Recently a lot of movies have shown, with realistic thoroughness, the horrors of Russian army life: violence, cruelty, crimes, murders. Y.Volkogon’s Saluting! , for what may be one of the first Russian film, tells about the same problems in the comedic tradition of novelist Gashek’s unforgettable hero, The Good Soldier Shveik.
The comedy evolves with some bitterness, but it is funny at the same time. A.Androsov brightly plays Ivan, the recruit who manages to make fools of stupid authorities and even Ministry commissioners with his untamed optimism and idiotically thorough completion of orders. Half Shveik, half hero of folk tales, Ivan comes safe and sound through dead-end situation to win the love of his commander’s daughter.
Viewers who know Russian army life will probably get genuine pleasure from how the movie turns into gags so many barracks customs, from the cleaning of latrines to the thousand repetitions of the same drills. Reality, however, can be glimpsed in each absurd episode. Wouldn’t it be great if everything shown in Saluting! Were just a fantasy!
The star of V.Chikov’s comedy About Businessman Foma, M.Evdokimov, used to be famous in Russia as a music-hall comic, reading humorous and satirical monologues in the character of a rural athlete who from time to time comes out of a bathhouse with “a red face and vodka inside the shirt”. Director Chikov decided to adapt this character for the big screen by making Evdokimov into Foma, a tractor-driver who, having sunk his tractor while drunk, decides to open a pay-restroom in his native village. The film obviously expects laughter to be evoked by this odd situation itself. Really, though, what is a public toilet for in this tiny village where everybody has his own house? The gag is simply not enough for a full-length comedy. Aware of that, the script adds racketeering and a mad Communist who decides to protest this form of private property by burning himself in the new toilet.
Sometimes it gets laughs, but on the whole it’s too monotonous and clumsy. Evdokimov’s original monologues, told from the scene, were much funnier.
With Maternity in Mind
A young, single, pretty woman wants to have a baby without marrying its father. It’s not so easy, however, to find a suitable man. In A Baby for November director A. Pavlovsky develops this idea in the comedy genre (though the events can be easily imagined in a dramatic version). A line of male characters, all unsound for our heroine’s purpose, passes episodically before our eyes. Finally, a married friend lets her borrow her stupid husband (one of the most popular actors of today’s Russian cinema, S. Makovetsky, is very good as this infantile fellow)
There are plenty of spicy situations which, I suppose, would be likable if directed by French masters for erotic comedies. But Pavlovsky is neither Michel Deville nor Roger Vadim. Erotic here lack charm, and there is no improvisational delicacy in the performances of the majority of actors. A sex comedy doesn’t have to be so serious.
Nearly every famous actor in Russia today has decided to try directing. So have screenwriters and even film critics. More often, though, music-hall comics and pop singers become movie actors – and the screenwriters are taking a turn. They used to write scripts. Now they perform in film. In leading roles. You want an example? Here you are: a film by S.Nikonenko (also an actor, by the way), I want Your Husband, in which the man of the title is played by writer-humorist M.Zadornov, who decided to transfer his own monologues to the screen.
One day a wife opens an apartment door and there stands some lady declaring that she wants to buy her precious spouse. This start is rather intriguing. But as soon as the husband appears the movie turns into a kind of radio show or TV performance of Zadornov reading his stories. This famous writer lacks the acting skills to keep viewers’ attention for an hour and a half. And the director hasn’t helped him at all; action, taking place primarily in one room, is filmed uncreatively, on the level of a common new report.
The great Chaplin, as we know, was a screenwriter, director, actor and composer all at the same time. But he was Chaplin…
Not Quite a “The Sting”
In its script and style, V.Mishatkin’s crime comedy We Will Meet in Tahiti resembles George Roy Hill’s famous The Sting and its Polish variation Va-Banque by U.Mahulski. This director’s level is undeniably lower, and the movie came out not brilliant, but there are many funny episodes and the gags are no worse than any of Mel Brooks’. Young actors play – with visible pleasure – the roles of the smart rogues; L.Kuravlev is excellent as their elder colleague, a lover in the guise of a thief-pensioner…
It is common to give tips to waiters in a restaurant. That’s a rule all over the world. The protagonist of R.Zurzumia’s comedy The Waiter with the Gold Tray decides to break the rule and step out of the game. This is dangerous: his colleagues, not wanting “the good guy” around, call him a traitor. The restaurant’s customers, surprised by this waiter’s unusual behavior, almost kill him.
The situation of the “white crow” is not a new one for art. Yet it’s one thing when authors of a film depict, for example, someone standing up against a totalitarian regime, it’s another when they just tell about a man who doesn’t want to take extra money from clients.
Zurzumia pays no attention to this difference, making the waiter (played by the popular Russian actor A.Abdulov) almost a hero, one worthy of the Honored Legion awards. This could be forgiven if the movie had shone with artistic fantasy, gags, quick-witted dialogue. Unfortunately, the script of The Waiter with the Gold Tray is another one failing to justify a full-length film