Streaming Spotlight - modern Russian cinema

Films from the last decade to catch at home

by Amber Wilkinson

Attraction Photo: Art Pictures
If you ask people to name a Russian film, there's a good chance it'll be a classic of Soviet cinema, from the likes of Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker, Solaris), Sergei Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin) or, perhaps, Dziga Vertov's early documenary Man With A Movie Camera. Russian cinema continues to be a force to be reckoned with, however, not just in terms of its arthouse input - the films that most generally hit the festival circuit - but also more mainstream films aimed chiefly at cineplexes at home.

Later this month, American viewers will be able to stream the pick of the country's most recent films, courtesy of Russian Film Week - the UK edition of which is scheduled to return in November. We've taken that as our inspiration this week, to offer a Streaming Spotlight selection of films from the country from the past decade that you can catch from your sofa in the UK.

Arrhythmia, Amazon Prime

Boris Khlebnikov's story of a marriage in crisis, co-written by Natalya Meshchaninova, also casts an acerbic eye over the state of Russian healthcare. The troubles between paramedic Oleg (Alexander Yatsenko) and his junior doctor wife Katya (Irina Gorbacheva) are set against the turbulent backdrop of Oleg’s work and his problematic drinking. Khlebnikov and Meschchaninova capture the essence of long-term relationships at the point when the rush of love has been replaced by the slow creep of minor annoyances that are building up their own head of steam and yet the urge to kiss and make up is still dominant, with the pair stuck in a destructive cycle of bust-up and apology. The film is particularly notable for great performances by Yatsenko and Gorbacheva, who make sure we can see what is keeping the pair together as well as what is driving them apart.

Attraction, Amazon Prime

Actor-turned-director Fedor Bondarchuk (son of Sergei) serves up an alien invasion story a Russian twist. When an alien spacecraft is forced to crash land in Moscow, Yulya (Irina Starshenbaum) and her boyfriend Artoyam (Alexander Petrov) both find themselves mixed up in different ways with one of the aliens aboard (Rinal Mukhametov) - a situation further complicated by the fact that Yulya's dad (Oleg Menshikov) is a high-ranking military chief. Bondarchuk's film takes a refreshingly humanistic approach to the subject, blending a potential romance with familiar ET themes, while also finding time to touch on the rise of the right and populism in modern Russia (a subject likely to strike a chord with many elsewhere in the world). While this is unapologetically mainstream - and enjoyed significant box office success in Russia - it is not just a CGI extravaganza, although the technical credits match anything coming out of Hollywood. Read what Bondarchuk told us about the film.

Loveless, Amazon, from £3.49

Nominated for the Foreign Language Oscar in 2018, where it lost out to Fantastic Woman, this is a chilly consideration of the state of modern Russia as viewed through the prism of a husband and wife (Alexey Rozin and Mariana Spivak) whose marriage is a warzone with their 12-year-old son Aloysha (Matvey Novikov) an ongoing casualty. A near-silent presence at the beginning of the film, his parents barely notice when their son is there - and then fail to notice when he isn't. As a hunt for the youngster begins, Andrey Zvyagintsev's chilly consideration of the fractured families and hypocrisies of Russia today cuts through like the winter wind. Not the easiest piece of cinema to watch, but it certainly packs a punch.

Salyut 7, Amazon Prime

A reminder of how familiar cinema means we become with the American view of the world, often at the expense of other perspectives, Klim Shipenko's Salyut-7 flips the more often viewed political backdrop - seen in the likes of Apollo 13 and Gravity - for his cosmonaut drama Salyut-7. After a space station loses touch with ground control a cosmonaut, who was forced into retirement (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) is called back for one last mission to rescue it alongside an inexperienced co-pilot (Pavel Derevyanko). Based on a real-life incident - although treated with some poetic licence here - cinematographers Sergey Astakhov and Ivan Burlakov capture the feel of space's great expanse on a fraction of a Hollywood budget, while Shipenko never let's the tension slacken.

Mathilde: The Affair To Break The Empire, Amazon Prime

Aleksey Uchitel gives his sumptuous costume melodrama a fairy tale sweep as he retells the story of Tsar Nicholas II's (Lars Eidinger) real-life affair with ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya (Michalina Olszanska) prior to his marriage to Alexandra Feodorovna (Luise Wolfram). The film sparked huge controversy in Russia prior to its release, including protests and even terror attacks, as Nicholas is viewed as a saint by the Greek Orthodox Church - violence condemned by the church itself. The film puts the beautiful interiors of some of St Petersburg's finest palaces to good use and features meticulous and magnificent costume work by Nadezhda Vasileva. A subplot about a soldier desperate to have Matilda for himself feels a bit tacked on for effect but the central romance is well handled and the crisis of conscience experienced by Nicholas believable. It's also heartening to see space given to the role of Alexandra, so that she is not merely a pawn in the love game between her fiance and his mistress. Read what Uchitel said about the film.

Leto, MUBI

There's an infectious energy to Kirill Serebrennikov's drama about a love triangle set against the underground rock scene of an early Eighties Russia on the brink of Perestroika that is as rebellious in form as it is in content. As relationship troubles simmer between star vocalist Mike (Roman Bilyk), his girlfriend Natasha (Irina Starshenbaum) and his acolyte Viktor Tsoy (Teo Yoo) - who also has a band of his own - Serebrennikov allows the action to break off into flights of fantasy, involving cover versions of the likes of Psycho Killer by Talking Heads, that see the extras break into song. Unruly, and occasionally a bit uneven, this is nevertheless a wild ride that while narratively on the light side gives you a strong emotional feel for Eighties Leningrad and the generation who populated and pushed its underground scene.

Our New President, BFI Player

Maxim Pozdorovkin takes a collage approach towards the concept of 'fake news', combining news propaganda, social media clips and other found footage to explore the representation of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. There's an enormous amount of material included here but it builds a picture of the way that media can be 'spun' to suit political ends and how the repetition of memes and online propaganda can have a drip-effect on social media users and indicating how easy it is for genuine news to be drowned out by a deluge of misinformation - also showing us a 'troll factory' in St Petersburg that is dedicated to pumping propaganda.

If you're pining for a beach holiday at the moment, then our short this week, The Mole At The Beach, might make you feel better. Anna Kadykova's animation sees the mole get more than he bargains for on his holiday - maybe staying at home isn't so bad after all.

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