Cultural clashes and consumerism in war and peace

John Hurt as Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's 10-hour marathon of 'War and Peace.' Source: Reuters

John Hurt as Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's 10-hour marathon of 'War and Peace.' Source: Reuters

The rouble is collapsing, but Russians still love shopping and going to the cinema. Moscow may be out of favour, but the British still love Tolstoy, says Aliya Sayakhova.

Most people know that Facebook and Google are banned in China, however “the Great Wall” goes further than social media restrictions. China also has a quota system for foreign movies that allows just 34 Hollywood films to be shown in the country each year.

A similar fate had been hanging over the Russian film industry, with a range of proposals to limit the number of foreign films in Russian cinemas to 20 percent, regardless of the fact that their current market share is 80 percent.

Help for worried distributors came from an unexpected quarter last week, when Russian president Vladimir Putin spoke out against the idea, as reports the Guardian. “It would be wrong to deny our consumers those goods they would like to have,” quoted the newspaper. “The Americans are talented and successful people and there is a lot we can learn from them," Mr. Putin apparently added.

Hollywood nights

Curiously, no mention of the president’s involvement in the movie business can be found anywhere in the Russian press. Banning or curtailing Hollywood movies has been mooted from time to time ever since Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev first mentioned the idea of introducing quotas to support the domestic film industry in 2012.

Articles discussing the anticipated ban have appeared in the media since then, and yet no news of Mr. Putin’s intervention can be found in the Russian press. The most recent story on the topic was last June, when, according to Vedomosti a decision was taken to postpone the introduction of quotas. Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky announced then that healthy box-office figures for Russian films meant quotas were not needed at that point. The article however omitted Mr. Putin’s alleged love of Hollywood, the centrepiece of Guardian’s story. The mystery is, what was the Guardian's source? The newspaper quotes Variety, which ran a story entitled MPAA (The Motion Picture Assn. of America) Welcomes Russian President’s Opposition to Movie Quota Plan on 27 November, which in turn quotes TASS news agency though fails to provide a link to the original story. Perhaps Variety got the quotes directly from the president?

Love them or hate them, Hollywood films can still be seen in Russia, but Putin’s cinematic inclinations might become topical once again next year, when the latest annual box office figures are ready.

Shiny sparkly

As for figures, there is one particularly poignant subject in Russia right now: the agonies of the Russian rouble, knocked down by the plunging oil prices and buried under the burden of Western sanctions, as discussed for example in a BBC article headlined Rouble suffers biggest one-day fall since 1998 as oil slides.

The Russian currency has fallen 40 percent against the dollar since January, and on Monday the Ministry of Economics adjusted its forecast for 2015 GDP from growth of 1.2 percent to a drop of 0.8 percent, meaning Russia may go into recession next year. The figures may terrify Russian economists, but seem to leave Russian shopaholics untroubled.

Last week Moscow proudly opened Aviapark, the biggest shopping mall in Europe, reports the Guardian. Aviapark covers the equivalent of 36 football pitches and when operating at full capacity will have 80 restaurants, a 17-screen cinema, and more than 500 shops. The love of Russian women for all things beautiful and shiny is well known, but finding generous sponsors for their expensive hobby might soon prove more difficult. As the rouble swiftly heads downhill, Moscow housewives might have to rush to low-cost supermarkets to stock up on tea, sugar and buckwheat, rather then to the opulent and glamorous new shopping centre, with its floor to ceiling aquarium.

Nevertheless, Franco Tollardo, chief operating officer of Aviapark, remains positive: “The next year will be difficult for everybody”, he admits, but considers it a temporary economic slowdown. It’s worth mentioning that Moscow ladies may owe their fondness of shopping malls to the Brits: TsUM, the luxury department store in the centre of Moscow, was founded by two Scottish entrepreneurs Andrew Muir and Archibald Mirrielees in 1857.

Radio Tolstoy

One thing that can be observed from displays in shopping malls throughout the world is the fact that the festive season is fast approaching. With Christmas and the New Year less than a month away, the primary question on everyone’s mind is how to celebrate the holidays this year. On a day Russians typically spend eating leftovers from the New Year's Eve feast and watching musical shows and old Soviet films, the Brits will be offered something quite unusual: on 1 January, Radio 4 is set to broadcast a 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace starring John Hurt and Simon Russell Beale, once again we read in the Guardian.

The programme is believed to be longest single drama ever broadcast on Radio 4. The nearest to it is the eight-hour reading of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by Stephen Fry on Boxing Day in 2000, so Tolstoy will be in good company.

For those who don’t fancy a 10-hour radio marathon, the production will also be available on iPlayer and repeated in one hour segments over the following ten Saturdays. Not enough time to spare? The Independent has created its own 186-word long abridged version, to mark the 186th anniversary of the writer's birth this year.

The opinion of the writer may not necessarily reflect the position of RBTH.

Read more: UK-Russia crossviews

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