Russian Cinema: A Very Short Story

Alexander Fedorov
7 min readMar 19, 2020

Birth of the Russian “Great Mute” (1898–1917)

The film thaw has become a starry hour for Tatiana Samoilova, Anastasia Vertinskaya, Lyudmila Savelyeva, Vyacheslav Tikhonov, Oleg Strizhenov, Alexey Batalov, Innokenty Smoktunovsky, Evgeny Urbansky, Oleg Efremov and many other remarkable actors of the new generation. And this is despite the fact that in these years still continued to play Boris Andreev, Alexei Cherkasov, Mikhail Zharov, Lydia Smirnova, Nikolai Simonov and other famous artists of the 1930s — 1940s.

Interest in Russian “perestroika” on the part of selectors from Cannes, Venice and Berlin has not yet faded, but Russian films have increasingly received prizes from secondary international festivals.

1992. The economic reforms of the new Russian government resulted in a sharp depreciation of the ruble, with the total deficit of products and goods continuing for the first time. It was this year that a considerable number of Russian citizens made millions of dollars in the purchase and sale of imported goods alone, some of which were invested in the film business for reasons of prestige, friendship, and, most importantly, for the purpose of “laundering” shadow money.

Theoretically, a considerable number of new Russian films could have been released in 1992–172, the lion’s share of which was made with money from private companies, banks, joint-stock companies, and other organizations. However, in practice, perhaps, contrary to the hopes of some new Russian film traders, the American movies dominated in cinema theaters.

1993. A year of new economic and political upheavals (the October storming of Russian TV building and the Parliament House in Moscow). The Moscow International Film Festival, held in July 1993, was probably the first time in its history to experience a shortage of viewers. Crowds of people eager for an “extra ticket” seem to have become a thing of the past.

After watching enough the “tidbit” and forbidden in the Soviet times Western films, the mass audience chose to watch films on TV and video (already at home, rather than in the video halls), without being tempted by the amazing color rendering of the festival’s Kodak colors, or by the loud names of filmmakers.

1994. Russians have started to get used to filled counters of the shops. More and more families have become owners of video equipment. A relatively calm year in political terms at the very end of it is tarnished by the beginning of the Chechen war, which official propaganda for a long time tried to portray as a kind of minor conflict.

1995. A year of senseless continuation of the Chechen war, with a very relative stabilization of the Russian economy. The property stratification of Russians was marked by an obvious gap between the wealth of tens of thousands and the poverty of tens of millions…

I must say that it was Danelia who became one of the few (together with Muratova, Mikhalkov and Ryazanov) directors who managed to put in the 1990s three or more films, was as it were outside the fashion because of his stubborn unwillingness to adapt to the social and critical situation.

1995 was the year a significant return of Roman Balayan, the creator of the legendary Flights in Dream and Reality . Alas, his film adaptation of Turgenev’s , contrary to expectations, can only be called the main failure of the year… First Love

With the notable debut in feature films in 1995, things are not dense. Apart from Alexei Uchitel and Oleg Kovalov, it seems that there is no one else to name. The once hopeful debutants of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s — Igor Alimpiev, Lidia Bobrova, Sergei Debizhev, Valery Ogorodnikov, Sergei Popov, Svetlana Proskurina, Sergei Snezhkin, Oleg Teptsov, Arkady Tigai — came out of the “film game” for almost five years. Perhaps, they were not adapted to the cruel rules of the market, where everyone must manage to get money for the next production…

In 1995, the first Russian cinema with a real multichannel sound Dolby — “Kodak-Kinomir” — appeared in Moscow (by the beginning of the XXI century there will be about fifty of them in the capital, and halls with new equipment will appear in all large and medium Russian cities).

1996. A year of countless political scandals in the Kremlin’s top ranks and a fierce election battle for the presidency. The year of the inglorious end of the so-called first Chechen war. It was at this time that the Russian cinema finally responded to it as a Caucasian prisoner by Sergei Bodrov. Against the backdrop of the lowest number of films shot in Russia in the 1990s, Sergei Bodrov’s war drama looked like an undisputed leader, which was immediately noted by the press and the festival jury. The film was also distributed well on vide…

The number of Russian cinema-1996 was reduced to three dozen titles. As a matter of fact, a remake of the “epoch of a low movie numbers” has come…

However, on the whole, “epoch of a low movie numbers” continued (the annual Russian production amounted to 32 films). However, whatever Russian filmmakers shot there, and whatever prizes they received at the festivals, young viewers continued to watch not author’s films, but entertainment films of mass culture, mostly American.

