Forget Hollywood, watch Russian films

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By Susan Claire Agbayani

A RUSSIAN language poster for Battle for Sevastopol

THE Cold War lasted for 45 years, and ended in 1990. Throughout those years, the portrayal of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics by Hollywood affected the mind-sets of not just two generations, but the progeny of these generations as well.

Twenty-eight years later comes a chance to learn more about Russia thanks to the first-ever Russian Film Week in the Philippines. A wide variety of Russian movies are being screened free of charge at SM Megamall and SM Mall of Asia with 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. screenings until tomorrow, Dec. 8.

It’s interesting to note that of four of the seven films are based on true stories. Perhaps the most interesting is Aleksey Uchitel’s biographical historical drama Mathilde. Set in the twilight of Imperial Russia, the film tackles the life of prima ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya who became the mistress of not just one or two, but three grand dukes including the then-future Tsar Nicholas II.

Nikolay Khomeriki’s action/adventure/drama Lekodol, or The Icebreaker is based on the story of the ship Mikhail Somov which — after a collision — was trapped in ice and forced to drift near the coast of Antarctica for more than four months in 1985.

In Klim Shipenko’s historical action drama, Salyut-7, the space craft loses contact with its space station, and cosmonauts Vladimir Dzhanibekov and Viktor Savinykh “dock with the empty, frozen craft, and bring her back to life,” according to a synopsis from IMDB.

The Sergey Mokritskiy-megged festival opening film Battle for Sevastopol is a biographical romance drama set at Sevastopol, Ukraine during World War II. It is about Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who is touted as the most successful female sniper in history, her loves, and her friendship with former United States First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

“This movie is about love and how difficult it was for the heroine to love during these terrible years of the war,” said director Mokritskiy during a speech at the opening rites of the filmfest at Cinematheque Manila. “Twenty-six million Russians died in (the Second World) War; much more than the losses of the United States and Britain. Not a single family (did not) suffer some kind of loss because of this war,” he said through an interpreter.

“War…is not the best environment for love. But love must prevail even under crazy, terrible, awful conditions of war. That’s the main message of the film,” said Russian Ambassador Igor Khovaev told BusinessWorld.

The Cold War between the United States and other Western powers on the one hand, and the USSR and Soviet bloc countries on the other, started in 1945, and yet the friendship between Pavlichenko and Roosevelt lasted to the end of their lives.

“True, real love and friendship shouldn’t depend on politics. They should be above any, all political contradictions and differences. At that time, the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States was very complicated. So the relations were full of troubles, very deep, very serious, very dangerous contradictions. But despite all those challenges, despite all those disputes, friendship, love would prevail. It was a friendship forever,” Mr. Khovaev said.

“My biggest hope and dream is that (these films) will help Filipinos understand Russia and Russian people better, thereby opening up new horizons for our partnership and friendship,” he said.

Although she was abroad during the festival opening, Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) Chair and CEO Mary Liza Dino relayed this message: “The FDCP strongly believes in the film’s capacity to transcend cultural barriers. Through our film cultural exchange program, we proudly partner with embassies and cultural organizations in providing platforms for foreign films to be showcased in the country. Film festivals such as this provide opportunities for our local audience to be exposed to a wide variety of foreign films from different parts of the world.”

Other films being shown at the festival are: A Rough Draft, a fantasy about a video game designer also directed by Mokritskiy; Emilis Velyvis’ action/adventure/fantasy Night Watchmen; and Aleksey Mizgirev’s adventure drama The Duelist, about a former army veteran who settles duels for aristocrats in 19th century Imperial Russia).

To be shown tonight are Night Watchmen, 6 p.m., and Mathilde, 8 p.m. at SM Megamall; and Icebreaker, 6 p.m., and Duelist, 8 p.m. at MOA.

To be screened tomorrow, Dec. 8, are Salyut 7, 6 p.m., and A Rough Draft, 8 p.m., at SM Megamall; and Battle for Sevastopol, 6 p.m., and Night Watchmen, 8 p.m., at MOA.