as another soldier tires to throw one he’s hit but throws it still. The German infantry are on top of the trenches now.

Red Army men are laid out side by side in the forest as the cannons are dragged further back by bleeding men.

A tank descends on 3 men. A grenade takes out the tank but two are shot. The survivor throws the Molotov cocktail and empties his machine gun. Fortunately a rifle man stops the tank by shooting the loner gunner.

Ammunition is running low so the surviving soldiers let the tanks pass in hopes to regroup and deal only with infantry.

A man crawls through the trenches picking up a grenade. But his is shot before he can throw it. But he can still shoot. So he crawls over the top and fires until he passes out. The man who aided him took the grenade and realises they’re losing.

The battle field is a mix of snow and charred soil. An anti-tank rifle is carried across the line and prepared. It takes out the treads of a tank. A cannon takes out the treads of another. The man calls for someone to bring a shell but no one is left alive so he grabs on off a nearby corpse. But this is enough time for the tank to aim its cannon and take him out along with the cannon he was manning.

An anti-tank rifle man and his brother are taken out. Then another. The tank climbs over the trench but gets stuck ripping soil out burying the corpses.

Slowly the Red Army soldiers are being picked off now one by one and buried by the tanks pulling over the trenches.

But a man rises out of the dirt (Yakov?) and throws a grenade before dying and it stops on of the tanks.

This gives the remaining men a second wind and one runs up, climbs the exterior and throws a Molotov cocktail into the window of the tank hoping it warms them up.

The riflemen and assault rifles hold the line but Vasily is hit and passing out telling Grisha and others to fight on. The survivors are running through the trenches and throw a Molotov into a tank on their way. Grisha is told to fire ‘at the pedestrians’ and is covered by another just as a grenade lands near them. They’re both find and go to find Diev.

More German infantry run across the field and now the Russians are down to small hand guns. The Germans fall to the ground when they think a grenade has been thrown. They realise it was a fake

The sergeant tells the injured political officer its okay only a few are left…

The German infantry walk over the barbed wire as the Russians lie in wait. One man picks up a hatchet like trench shovel. That’s all they’ve got now. Another holds a knife. Tension builds.

But a machine gun mows the Germans down. Who is it? A German tank commander looks through his binoculars. Its… I don’t know who. Younger guy. The belt feed seems to never end nor get jammed. One German makes a break for it but the feed continues again suddenly. Daniil was the man on the mounted machine gun.

Over the radio the German tank commander has an order to withdraw. And so the tank line moves back.

The Red army men breathe a sigh of relief.

The sun sets over the quiet smouldering landscape as black smoke pours out of the tanks above the snowy upturned fields.

Daniil joins the sergeant ‘saved some aces for last’. ‘it was luck’. ‘luck had nothing to do with it’. He jokes they’ll tell their grandchildren there were more then the 14 tanks they fought. They lament everyone of them is a hero… because so few are left. That’s how they fight… that’s how war is. A few others climb the mound in front of them and look out upon the horizon. It was a victory but it was a loss. So it is in Russian war fare. There is no glory.

We end on a monochrome sweeping image of the Soviet Realism styled statues erected in those fields and the markings of where the trenches were.

During the credits we see more of the monument erected to the men who died in a park. I don’t know it but I’m sure people who’ve been to Moscow would recognise it as before it an eternal flame is lit.

REVIEW

The music in this film is quite simple in it’s composition but has it’s charm. It’s not bombastic orchestral work like an American film just simple strings and accompaniment underpinning the tension and moments of determination we see the ensemble undergo.

The recent trend of shaky-cam during conflict scenes is thankfully avoided here so you will always clearly see events and know where things are within context of each other. The camera work is on the whole serviceable for the rest of the film but nothing particularly memorable.

Costume wise perhaps I felt at the start everyone was a little too clean, as was the criticism of Enemy At The Gates, but then they had only been training not in conflict at that point and it’s certainly gone by the point they’re in the trenches. As the historical society was involved no doubt they aimed for as much visual accuracy as possible however, in contrast, as the events are based on propaganda it is easy to believe that many events or the film are exaggerated for effect.

