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Elena-Movie Review 04/20/2013

Posted by Films to consider in Cannes Film Festival, Drama, European Film Awards, Ghent International Film Festival, Moscow International Film Festival, Movies, Psychological Suspense, Russian language film, Suspense, Thriller.
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ELENA (Russian) 2011

Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev
Starring Nadezhda Markina, Andrey Smirnov, and Elena Lyadova

Among other awards and nominations:
WINNER, Un Certain Regard-Special Jury Prize; NOMINATED, Un Certain Regard Award (both Zvyagintsev), Cannes Film Festival
NOMINATED, Best Actress (Markina), European Film Awards
WINNER, Grand Prix-Best Film, Ghent International Film Festival
WINNER, Russian Film Clubs Federation Award (Zvyagintsev), Moscow International Film Festival

Elena (Markina), a middle-aged woman, marries for a second time, and her husband Vladimir (Smirnov) turns out to be a domineering man who is wealthy but tight-fisted. Even after Vladimir has a heart attack and comes close to death, he refuses to help Elena’s son financially.

The director makes good use of striking images and outstandingly suspenseful music (Philip Glass). The film is labelled a thriller on the DVD case, but I’d consider it more of a psychological suspense.

109 min. Not rated. Adult themes.

The Outskirts-Movie Review 11/04/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Berlin International Film Festival, Chicago International Film Festival, Dark Comedy, Dark Drama, FIPRESCI Award, Movies, Political Thriller, Pyotr Lutsik, Russian language film.
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The Outskirts (Russian) 1998

Among other awards and nominations:
WINNER, Don Quixote Award (Lutsik), Berlin International Film Festival
WINNER, FIPRESCI Prize, (Lutsik), Chicago International Film Festival
WINNER, Philip Morris Award (Lutsik), Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
WINNER, Jury Prize (Lutsik), Sarajevo Film Festival

Directed by Pyotr Lutsik
Starring Yuri Dubrovin, Nikolay Olyalin, and Aleksei Pushkin

A group of neighbors leave a collective farm and trek across the countryside to find the person who sold much of the land to oil interests and bring him to their brand of “justice.”

A very dark comedy that’s also listed as a political thriller. In fact, the darkness of the DVD itself (as the liner mentions) is literal, and you will probably have to turn up the brightness of your television. The film is shot in black and white, adding to the drab and often depressing landscape and interiors.

I came across this DVD accidentally, and its deadpan humor might not appeal to everyone. There is likely humor that gets lost in the subtitles, and political references that would not be understood. The director received several prestigious honors. Worth a try if you like to see something a little different; it certainly wasn’t predictable!

95 min. Not rated. Not suitable for children.


Harvest Time-Movie Review 06/25/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Drama, Movies, Russian language film.
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Harvest Time (Russian) 2004

Winner, FIPRESCI Prize; also Russian Film Critics Award – Special Mention (Marina Razbezhkina), Moscow International Film Festival
Winner, Prize Trieste (Marina Razbezhkina), Trieste Film Festival
Winner, Silver Alexander; also Special Artistic Achievement (Marina Razbezhkina), Thessaloniki Film Festival
Nominated, European Discovery of the Year (Marina Razbezhkina), European Film Awards

Written and directed by Marina Razbezhkina
Starring Lyudmila Motornaya, Vyacheslav Batrakov, Dmitri Yermokov, and Dmitri Yakovlev; narrated by Sergei Starostin

A family of four – mother Antonina (Motornaya), father Gennady (Batrakov), and two boys, Vanya (Yakovlev) and Kolya (Yermokov) – lives on a collective farm in Russia in the 1950s. The younger son, who is mostly silent as a child, narrates the story as an adult.

Family life takes place in close quarters in a small house, along with animals of various sorts. The father, like many in the local community, was wounded in the war; although he has no legs, he still shares a lighthearted approach to life with his sons. The mother contributes to the collective by driving the harvester. She wins an award for her hard work as best combine operator, the only female to do so. Her award is a Challenge Red Banner, however, and not the bolt of beautiful calico fabric she would have liked. When the officials arrive for the award ceremony, the father falls for the guest singer. Family life goes downhill as the mother becomes jealous and the father starts drinking all the time.

With occasional moments of humor, the short film offers a portrait of strong people overwhelmed by the circumstances in which they live. I found it moving and interesting, but not uplifting.

