Russian Film Week

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006 | All Things, Eats, Film, Friends

Our professor was off in Pittsburgh, so Russian class was canceled this Wednesday. Appropriately enough, SN and I made plans to attend the 6th Annual Russian Film Week that night instead, which was being held October 13-19 at Cinema Village, highlighting current films by Russian directors. The dozen films were selected for their favorable reviews by critics and audiences from among the films released in Russia this year. The week-long event was presented by Interfest, organizers of the Moscow International Film Festival and Globe PR Group, under the support of The Russian Federation Federal Agency for Culture and Cinema.

That night, the featured film was Polumgla, by Russian director Artyom Antonov. Last Fall, Antonov won the “Iris of Tomorrow” for best debut feature at the closing ceremony of the first — and sadly: only — Festival International de Films de Montréal for this Russian-German co-production.

The film, set during World War II, tells the story of a young Soviet lieutenant sent to the far Northern reaches of the snow-covered taiga to supervise the construction of a strategic military radio tower. As he departs on his train journey, he learns that his construction team is made up entirely of German prisoners of war. The team arrives in the eponymous village, ill-prepared and under-supplied. The locals are primarily women whose men have gone to war, and whose fates they learn through an eerily cheerful sailor who travels by belled dogsled to deliver them tragic telegrams from the front. Their reception towards the POWs is at first strongly hostile, but over time, despite no common language, common human bonds are forged among the townfolk and the men, challenging their entrenched views of the enemy. This being a Russian film — and a war film — you don’t expect a fairy-tale ending, do you?

War! Germans! You knew that SYB would want in on this, too. SN and I met him for a quick pre-film bite at Cafetasia, the newish Pan-Asian (mostly Thai) eatery on 8th Street, down the block from the new Broadway Panhandler location.

The decor was slick and the food gently-priced if not particularly noteworthy — all as expected, given the NYU-centric location and provenance: the restaurant was started up by a former employee of the Spice mini-chain (not to be confused with the Cafe Spice mini-chain.) SYB and I took advantage of the 2-for-1 happy hour caipirinhas, which made it even more complicated to extricate ourselves from the immovable, too tightly-arranged communal bench seating. I did like these calamari fritters with light-spicy ginger-avocado dipping sauce.

Cafetasia Calamari

After dinner, SN had to drop out of the movie at the last minute to tend to his ill wife back home in Jersey, so SYB and I were charged with unloading his ticket. I was concerned at first, but finding a buyer was not a problem at all: the film was sold out by the time we arrived at Cinema Village, and there were scads of Russian-speakers milling about on the sidewalk in front, presumably waiting for people like us to come along. We sold SN’s seat to the first women who tentatively approached. She thanked us after the exchange, and I responded: pah-ZHALu-stah! (You’re welcome!) I think she may have even understood me.

But her smile could have been one of amusement.

Cinema Village

There are 4 Comments ... Russian Film Week

October 25, 2006

So, how did the film Polumgla end? The POWs died and the women heart broken? Oh, those food close-ups of yours always make me hungry. [Drooling]

October 25, 2006

You are familiar with Russian film, I see! Stop reading now, if you don’t want the ending spoiled…

Just before the radio tower’s completion, the order comes in from Soviet headquarters that it will no longer be needed. A new tower is to be built, several towns away, where another construction crew of POWS is waiting; the current crew is therefore expendable. The Soviet commander rolls into town in a tank to deliver the news to the lieutenant, and his team executes all the German POWs by firing squad. The Polumgla women are ordered to clean up the carnage.

Not exactly the feel-good movie of the year…

October 26, 2006

FYI, I know nothing about Russian film. I just made a guess based on the hint. The ending is rather cruel, although highly possible at wartimes. Thanks for depicting the entire story. You are a good story teller.

October 26, 2006

I also tell some good stories once in a while. 🙂

Go for it ...