Yeltsin saved Daneliya's masterpiece ‘Kin-dza-dza!'

Kin-dza-dza! was a very personal film for Daneliya, and did not have a professional cast; just people who happened to be nearby

Kin-dza-dza! was a very personal film for Daneliya, and did not have a professional cast; just people who happened to be nearby

As Daneliya's masterpiece, ‘Kin-dza-dza!’ celebrates three decades since it was made, we look at how Yeltsin saved the film from oblivion. In the mid 1980s, Georgy Daneliya, master of Soviet "sad comedy," decided to shoot a film in a genre that was unfamiliar to him and to Soviet cinema. The outcome was a science fiction satire that, 30 years later, many think is still relevant.

Soviet cinema rarely turned to science fiction even when the whole world was watching ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Mad Max’ (whose anti-utopian desert landscapes would inspire Kin-dza-dza!). 

The younger generation of the Soviet Union in 1980 watched ‘Through the Thorns to the Stars/Humanoid Woman,’ whose genre allowed the director to show utopian dictatorial civilizations without fearing the wrath of the Communist Party and government.

When Georgy Daneliya had decided to shoot a "youth" movie, he was over fifty years old. Later, in interviews, as well as in his autobiography "The Honored Drinks to the Bottom" (2006), the director recalled details of the shooting, about which people continue asking him. 

One of the most visionary sources for social parallels and conspiracy theories, the latter-day Soviet-period film was born during a conversation that Daneliya had with the famous Italian screenwriter Tonino Guerra, when he visited Moscow. When Daneliya asked Guerra what kind of film he should make for the youth, the screenwriter replied that it would be good to shoot something science-fictional, something that has a lot of sun and heat: such a film, he said, was bound to be successful in a country where the winter lasts six months.

In the movie, foreman Vladimir Nikolaevich Mashkov is asked by his wife to go to the store to buy some macaroni and bread. On the New Arbat he meets a student named Gedevan whose nickname is Skripach (Levan Gabriadze) and a barefooted alien traveller (Anatoly Serenko), who takes him to a desert planet. There he starts persuading the local Uef (Evgeny Leonov) and Bi (Yuri Yakovlev) to help him return to Earth.

Kin-dza-dza! was a very personal film for Daneliya, and did not have a professional cast; just people who happened to be nearby. The role that famous Russian actor Rolan Bykov renounced because of other engagements was played by the film's producer. The scenes in Mashkov's apartment were filmed in the producer's apartment. There are also roles played by the film's director of photography and set designer and Mashkov's wife was played by Daneliya's wife and assistant director Galina Daneliya-Yurkova. The director himself played Abradoks after not being able to engage Sergei Bondarchuk and Innokenty Smoktunovsky.

Soviet reality frequently interfered in the movie’s shooting process. While the film was being shot, Soviet authorities declared a war on alcoholism and the ‘chacha’ (Georgian grape vodka) that Skripach was carrying had to be changed to vinegar. Two hundred bright lamps were needed for the costumes worn by the alien Ecilops police, lamps that could not be found in the Soviet Union. Daneliya asked the then first secretary of the Moscow City Council Victor Grishin for help in obtaining the lamps, but Grishin refused. Then Daneliya asked Boris Yeltsin, who replaced Grishin at the council after the latter was fired. Daneliya used to say the lamp incident cost Grishin his job. The director managed to convince Yeltsin, who finally procured the lamps.

Kin-dza-dza! was released in movie theatres on December 1, 1986. 15,700,000 viewers watched the film; not a lot in those days. The following year, the movie was 14th in terms of earnings. Later, however, as it often happens to legendary films, Kin-dza-dza! had an interesting life. 

The words from the invented lexicon began to spread. In 2008 a song from the film was used in a ‘Snickers’ commercial. Daneliya filmed a cartoon remake in 2013 called ‘Ku! Kin-dza-dza!’ But the film's biggest influence was noticed during the 2010 census of the Kursk Region, during which some residents called themselves "patsakami," a term that combines the words ‘katsapi’ (Russians) and ‘patsani’ (guys).

So many years have gone by and people still think they inhabit Daneliya's world - not the fictional one but the real one.


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