A century of cinema: 8 Gorky Studio films that won international acclaim

Sergei Bodrov starred as Danila Bagrov. Source: Kinopoisk.ru

Sergei Bodrov starred as Danila Bagrov. Source: Kinopoisk.ru

The Gorky Film Studio, one of the oldest in Russia, is marking its 100th anniversary. A testing ground for new technologies and new genres, it was here that the country's first science fiction, sound and color films were made, and many of the studio’s movies have become Soviet and Russian classics. RBTH offers a list of eight Gorky Studio movies that became famous not only in the USSR and Russia but also beyond its borders.

‘And Quiet Flows the Don,’ 1958; director – Sergei Gerasimov

And Quiet Flows the Don. Trailer (in English). Source: YouTube

A screen adaptation of the novel by Mikhail Sholokhov, which was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1965. The story is a love triangle between Cossack Grigory Melekhov, his wife and his first love, unfolding against the backdrop of the First World War and the Russian Civil War. Historical fault lines coincide with a personal drama in which the protagonist vacillates between the two women as well as between the opposing sides in the conflict tearing the country apart. The film presents an accurate portrayal of Cossacks' everyday life, dress, speech, and customs. The movie received an award from the Directors Guild of America as the best foreign film, the Crystal Globe prize at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and a diploma at the Mexico International Film Festival.

 

‘Morozko,’ 1964; director – Alexander Rou

Morozko. Trailer. Source: YouTube

A musical film based on Russian folk tales, with the use of special effects that were very advanced for Soviet cinema at the time, Morozko was a variation on the Cinderella story in a notional ancient Russian setting. In 1965, the film won a Lion of San Marco Grand Prize at the Venice Film Festival as the best children's film. In 1966, Morozko was released in the UK and the United States, and the U.S. Cinema Advertising Council presented Rou with an Award of Excellence for the best script for family viewing. In addition, the film became a particular favorite with Czech audiences and is still considered essential Christmas and New Year viewing in that country.

 

‘I Am Twenty,’ 1965; director – Marlen Khutsiev

I Am Twenty. Trailer (in Russian). Source: YouTube

A lyrical tale about the young generation at the time of the Khrushchev Thaw, the film also features the cult poets of the 1960s, Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Andrei Voznesensky. It tells the story of three friends, trying to make sense of their purpose in the world and what they should seek in life. One of them gets an offer to become an informer and he tells the others about it. The three young men have different opinions on the matter and their friendship suffers as a result. Another strand in the plot explores the relationship that the 1960s generation had with their fathers' generation, who fought in the Second World War. The film, which brilliantly captures the spirit of the 1960s in the Soviet Union and raises important ethical questions, won the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival and a top award at the Rome Film Festival.

 

‘The Dawns Here Are Quiet,’ 1972; director – Stanislav Rostotsky

The Dawns Here Are Quiet. Trailer(in English). Source: YouTube

This adaptation of Boris Vasilyev's novel of the same name, which tells the story of five young women serving in an anti-aircraft artillery unit during the Second World War, became the highest grossing film of the year in the Soviet Union. In the film, young female volunteers, who have just learnt how to hold a weapon, have to take on a superior number of Nazi soldiers and show overwhelming courage in their clash with the enemy.

In 1973, the movie was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category, the fourth of the nine Soviet films to ever receive this nomination. It also received recognition at the Venice Film Festival. The Dawns Here Are Quiet still enjoys popularity in the West: Its IMDB rating is 8.3. It also became a favorite with audiences in China, so much so that the Chinese even shot a remake.  

 

‘Mio in the Land of Faraway,’ 1987; director – Vladimir Grammatikov

Mio in the Land of Faraway. Source: YouTube

A fairy tale about two friends' adventures in a magical land, based on Astrid Lindgren's story of the same name. In it, a little boy called Bosse, who lives with his adoptive parents, finds himself in an enchanted country where he becomes Prince Mio. Now he has to defeat the evil knight Kato, who kidnaps children. Mio does this with the help of his loyal friend Jum-Jum.

In 1985, Swedish producers came forward with the idea that the film should have a Soviet director. In the end, Vladimir Grammatikov was selected for the job and Astrid Lindgren herself approved this choice. The filming took place in Crimea, Scotland and Sweden, while the music for the film was composed by an ex-ABBA soloist. The part of Jum-Jum became the debut role for Christian Bale, the British film star famous for American Psycho and the Batman trilogy. In addition, the movie received an award at the Cinekid festival in Amsterdam.

 

‘Little Vera,’ 1988; director – Vasili Pichul

Little Vera. Trailer (with English subs). Source: YouTube

One of the top-grossing films of the year in the Soviet Union, the film captures the angst of teen rebellion in the 1980s. With a hard-drinking father and an overworked and constantly exhausted mother, high-school student Vera's family is far-removed from the ideal of domestic bliss. Trying to escape from this grim existence and avoid following in her parents' footsteps, Vera rebels in every way available to her: She has dollars in her bag (which was illegal at the time), goes to discos and gets involved in a brawl with the police. That is where she meets a student, Sergei, and they fall in love. However, the girl's brother and parents are opposed to the match.

The film featured the first sex scene in Soviet cinema, which may have been one of the factors that contributed to its success. Little Vera became a symbol of the perestroika years and the second most popular Soviet film in the U.S. after Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears. The director, Vasili Pichul, was awarded the Special Prize of the Jury at the Montréal World Film Festival and the FIPRESCI Prize at the Venice Film Festival.

 

‘The Country of the Deaf,’ 1997; director – Valery Todorovsky

The Country of the Deaf. Trailer (in Russian). Source: YouTube

A utopian dramedy about the friendship between two young women: meek and unlucky Rita, whose fiancé has taken her for a ride by losing all his money playing roulette, and a deaf dancer called Yaya, who dreams of going away to an imaginary "country of the deaf.”

The film is an adaptation of a story by Russian actress, film director and writer Renata Litvinova. It received numerous awards in Russia and took part in the Berlin Film Festival as well as in festivals in Chicago, Belfort, Brussels and Seattle.

 

‘Brother,’1997; director – Alexei Balabanov

Brother. Trailer. Source: YouTube

A cult criminal drama introducing a 1990s hero, Danila Bagrov. Danila, a veteran of the first Chechen war, returns to his native town, but a quiet provincial life does not agree with him. He comes to St. Petersburg to his older brother Viktor and discovers that the latter has become a professional killer. The brother involves Danila in his shady business, trying to get him to kill The Chechen, a criminal boss who runs a local market. Despite getting dragged into gangland wars, Danila manages to remain simple and sincere, and a generally sympathetic character.

The film became a landmark and a symbol of its time, among other reasons for its soundtrack, which featured songs by the legendary rock band Nautilus Pompilius. The film was well received by the international film community, winning a Crystal Globe at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival as well as awards at film festivals in Minsk, Trieste, Chicago and Turin. 

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