Vlad’s Top 10 Russian Movies

At one point I asked my Canadian friend what he knew about Russian cinema.

He knew less about it than he did about Russian literature, rock music, hockey or football. In fact, he did not know a thing.

I am sure that most of our readers do not know anything about the Russian cinema. It is their fault. The responsibility for this ignorance lies with President Huylo for building the Iron Curtain that divided Russia from the civilised world.

Not to know is bad, not to wish to know is worse.

Let us go back to Russian cinema. I think cinema is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going. When I was young, I used to see in each Soviet cinema a poster that read:

Of all the arts, for us, cinema is the most important.

It was true. The Soviet people loved movies. Soviet reality and Big Brother exhausted every common Soviet on a daily basis, leaving a very small part for entertainment.

Perhaps we should start with the Russian film that won an Oscar.


1. War and Peace, Sergey Bondarchuk

Surely there is no one who hasn’t heard of Leo Tolstoy and his famous novel War and Peace.  At school, my teachers forced me to read this novel. It was real torture, like having the KGB at school. Whenever teachers understood the senselessness of making us read this text, they took us to the cinema. The movie impressed me much more than the book, involving many beautiful actors. The battle raged… There were shots. Bloodshed. It was not one of these boring communist movies with ugly actors or lack of action.

War and Peace by Sergey Bondarchuk was a real Hollywood movie that I didn’t know yet. In my opinion, the Bondarchuk movie was much better than the novel by Leo Tolstoy. If you want to know about Tolstoy’s novel, just watch the movie, don’t bother reading it.

But I beg not to see the Hollywood version, for it’s a bomb. Frankly, Hollywood doesn’t know how to pull off a movie about Russia. Only Russians should do movies about Russia. As Russian poet (with German wives who lived for many years in Germany) Fyodor Tyutchev said.

Who would grasp Russia with the mind?

For her no yardstick was created:

Her soul is of a special kind,

By faith alone appreciated.


2. Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears was shown on Soviet television February 11 1980, 36 years ago.

What can I tell you about this movie? In my opinion, this is a Soviet version of the Cinderella story. The message of the story is as follows: You must work hard and you will be happy. Please show me a man who worked hard and became happy.

However, I can also show you many people who worked very hard and became hooked. Maybe Americans still believe this. It’s called the American dream, I guess.  I guess that’s why the American Film Academy chose Moscow does not believe in tears as the Academy Awards or “Oscars” as the Best Foreign Language Film in 1980.

This was the second Russian movie to win the famous Oscar. I did not like this movie. I found it phony, and it’s one of the most absurd victories in the history of Oscars. As the old-fashioned piece of shit by Kurosawa and Truffaut. I have the impression that the Soviet government has been paying a lot of money to the Academy Awards. The filmmakers are big liars. In fact, in Russia you do not necessarily work in order to succeed. No need to learn. No need to raise your qualifications. Is all you need love? No, my friend. All that you need is to be able to kiss the ass of your bosses. To kiss your boss’s ass is a Russian national activity. I could never kiss any ass. This is why I said once

Farewell! – Unwashed, indigent Russia,
The land of slaves, the state of lords,

In addition, you, its navy-coated marshals,
And you, you are their dedicated herds.


3. Dersu Uzala

This film won many awards, including the main Oscar for Best movie in Foreign Language in 1976. The secret of its success is that it sticks to its story. If you want to know whether you should watch the film Dersu Uzala, I say go ahead. Not to know is bad, not to wish to know is worse. Dersu Uzala can conquer perhaps even the most icy heart … The movie is a masterpiece, which shows the ideal, man’s love for life and nature, understanding and recognition of this friendship. This movie requires concentration, with its many layers and plots. You can laugh or be sad. You will feel the peace of the Usury taiga. Taiga’s world is full of struggle and generosity. Its People live outside the laws of money but according to the laws of nature. These laws deserve respect. People who have renounced the material world are good – but who are they? For us, they follow a certain fashion, similar to immigrants. However, in the case of Dersu Uzala, we can talk about the inseparability of man and nature, what is perceived by our society as a savagery, and there is truth in its broadest sense. Dear reader, I do not call you back to the cave. No. No. No. I call you to the stars. Nevertheless, you should not forget that we are all children of nature. For me, this is the most amazing thing in this movie.  But how could a certain Japanese director call it the biggest RUSSIAN film of the century? Either we Russians are fools or Kurosawa is a genius, or both


4. Assa, Sergey Solovyov

This film did not get any awards. Nevertheless, it is a cult movie of my generation, the last generation of Russian communism.

Communism was defeated in Russia; however. There is always a first time for everything. I am sure, that one day we will try again to reach the communist philosophy. This might happen again in 2017. Hello Mr. Huylo ! We will meet you in the basement of Ipatiev’s house.

But let’s get to the movie. The plot of this film is very primitive, and how it was possible to turn this thing into a work of art beats me. At the beginning of Perestroika (Thank you, Mr. Gorbachev!) there was a light, followed by smoke and a smell of burning in the pitch darkness of the tunnel. The film Assa is a typical Russian film.

Having said that, I think a Westerner should enjoy this film. It is about love and betrayal, a film love triumphs over evil. A film about the eternal truths. Truths understandable to people of any country.  But I’d say 70% of the interest of this movie is its soundtrack.  It allowed the audience to meet the leading Russian rock musicians of the day. You can’t imagine this movie without this song “City Gold

The Viktor Tsoi song “Changes” became the anthem of Perestroika. This song is still relevant to Russia. It is timelessly Russian.

Our hearts require the changes,
Our eyes require the changes,
Into our laugh and our tears,
And into pulse of veins
We are waiting for changes.


5. Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky

I think the best known Russian director in the West is Andrei Tarkovsky, who lived a long time in the West and died there. He was buried in the Russian cemetery of Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois in Paris. He is one of the biggest producers of the 20th century, and his work had a significant impact on the development of Russian and world cinema.

“Your films,” said the Ministry of Film, “will not be understandable and interesting for the average Soviet citizen.” The minister was right. Tarkovsky’s movies did not speak to the average viewer. His movies, like Shakespeare’s sonnets, are only for advanced readers, for true moviegoers. I remember being disappointed when I first saw this movie. I expected action. I was expecting special effects like usual in science fiction. However, here the characters spoke only buzzwords and did nothing. They did not shoot nor fight, and they did not cut people into pieces. Tarkovsky’s most interesting and important movies are:

Ivan’s Childhood, 1962

Andrei Rublev, 1966

Solaris, 1972

The Mirror, 1975

Stalker, 1979

Nostalghia, 1983

Nowadays, I hear a lot about Russians, especially from my Ukrainian friends.

Russians are drunkards, barbarians, stupid idiots.

I agree with these statements. However, looking at movies from Tarkovsky, I begin to understand that God will forgive all these Russian weaknesses, maybe just because Russia has given the world Andrei Tarkovsky.


6. Burnt by the Sun

Utomlyonnye solntsem is a 1994 film by Russian director and actor Nikita Mikhalkov. This is the fourth Russian film that won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. The plot of this movie is very simple.

The film tells the story of a senior Red Army officer and his family during the Great Purge of the late 1930s in the Stalinist Soviet Union. Like a classical Greek tragedy, it takes place over the course of one day. General Kotov and his family have it all, little do they know that their life is about to change. The idea of collapse seems absurd. The characters and the audience can’t envision that this sunny day will end forever. General Kotov and his family don’t want to believe in the inevitable. Life has an end. Life doesn’t always end peacefully.

As the ancients said – Concept is simple. Easy as ABC. A bad beginning makes a bad ending.  Mikhalkov’s film «Burnt by the Sun» has done very well.  This film has a good beginning and a good end. This is a very professional tape

Mikhalkov is a great actor and an ardent defender of Putin. How can this be, I don’t understand. If you praise the power you can’t be an artist. You will lose your talent. Recent Mikhalkov films prove me right.


7. Brother

Brother is a 1997 film by Russian director Aleksey Balabanov . This guy is like the Russian Quentin Tarantino. The film Brother is reminiscent of Tarantino’s  “Pulp Fiction”. Balabanov wanted to make a film in the style of Tarantino. I think he succeeded.

The plot is again very simple.

Newly discharged from the army, Danila goes to his older brother – a gangster and a killer – to start a new life in St. Petersburg where he soon enters  the criminal world and is asked to kill someone. A new life starts for him. Now a killer,he slowly realizes killing is easier for him than living thus he begins to  understand he’s on the wrong path.

Unlike Mikhalkov, Aleksey Balabanov didn’t lick Putin’s ass at all. Aleksey Balabanov died in 2013.


8. The Thief  

Pavel Chukhray is best known for his film The Thief (1997), which was nominated for an Academy Award Best Foreign Language.

I think this is one of the best movies ever made. The film is about a young woman, Katya and her son Sasha who meet a veteran soviet officer named Tolyan.
Katya falls in love with Tolyan, who turns out to be a professional criminal, but who also becomes a father figure to Sasha…

«The Thief» is a metaphor for the stolen lifes of the Russian people by the totalitarian system. Furthermore the films makes  several allusions to Hamlet. This movie is one of my personal favorite. It accurately depicts life in those hard days.


9. The Island

Ostrov is a 2006 film by Russian director Pavel Lungin. He made many great films. But his best in my opinion is The Island , a biographical film about a fictional 20th century Eastern Orthodox monk. What can I say about this movie… Why did  I choose this one in my top 10 Russian movies?  The theme of the movie is quite primitive. Faith in God leads to salvation. Many of the people sitting in German camps believed in God. Did God help them avoid the terrible crematoriums ? The answer is No.

Some people will say: You have to  save your soul. The soul doesn’t exist and it is a biological fact.
The film has no action. It is filled with  dialogue about religious topics. Why did I chose it then? Because the role of the monk Anatoly is brilliantly played by actor Peter Mamonov, one of the best actors of modern Russian.


10. Leviathan

Leviafan is a 2014 Russian drama film directed by Andrey Zvyagintse. He is in my opinion the best Russian director of the early 21st century.

I can say that he is a Tarkovsky of modern days.. Leviathan has become synonymous with any large sea monster or creature. According to Zvyagintsev, the story of Marvin Heemeyer in the United States inspired him and it was adapted into a Russian setting.

The film was adjudged best film at the 2014 London Film Festival and at the 45th International Film Festival of India. It won Best Foreign Film at  the 72nd Golden Globe Awards. It was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film at the 87th Academy Awards. Leviathan it’s not a large sea monster.  Leviathan is Putin’s Russia. I think. I’m sure Leviathan did not receive the  Academy Award for Best Foreign  Film because Hollywood didn’t want to offend President Putin.
I can say that  «Leviathan» is the last Russian film because after it Russian did not to produce  a single film but only pieces of shit.

Vlad* Savich was born in the USSR, where he was educated, married and fathered his daughter. As soon as the chance appeared to leave, he did. At present he lives in Montreal, where he writes, directs for the theatre and breathes the air of freedom. He can be found online at savich.lit.com.ua.
*He prefers not to be called Vladimir, so as not to be associated with the disreputable activity of a certain barnardine Russian leader.

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