Despite the fact that many new films are being released in Russia, a large number of people still prefer watching the old ones over and over again. What are the roots of Russian nostalgia for old Soviet films?
Russians seems to have a great degree of nostalgia for the country’s Soviet past. At the moment, the most popular television programs are all about the Soviet days, ranging from a show about Brezhnev’s daughter to one about Marshall Zhukov. It’s feature films from the days of the USSR that are still major draws for a Russian audience. Films such as Love and Pigeons, Moscow does not believe in tears, The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath continue gathering a big audience.
What’s the trick? Was Soviet cinema that energetically-charged? Or is it because it was made by super-professionals? It’s widely known that Soviet-era fairy tales were every bit as good as their Hollywood counterparts.
Famous Russian film director Alexander Mitta known for Soviet hits Air Crewand Shine, Shine, said people seek a foothold in the past. “The past looks good in films. And that’s positive, if not be proud but people should at least respect their past,” said. “There were disgusting things in the Soviet past, such as Stalin’s terror. But if you come to think of Brezhnev stagnation period, many people liked it. Enterprises were functioning, simple food was always there, a small salary was guaranteed.” He added that some shiver at the very reminiscence of that period because of its lack of freedoms. “But the majority of people care less about freedoms and more about a normal stable life — creating a family, raising children…This is the past that cinema shows. This is why it’s so attractive today.”
Colouring them, remaking them, improvising on them
Film producers are ruthlessly exploiting the interest for Soviet films for their benefit. Several years ago, an obsession emerged to convert old black-and-white Soviet films and series into colour. Colourisation technology is quite expensive and laborious. But in this case neither money nor the efforts were a problem as the initiative came from the TV channels. The colourized films include Spring on Zarechnaya Street, Three Poplars at Plyushchikha, Jolly Fellows and Cinderella. Curiously, the audience still prefers the black-and-white originals.
Three Poplars at Plyushchikha (1967). Source: Kinopoisk.ru
Remakes and sequels represent another way to exploit the zest for Soviet cinema. There was a remake of Office Romance – the story of a love affair between a woman-boss with a failed personal life, nicknamed the “Frump,” and her subordinate – an average Joe and single father of two children. A sequel with almost the entire cast of The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath was released 30 years after the original. There have been mixed reviews to these initiatives.
Another trend is to buy the rights of a Soviet film or to the work that underlies it, and to shoot a new movie. This is what happened with the play of the Soviet playwright Alexander Volodin Don’t Part with Your Loved Ones. Film director Oksana Bychkova made a film called Another Year, inhabiting it with today’s young characters, in a newfangled office setting. The only thing that remained from Volodin’s play was the general line. Quoting the director, she shot a movie for today’s young people.
The copyrights of the majority of Soviet films are stored in the State Film Fund of the Russian Federation and one can only expect a bigger influx of Soviet film remakes. “Making new movies based on the old scripts and staging new performances based on the old plays, is definitely a good thing to do,” Vasiliy Shil’nikov, Deputy Director of Copyright and Related Rights of the State Film Fund told RIR. “Given that the younger viewers do not perceive neither the black-and-white colours, nor the analogue sounds of old cinema, the remakes are necessary – to enable today’s audience discover eternal values,” he added.
Office Romance (1977). Source: Kinopoisk.ru
“The 1960s and 70s brought an incredible number of masterpieces into the world. There is no need to improve their content, but one may try to modernize the form using the new technologies.” Shil’nikov cautioned that directors who take up making remakes of classic works “should be aware that there is little chance to stand up to the original.”