Russian Movies For The Foreigners

Reader Philmo asked me to recommend a few Russian movies to watch. This is not an easy task, since most of the Russian movies rely on the context that may not be so obvious to a foreigner. Without a person sitting next to you saying  things like “This is funny because…” or “This makes sense based on…” you are bound to miss out on much of the content and humor, it there is any. Only a few Russian movies have English soundtrack, namely Day Watch and Night Watch, which seem to have been made with Western audiences in mind; in the majority of cases you will be reading lots of subtitles. Lastly, you are limited by the meager selection offered by Netflix or Blockbuster Online.

These outlets offer a lot of  old movies such as “Battleship Potemkin” that may be groundbreaking and world-recognized masterpieces but  they are nothing I would rent. Then there are movies from the 60s and 70s, most of the films directed by Andrei Tarkovsky are available for rent, including the original Solaris. To be honest I am not a big fan, but they are critically acclaimed classics, so you may want to give it a shot, at the least you’ll be able to drop a few titles if you are trying to impress an intelligent woman. The newer movies are hit and miss.

With that in mind here are few that come to mind:

The Island – a very emotional movie about repentance, forgiveness and faith. Slow-paced but a very touching story.

Taxi-Blues – from the same director and the same leading actor this movie came out in 1990 and I watched it several times. It reflects on the conflict between the talent and the material life. It was a good movie for that time and it’s still a great movie today.

A Cruel Romance – a Russian literature classic filmed by a one of the most popular directors with one of the most popular actors in the leading role. This movie was insanely popular, with great soundtrack, costumes, acting etc.

Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears –  well deserved Oscar for the best foreign-language movie in 1980. You’ll get a glimpse at the Soviet life in the 60’s and 70’s and it’s not very flattering, not sure how it slipped the censors who were hard at work during this time, cutting out anything they didn’t like. It’s almost 3 hours long.

Sibiriada – this movie follows its characters starting at the turn of the century, through the Revolution and into the 60s, and it takes just about as long to watch – 260 minutes.

War and Peace – multiple award winner about the Russian-French war of 1812. 403 minutes.

East-West – a movie about post-war Stalinist USSR and fighting for freedom.

Links to additional selections on Blockbuster and Netflix.

Here are some clips from the most famous Soviet comedies:

Ivan Vasil’evich Is Changing His Profession

Diamond Arm