67 min. Not rated. Adult themes.


Alexandra-Movie Review 02/26/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Emotional Drama, Movies, Russian language film.
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Alexandra (Russian) 2007

Official Selection, Cannes Film Festival; Toronto Film Festival; New York Film Festival
Nominated, Palme D’Or, Cannes Film Festival

Directed by Alexander Sokurov
Starring Galina Vishnevskaya

This is a quietly impressive film, whose main character, Alexandra (Vishnevskaya) brings a powerful presence and bearing from the very beginning. In brief, during the second Chechen War, Alexandra visits her grandson, an army officer, on his base in a remote and desolate area that borders on enemy territory. The hardships she is willing to endure are an indication of her determination and inner strength. Others, including military officers, seem to acknowledge that in how they react to her.

Galina Vishnevskaya is a famous and beloved Russian opera singer. The DVD includes a press interview with her, Sokurov, and composer/producer Andrei Sigle. The filmmakers, who were given unusual access to actual army soldiers and local citizens, also had to endure many hardships during the filming. I strongly suggest watching the interviews first as it puts the significance of the setting and the character of the grandmother in context.

Favorite line: “My body has grown old. But my soul can still live another lifetime.”

92 min. Unrated.


Vodka Lemon-Movie Review 11/23/2010

Posted by Films to consider in Armenian language film, Comedy, Kurdish language film, Light Drama, Movies, Romance, Russian language film.
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Vodka Lemon (Armenian/Russian/Kurdish) 2003

Winner, San Marco Prize, Best Film Award, Venice Film Festival
Jury Award, Feature Film/Best Actor, Newport Beach Film Festival
Official Selection, Seattle; Palm Springs; Toronto Film Festivals

Directed by Hiner Saleem
Starring Romen Avinian and Lala Sarkissian

A whimsical tale about the romance that develops between Hamo (Avinian) and Nina (Sarkissian), an older couple who live in a bleak and impoverished Kurdish village in Armenia. Despite the hardships faced by both, Hamo and Nina’s feelings of love and happiness grow.

Vodka Lemon is the name of a drink sold at a stand in the middle of nowhere – or so it seems in the flat and snow-covered landscape. The backdrop of an imposing mountain range rises above all, but its majestic beauty doesn’t extend to the day-to-day lives of those living below. There is very little dialogue in the film, sometimes none at all during an entire short scene, but beautiful music and songs, some in French, add to the lighthearted nature of the tale.

The DVD includes liner notes with an interesting interview with the director. He quotes his grandfather: “Our past is sad, our present is catastrophic, but fortunately we have no future.” This film belies the negativism of that statement and is a lovely tribute to the spirit of the Armenian Kurdish community.

88 min. Not rated.


Burnt by the Sun-Movie Review 11/05/2010

Posted by Films to consider in Drama, Movies, Russian language film, Suspense.
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Burnt by the Sun (Russian) 1994

Among other awards and nominations:
Winner, Best Foreign Language Film, Academy Awards
Winner, Grand Prize of the Jury (Mikhalkov), Cannes Film Festival

Directed by Nikita Mikhalkov
Starring Nikita Mikhalkov, Nadya (Nadezhda) Mikhalkov, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, and Oleg Menchikov

In mid 1930s Russia, Colonel Sergei Kotov, a larger-than-life hero of the Revolution, is spending a happy day with wife Marusia, daughter Nadya, and his wife’s family. Mitya, a former friend and lover of Marusia, shows up unexpectedly after a long absence and is welcomed into their home. He privately informs Kotov that he is now a member of Stalin’s police force and that the colonel is his next assignment. When Mitya leaves, Kotov will be forced to leave his family and go with him.

This is one of those films that started out slowly for me; its cast of characters was just charming enough to keep me interested. Once Mitya arrives, emotions understandably get more complicated. Especially notable is little Nadya, who is director and star Mikhalkov’s real-life daughter. Surrounded by adults and without seeming overly precocious, she conveys a very natural air of maturity and wisdom.

A few instances of “magical realism” seem a bit out of place but I don’t think they detract from the rest of the movie. N. B., there is a Burnt by the Sun 2 (2010) that is just out on video, but that movie did not get good reviews.

135 min. Rated R. Some violence and sexual content.