It’s Billy Elliot meets Boris at the Bolshoi. Set in pre-Perestroika Moscow 1986, this semi-autobiographical first film from Brooklyn-based director Dmitry Povolotsky follows a ballet-obsessed teen who pretends his father is the famous dancer (and defector) Mikhail Baryshnikov. The movie captures the spirit of the economic and political restructuring at the time, and features a musical score by no less than Boney M.
Noah Sneider in The Believer magazine recounts how early 20th century Russian choreographer Alexander Alexander Viktorovich Shiryaev may just be Russia’s first film animator.
The Forgotten Ephemera of Genius
Oh, Anna Skladmann is a talented photographer. She’s been focusing her lens on Russian subjects for a few years since graduating from Parsons, and assisting Annie Leibowitz. For this series, “Little Adults,” Skladmann trains her camera on the children of Russia’s fabulously wealthy. What she captures in each image is remarkable. Her captions, explaining how each portrait came to be, offer a tiny window into the world of these privileged munchkins.
Future historians of early 21st century Russia may need to look no further than screening Elena to understand the era’s zeitgeist. Director Andrei Zvyagintsev gets the unsettling class differences in today’s Russia right, setting his film noir in Putin’s Moscow, where the script was shot in 2010. Zvyagintsev’s stunning debut feature The Return won the Siberian-born filmmaker the Golden Lion Award at the 2003 Venice Film Festival. Elena opened in limited release across the U.S. in May.
A St. Petersburg DJ remixes Vladimir Putin’s warbling of Blackberry Hill to a beat you can kind of dance to. It’s one way to rock the Russian youth vote in upcoming elections.
[The excerpt below from The Rumpus is from my essay about Emmanuel Carrère's memoir.]
LET’S SAY I’M ON A FRENCH TRAIN enroute to meet my boyfriend, a prominent French writer. I open that day’s copy of Le Monde and there’s a controlling, erotic story by him about an unnamed woman who, just like me, is traveling aboard a French train. Among other items, the story contains detailed instructions to pleasure myself in the W.C., precisely between Paris and Niort. What’s more, he’s created this gift for me, he explains in the story, under the guise of obsessive love and performative literature.
In reaction I might think: 1) he’s a controlling jerk; or, maybe 2) this is cheesey, high-falutin French porn. But I think I’d go with he’s an interesting and complicated guy. A guy just like French novelist and filmmaker Emmanuel Carrère, whose real 8,000-word missive to his live-in girlfriend Sophie in Le Monde features as the switchpoint in this superb memoir.
Recently a small group, including two journalists, the requisite number of definite Dead Heads, and some émigrés from Peet’s Coffee across the street, gathered in Berkeley to sample Georgian wines at a former electrical substation gentrified into a wine store, aptly named Vintage. In between tasting varietals that had been fermented in traditional Georgian clay containers, the virtues of Stalin wine, a sweetish red, were discussed. A bottle of Stalin wine wasn’t on the tasting table but Christopher Terrell, an enthusiastic young Brit who imports Georgian wine into California, assured the group that it could be found online.
Stalin’s visage gracing a wine bottle isn’t the brand identity most people in the West associate with an A-list spokesman, dead or alive. Some might say it’s a marketing strategy with the kiss of death written all over it. But Stalin, also known by the moniker Koba (after a Georgian folk hero), was a Georgian homeboy and loyalties run deep in the Caucasus. In addition to the wine with his picture on the label, there is also a sweet red wine, Khvanchkara, that is said to have been the former Soviet leader’s favorite. And that wine is currently at the center of a trademark dispute.
When I lived in Russia, I bought bottles of wine at around 60 cents each with Stalin’s face when I could find them in kiosks. Stalin’s steely eyes would stare out at me from six or eight bottles on the kitchen counter as I cooked that evening’s version of choucroute. In early 1998, when I went to the usual kiosk to replenish my dwindling stockpile of the wine, I was greeted by a head shake. I learned that rebels, maybe Abakazians or North Ossetians (it was hard to keep track of which group was doing what) were holding the entrance to the Trans-Caucasian Highway hostage. That meant no wine, Stalin or otherwise, loaded onto Georgian trucks was getting through to Russia. Months later a scramble through kiosks just before I was to return to the States netted one bottle of the stuff, which I gave to a friend in Boston as a souvenir and proof that such a vintage existed.