1979, USSR (Estonia).
1979, USSR (Estonia).
Director: Karen Shakhnazarov. Starring: Leonid Filatov, Oleg Basilashvili, Vladimir Menshov, Armen Dzhigarkhanyan, Evgeniy Evstigneev. USSR, 1988. IMDb: 7.6. My rating: 4/4. Theatre of the absurd, mysterious tragicomedy & black metaphor.
– I need one first class ticket to Moscow.
– There are no tickets.
– I don’t care which one,
first or second class…
– I have neither of them.
– Where is the manager of the station?
– The manager won’t help.
(a dialogue between the train ticket seller and the main character)
It’s called a silent hysteria. The late 80-s, without doubt, were the most prolific period for the underground culture in Soviet Union, especially for the rock music, when so many original bands appeared whose heritage is still relevant today. But mostly they were still prohibited, while the the cinema was changing… ”Of all the arts, for us the cinema is the most important”, as Lenin once said. The censorship became less strict – occasional nudity, freethinking or just weird stuff were allowed.
”City Zero” is the finest dark offspring of that epoch. It wasn’t appreciated by the masses at that time (which is not a good symptom by itself, given that in large part the movie is about crowd manipulation as well…), being an intellectual, allegoric and metaphoric dark tale. It was the 4th feature film by Karen Shakhnazarov, already a successful and experienced director, and he managed to capture the spirit of the falling empire in this theatre of the absurd. As he admitted later, portraying the Perestroika and fall of the USSR wasn’t his priority, but the film outgrew the original intention of the director.
What’s most remarkable, “City Zero” is normally classified and sci-fi/mystery – and if you analyze every single scene separately, there’s nothing completely impossible. The famous cake scene actually happened once. But looking at the whole story makes you feel like slowly drowning in the swamp… It’s kind of ”Donnie Darko” goes on ”Mullholland Drive” in ”The Twilight Zone” atmosphere.
Let them laugh at their passions.
Because what they call passion actually is not part of their soul, but just the friction between their souls and the outside world.
And most important, let them believe in themselves. Let them be helpless like children, because weakness is a giant, and strength is nothing.
When a man is just born, he is weak and flexible. When he dies, he is hard and insensitive. When a tree is growing, it’s tender and pliant. But when it’s dry and hard, it dies.
Hardness and strength are death’s companions. Pliancy and weakness are expressions of the freshness of being. Because what has hardened will never win.
Director: Konstantin Lopushanky. Starring: Rolan Bykov, Iosif Rykliv, Viktor Mihaylov. USSR, 1986. IMDb: 7.7. My rating: 4/4. Post-apocalyptic portrait of mankind’s last days.
– The whole history of mankind is a history of a slow suicide of a living matter that by sheer accident acquired an ability to think – but that did not know what to do with this fateful ability. It could not find any better use for it than invention of the most effective ways of a total suicide.
(of of the main characters)
Endless piles of rusty metal, interminable yellow twilight, dirty radioactive puddles of mixed water and blood. And dead bodies. Dead bodies everywhere. Children, men, women. Everywhere. There is no hope here. It’s finished. There is no ”if”. The doomsday clock has moved. We are just witnessing the final decay of small group of survivors that will last several months, probably. There is not even a single hint about their survival. It’s a death rattle.
And imagine shot all of this in a Tarkovsky-like manner – the director Konstantin Lopushansky actually worked as assistant during ”Stalker” filming.
Perestroika was a crucial time for Soviet cinema as well. More and more things became allowed – the censorship started to close eyes on occasional nudity, violence, absurdism – things that were all cut ruthlessly before 1985. ”Dead Man’s Letters” and ”City Zero”, probably best examples of Perestroika cinema in the sci-fi genre, are the result and the reflection of that weird epoch, and it would be difficult to imagine them elsewhere. Continue reading
Director: Marek Piestrak. Starring: Sergei Desnitsky, Alexander Kaidanovsky, Vladimir Ivashov, Zbigniew Lesien, Boleslaw Abart. Poland, USSR, 1978. IMDb: 6.6. My rating 3.5/4. Android and space travel science fiction thriller.
– Brown, do you believe in God?
– It’s not part of my duties.
(a dialogue between Pirx and a crew member)
– Your world is horribly empty for me, your ideals laughable and your democracy is just a reign of schemers chosen by fools.
(one of the main characters)
“Inquest of Pilot Pirx” is one of those good old sci-fi movies I miss sometimes so desperately. Unhurried, detailed, with a smart plot and good acting, the film takes its time to prepare you for everything and develops slowly, but somewhere in the middle you suddenly realize that it’s grasping you right by the throat. Based on a series of short stories by Stanislav Lem, “Pirx” a solid psychological sci-fi thriller about human-like androids and space travel, that with years gained somewhat of a cult following, especially in Poland and ex-USSR countries. It didn’t have a lot of realistic CGI for what was largely criticized, but surprisingly it aged well – what did not seem realistic turned out to be very cool from a graphical point of view.
The style and overall feel of “Pirx” is something like “Blade Runner” vs. “Alien”… but the movie was actually made few years before them. Among all the cool stuff about androids and increasing levels of suspense, “Pirx” featured first-person view 6 years before “The Terminator” and here it’s not just some pure entertaining element, but an organic part of the plot. Good old science fiction, dammit.
”Pirx” also caused a chain reaction in my mind about several important topics:
– Why there has been no progress in A. I. development since the 50-s and do we really need it – in its classic sci-fi understanding? (short answer would be ‘no’)
– Why pre-CGI or early CGI specials effects were often more awesome than the photorealistic CGI we have nowadays?
Director: Pavel Klushantsev. Starring: Vladimir Emelyanov, Geogri Zhzhyonov, Gennadi Vernov, John the Robot. USSR, 1962. IMDB: 6.5. My rating: 3/4. A naive space travel adventure.
– The world government will rule the world according to the laws of mathematics.
(a cosmonaut gone crazy)
– According to quotes from the Smith corporation, the cost of building a highway to the Sirius is 37 million dollars.
(John the Robot)
(a dialogue between John the Robot and a cosmonaut)
– Inform us on the position of your co-travellers.
– Position horizontal.
(a dialogue between John the Robot and a cosmonaut)
There are several scenes in “Planet of Storms”, for which you can forgive it everything. Continue reading
Director: Georgiy Daneliya. Starring: Evgeny Leonov, Yuri Yakovlev, Stanislav Lyubshin, Levan Gabriadze. USSR, 1986. Imbd: 8.2. My rating: 4/4. Absurd surreal dystopian sci-fi comedy.
– Patzak! Where is your muzzle? Mister PG ordered – all patzaks should wear a muzzle. And
(Uef speaking to Violinist)
– When the society does not have a pants colour differentiation, it does not have the aim. But when it does not have an aim…
Wanna see some truly unorthodox and brilliant sci-fi? Ever heard of “Kin-dza-dza!”? Probably you wouldn’t expect this from a Soviet science fiction, but it is actually a black absurdist comedy set on a faraway planet. It’s hilarious, weird and sad parody on both capitalist and communist societies. Continue reading