My wife and I are going to Russia (Moscow and St. Petersburg) next month. To prepare ourselves, we've been reading histories and novels about the Soviet Union/Russia. We've also been watching a number of Russian films, and we've enjoyed this window into Russian life. These are some of what we've seen so far.
"Burnt By the Sun" (Utomlynnye solntsem) 1994. This film won the 1994 Oscar for best foreign film. Directed by and starring Nikita Mikhalkov. About Stalin's reign of terror and purge of Soviet military officers in the 1930s. Wonderful cinematography. The film centers around the family life of revolutionary hero Colonel Kotov at his summer dacha. Highly recommended.
"Little Vera" (Malenkaya Vera) 1988. This metaphorical film, made in the waning years of the Soviet Union, is about the rebellious daughter in a dysfunctional family set against the backdrop of a society coming apart. If even only 10% of the grimness of Soviet Life is captured here, it's easy to see why Gorbachev was trying to reform his country, and why the Soviet Union came to an unceremonious end several years later.
"Andrei Rublev" (1966). By the great Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky. This is a very powerful epic about the life and often brutal times of the 15th century Russian artist Andrei Rublev. Tarkovsky's vision of spirituality and art. Highly recommended. Cannes Grand Prize Winner.
"Solaris" 1972. The classic science fiction film from Andrei Tarkovsky (and another Cannes Grand Prize Winner). This film probes man's thoughts and conscience, as it follows a psychologist who is sent to a space station situated over the mysterious Solaris Ocean. The scientists on that space station are able to materialize people from their memories and dreams. What an amazing film!
"Oligarch" (aka "Tycoon") 2002. Starring Vladmir Mashkov. A thriller about the rise of the "Oligarchs" in the aftermath of the Soviet breakup. It's got it all: money, wealth, assassination, corruption, history, politics, a suave leading man, and a surprise ending.
"Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears" (Moskva slezam ne verit) 1980. Won 1980 Oscar for best foreign film. Delightful story of three young women who move to Moscow in search of their destinies. Part comedy, part love story, part battle of the sexes, and part tale of grit and persistence. I liked this film a lot.
"Papa" (2004). Directed by and starring Vladimir Mashkov. Story of a 1930s small town Jewish father who dreams of the success of his violinist sonâonly to be spurned by him when he achieves success at the Moscow Conservatory.
"The Rider Named Death" (Vsadnik po imeni Smert) 2004. Well concocted production about a terrorist faction in pre-Soviet Russia (in Czar Nicholas II's final decade).
"Russian Ark" (Russkiy kovcheg) 2002. Directed by Aleksandr Sokurov. Its tagline is: "2,000 cast members, 33 rooms, 300 years, ALL IN ONE TAKE!" This film treats St. Petersburg Hermitage Museum as the Ark of Russian Culture. Remember the big deal about the six minute opening tracking shot in Robert Altman's "The Player"? Well, this 90 minute film is ONE BIG CONTINUOUS tracking shot. This film won many awards and is well worth seeing.
"Idiot" 2003. This is a well-produced drama in 10 episodes of Dostoevsky's masterpiece about the half-sane Prince Myshkin (Yevgeni Mironiv) and his return to St. Petersburg society and its world of vice, money, intrigue, scandal, and murder. We've got the Sopranos; the Russians have Dostoevsky.
QUESTION: What Russian films would you recommend for me (and others) to see?