4 Russian films that scooped the Golden Lion at Venice

The Venice Film Festival, one of the world’s oldest and most important film festivals, has rolled out the red carpet for this year’s event, which will continue until Sept. 12. RBTH remembers the Russian films that won the Golden Lion in times past.

Ivan's Childhood (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1962)

Ivan’s Childhood (1962) by Andrei Tarkovsky

In 1962 the exhibition introduced the world to a new cinematographic genius, Andrei Tarkovsky. His debut film Ivan's Childhood was a sensation and the 30-year-old director became one of the most promising artists of world cinema. With a rare psychological depth, the film was a study of a 12-year-old boy's inner world. Ivan has lost his mother in the war and enters a reconnaissance unit to get revenge.

The love that is natural in childhood is replaced by hatred and only the teenager's dreams can return him to the happy years of his lost innocence. The harsh, tragic world of the film formed a startling blend with the director's poetic worldview and the light emanated by the dreams. Director of photography Vadim Yusov was responsible for the incredible expressiveness of the black and white images. Besides the Golden Lion the film received many prizes at international festivals, including in San Francisco and Acapulco.

Urga – Close to Eden (Nikita Mikhalkov, 1991)

Urga - Close to Eden

Nikita Mikhalkov triumphed in Venice with his most exotic film, Urga - Close to Eden, which was filmed in collaboration with French producers. Already popular with his many films, including the world renowned Dark Eyes, Mikhalkov came to Venice at the peak of his fame with a funny and touching story of a family living in the depths of Mongolia, a family that has three children, which, according to law, was the maximum allowed. The young husband goes to town to buy condoms but buys a bicycle, a TV, a cap and returns home determined to continue having children.

Amusing and poetic, full of delicate lyricism, the story was simultaneously of intimate and epic nature, confirming Mikhalkov as an important director. Besides the Golden Lion the film was given a prize by the World Catholic Association for Communication and was nominated for a César Award, a Golden Globe and an Oscar.

The Return (Andrei Zvyagintsev, 2003)

The Return

The year 2003 introduced a new name on the film scene: Andrei Zvyagintsev. An actor without any particular training from Novosibirsk, Zvyagintsev shot a modest film called The Return, which tells the story of how the father of two teenagers reappears after a long absence and takes them on a journey. The parable takes place in an unspecified time and space and relates the trauma of fatherlessness and the complicated relations between people who until recently have been strangers, as well as being an exploration of the universal role of the father.

Not counting on any success, the Russian distributor sent the film to the selection committees of several European festivals, and Locarno and Venice immediately started competing for it. Venice won and soon the packed screening room was giving the author a lengthy ovation. For the first time in the history of the festival a director received two Golden Lions: one for best film and the other for best debut.

But the awards that The Return received do not end there. There is also the European Film Award, three awards in Gijon, the main prizes in Mexico and Stockholm. It was also nominated for the César Award and the Golden Globe.

Faust (Alexander Sokurov, 2011)

“Faust” is the final part of Sokurov’s “Moloch” - “Taurus” - “Sun” - “Faust” series

The film was co-produced with Germany, shot in German and became the fourth part of a tetralogy on the phenomenon of power (Moloch, Taurus, The Sun, Faust). The author of the film does not follow Goethe, but rather inherits from him, painting his own canvas based on classical texts, placing the characters into an 18th-century environment and opening a dimension for new associations and parallels.

Mephistopheles underwent the greatest transformation: In the film he is an ageless monster with the torso of a feeble hermaphrodite. Meanwhile, Faust is a man in his prime who has no need of rejuvenation: He wants power over people and the world. He has no need even of the devil and tries to get rid of him, in the process resembling a utilitarian cynic ready to walk over corpses in order to get what he wants.

Sokurov uses the power of the word and pictorial photography, practically choreographing the images. Together with Andrei Sigle's musical score, the film becomes something akin to a symphony of existence. "This film changes the life of anyone who watches it," said jury chairman Darren Aronofsky as he handed Sokurov the Golden Lion.

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