Set design, apart from the interior of the Commanding Officers room, is limited to exterior shots of , at most, small villages or the trenches. Maybe a lot of it was filmed on sound stages for all I know but you wouldn’t think so. Again, along with the camera work, it’s serviceable on it’s limited budget and thus achieves what it needs to if not at times excels like that one very cinematic shot moment of the shelled trench room when the radio request is made to the CO.

Of course the film is biased to come degree – all war films are even when they’re praised for being unbiased – but it was crowd funded and so there is that level of being indebted to the contributors… just as major films are to their producers. However as I noted they give nods acknowledging it’s based on propoganda and therefore even if these events occurred they’re heavily embellished stories and should not be taken as a report of fact unlike some other war films. But on the whole it’s a straight forward affair and if you’re looking for something about the Eastern Front of World War II it isn’t one I would say you shouldn’t see. Are there better films? Probably but I like the straight forwardness of this and that it doesn’t do any ‘big damn hero’ stuff until the final moment and to be honest when you hear about some of the real life things that occurred during war time it actually underplays how dramatic it could have been portrayed.

If I do have a criticism it’s probably the translation and subtitles. They should refer to the Nazis as Fascists because not all the forces aligned with the Germans were technically card carrying Nazis though were aligned with them. Look at my review of the Estonian film ‘1944’ to see a different perspective on it. Thus there is that issue though I image many would offer the counter argument that the Fascists in this film are all but faceless mooks there to be ‘the opposition’ either to kill the protagonists or be mowed down by them thus giving them any context beyond ‘target’ is asking too much especially for something based on propoganda.

Also if you wanted to read the credits on screen forget it unless you’re watching this on a cinema screen and have it at 4kD…

As for the DVD: it’s no thrills. You just get the subtitled film and a chapter select.

You like war films? Give it a go. You want to see a recently made Russian war film. Give it a go. You want to see what crowd funding (which then gets further funding from government sources admittedly) can achieve? Give it a go. Just don’t go in with high expectations. It gets the job done and is reasonably entertaining but it’s not something you will remember much about afterwards.

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 🙂

Moscow State Symphony Orchestra Concert

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

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


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

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

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

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


Moscow State Symphony Orchestra
International Concert Series

Tuesday 17 May, 7.30pm to 9.30pm

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

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

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

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


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


 

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

pre show

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

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

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

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

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

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

20160517_192456

 

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

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

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

20160517_213634

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

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


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International Childrens Day 1st June and 1979 the International Year of the Child

Happy International Children’s Day everyone!

Children’s Day is recognized on various days in many places around the world, to honour children globally. It was first proclaimed by the World Conference for the Well-being of Children in 1925 and then established universally in 1954 to protect an “appropriate” day.

The International Day for Protection of Children, is observed in many countries as Children’s Day on June 1 since 1950, was established by the Women’s International Democratic Federation on its congress in Moscow (22 November 1949). Major global variants include a Universal Children’s Day on November 20, by the United Nations‘ recommendation.

JUNE 1 USE THIS international childrens day soviet 1979

Here is a Russian pin badge celebrating UNESCO’s declaration that 1979 would be the International Year of the Child.

The Cyrillic translates as follows:

международный = International
год ребенка = Year of the Child (lit. Year Child)

UNESCO proclaimed 1979 as the International Year of the Child. The proclamation was signed on January 1, 1979 by United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim. A follow-up to the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child, the proclamation was intended to draw attention to problems that affected children throughout the world, including malnutrition and lack of access to education. Many of these efforts resulted in the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989.

Numerous events took place within the UN and in member countries to mark the event, including the Music for the UNICEF Concert, held at the UN General Assembly on January 9. WBZ-TV 4 in Boston, Massachusetts, along with the four other Group W stations, hosted and broadcast a celebratory festival, ‘Kidsfair’, usually held around Labour Day ever since, from Boston Common. Canadian animator/director Eugene Fedorenko created a film for the National Film Board of Canada, called “Every Child“, which centred on a nameless baby who nobody wants because they’re too busy with their own concerns. This was used to explain the importance of how every child is entitled to a home. Sound effects were created with the voices of Les Mimes Electriques.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children%27s_Day
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Year_of_the_Child

…The pin badge, to a modern eye, does look more than a little bit racist doesn’t it?


Like, Comment or Follow all are welcome 🙂

Child 44 (2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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