The total number of Russian films in 1999 slightly exceeded the level of the previous two years (41 full-length feature films).

2003 . Film production, which has recovered from the default of 1998, is beginning to increase slowly (75 feature films). Until then, the debut of the film director Andrey Zvyagintsev — an existential parable Return — becomes a triumphant (two Golden Lions) at the film festival in Venice and brings a significant arrival at Europe and America. The debut of B. Khlebnikov and A. Popogrebsky ( ) was not so brightly, but also interestingly. Alexander Sokurov presents his unique project — the allegory Koktebel and Alexei Uchitel — an improvisational Russian Ark, . Walk

Since 2004, a sharp expansion of the production of Russian TV series — over a hundred annually.

2007 . The continuing increase in film production (146 films for cinemas and 142 for television) has led to a familiar effect in the early 1990s: an increase in the flow of weak, unprofessional movies. Against this background, even Popogrebsky’s modest drama Simple Things turned out to be a positive event of the year. A. Balabanov’s naturalistic criminal drama caused fierce controversy, dividing both ordinary viewers and sophisticated film critics/filmmakers into two irreconcilable camps of supporters and opponents of the “bloody trash” about a maniac-killer. Cargo 200

2008. The year of the global economic crisis could not radically affect the inertial nature of the increase in film production. Of course, some film projects have been halted, but 162 Russian feature films have already been produced in 2008.

2015. Russia has entered a prolonged zone of sanctions pressure exerted on it by the United States and the European Union. There were 180 new Russian feature films, but there were practically no films that really became events of the year, including significant box office returns (at least none of Russia’s films in 2015 could be included in the top ten hits of 2011–2019).

2016. 178 new Russian feature films. Among the artistic achievements of the year the leader, undoubtedly, was the drama Paradise by Andrei Konchalovsky, awarded at the film festival in Venice. Unfortunately, the movie of another brilliant representative of the older generation of Russian directors — Sergei Solovyov — was extremely unsuccessful, as in the artistic, there and in the commercial sense. The interest of the audience and the press was aroused by the sharp story Snea-kers, by Nikolai Lebedev, the musical-dramatic film about the ballet The Crew by Valery Todorovsky and the exquisite thriller by Pavel Lungin. Social criticism of Kirill Serebrennikov’s Bolchoi Theatre caused a storm of controversy, probably comparable to the reaction to the Dame Peak by A. Zvyagintsev. Student Leviathan

The history of Russian cinema goes back more than a century, it knew the stages of rise and fall, ideological repression and complete creative freedom. This controversial history was studied by both Russian and foreign scientists. Of course, Soviet and Western scientists studied Soviet cinema from different ideological positions. Soviet filmmakers were generally active in supporting socialist realism in cinema, while Western scholars, on the contrary, rejected this method and paid great attention to the Soviet film avant-garde of the 1920s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the situation changed: Russian and foreign film historians began to study cinema in a similar methodological manner, focusing on both ideological and socio-cultural aspects of the cinematographic process.

Alexander Fedorov, 2019

Khrenov, 2008 — Khrenov, N.A. (2008). Images of the great breakup. Cinema in the context of the change of the cultural cycles. Moscow: Progress-tradition.

Margolit, 2012 — Margolit, E.Y. (2012). Alive and dead: Notes on the history of Soviet cinema of 1920–1960s. St. Petersburg: Séance, 560 с.

Séance, 2018 — Seance (2018). Scientific and educational Internet project “Chapaev”: History of cinema in the history of the country. History of the country in the history of cinema. St.Petersburg.

Hit parade of Russian cinema of the 1930s

Alas, no precise data. However, there is no doubt that the following movies are almost certainly included in the top ten hits of the decade (according to the release date)

Hit parade of Russian cinema of the 1940s

(the total number of viewers for the first year of the film screening)

Hit parade of Russian cinema of the 1950s

Hit parade of Russian cinema of the 1960s

Hit parade of Russian cinema of the 1970s

Hit parade of Russian cinema of the 1980s

Hit parade of Russian cinema of the 1990s

Hit parade of Russian cinema of the 2000s

Hit parade of Russian cinema of the 2011–2018

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