December 28, 2019

Russians on Oscar Shortlists


Russians on Oscar Shortlists
Still from Kantemir Balagov's Beanpole.

Russian cinema is not going through the best of times commercially-speaking: out of 68 films that came out this year and that were financed by the state only eight were commercially successful. And yet, three films by Russian directors were shortlisted for the Academy Awards this year (about half of the works on the shortlist are eventually nominated).

Critic Anton Dolin, chief editor of Iskusstvo Kino, called the news "colossal." "It's been a long time since something like this happened. Possibly never," Dolin wrote after the Academy published the shortlist in mid-December.

1. Beanpole (Дылда) is perhaps the most talked-about Russian movie at this year's festivals. Set in post-war St. Petersburg, Kantemir Balagov's film is a stark tale of war's effects on people's lives, specifically women survivors. Balagov, who made this (his second) film at 27 is arguably Russia's most meteorically rising young talent (his debut film, Closeness, was set in his native Nalchik in the 1990s and made a splash in Cannes two years ago). 

Beanpole, which comes to US theaters in January, received mixed reviews in Russia and, like other films about World War II that divert from the official canon of treating it as a singularly victorious page of Soviet history, risks official condemnation. Because of one love scene between two female protagonists, former anti-aircraft gunners, Balagov was accused of pandering to western festival juries – the film was even nominated for the "Queer Palm" award, an independent jury in Cannes. But Balagov said this irritated him because it oversimplified the relationship between the two women.  

Balagov said the film is an "anti-war manifesto" inspired by Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich's book The Unwomanly Face of War, which is based on the stories and plight of women soldiers.

2. St. Petersburg based animation artist Konstantin Bronzit was nominated for an Oscar with his previous short film We Cannot Live Without the Cosmos, a tale of two friends inseparable even after a space accident claims one's life. This year's selection is called He Cannot Live Without the Cosmos. Bronzit says he decided to give the new film a very similar title because it explores the same themes, only now the focus is on a child dreaming of becoming a cosmonaut.

The child is born wearing a spacesuit, and prepares to go into space despite efforts by his mother to make him "normal." Bronzit says his job as an animation artist is as lonely as it is for his characters to be in space: "you sit and draw on the computer all day long by yourself."

 

Bronzit has previously complained that his work receives no state funding from the Ministry of Culture. This year, however, the Fond Kino (Movie Fund), which hands out subsidies for film projects, announced that it would finance Bronzit's new film, Мусор ("Garbage"), a 3D film made with a Canadian partner.

3. The third shortlisted film crafted by a Russian film director is not actually officially Russian. Aquarela is a joint effort by production studios in Britain, Denmark and the United States. But Viktor Kosakovsky, who, like Bronzit, also hails from St. Petersburg, chose Russia's Lake Baikal for part of his experimental documentary about water.

In crucial scenes in the film, automobiles driving across the lake plunge through the ice – drivers accustomed to relying on a frozen surface to get to Olkhon Island by car are unprepared for the effects of a changing climate. The film also captures crumbling glaciers, waterfalls and hurricanes. 

 

Unusually for documentaries, the film has no voiceover. The film has a whopping 12 lines of dialogue. Some reviews remarked on the overwhelming natural sounds through the 1.5 hours, but most critics praised its visuals. The film is shot with a special camera able to capture 96 frames a second. Unfortunately, very few theaters have the capability to show the footage at its full quality.

As a bonus, the Czech short animation feature on the shortlist, Dcera ("Daughter") was made by Russian filmmaker Darya Kashcheyeva, who moved to the Czech Republic from Moscow several years ago to study animation. 

 

 

You Might Also Like

A History of Oscar and Russian Films

A History of Oscar and Russian Films

The first Russian movie to win an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film was the documentary Rout of the German Troops near Moscow (1942). Since then, five Russian films have won this honor.
Imagining the Enemy
  • November 01, 2008

Imagining the Enemy

Where we consider how Russians have been portrayed in American film over the past century – from Marlene Dietrich to Sean Connery. It turns out this may tell us more about America than about Russia.
Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

Steppe / Степь

Steppe / Степь

This is the work that made Chekhov, launching his career as a writer and playwright of national and international renown. Retranslated and updated, this new bilingual edition is a super way to improve your Russian.
Fearful Majesty

Fearful Majesty

This acclaimed biography of one of Russia’s most important and tyrannical rulers is not only a rich, readable biography, it is also surprisingly timely, revealing how many of the issues Russia faces today have their roots in Ivan’s reign.
Murder and the Muse

Murder and the Muse

KGB Chief Andropov has tapped Matyushkin to solve a brazen jewel heist from Picasso’s wife at the posh Metropole Hotel. But when the case bleeds over into murder, machinations, and international intrigue, not everyone is eager to see where the clues might lead.
Russia Rules

Russia Rules

From the shores of the White Sea to Moscow and the Northern Caucasus, Russian Rules is a high-speed thriller based on actual events, terrifying possibilities, and some really stupid decisions.
A Taste of Chekhov

A Taste of Chekhov

This compact volume is an introduction to the works of Chekhov the master storyteller, via nine stories spanning the last twenty years of his life.
Fish: A History of One Migration

Fish: A History of One Migration

This mesmerizing novel from one of Russia’s most important modern authors traces the life journey of a selfless Russian everywoman. In the wake of the Soviet breakup, inexorable forces drag Vera across the breadth of the Russian empire. Facing a relentless onslaught of human and social trials, she swims against the current of life, countering adversity and pain with compassion and hope, in many ways personifying Mother Russia’s torment and resilience amid the Soviet disintegration.
Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

The Life Stories collection is a nice introduction to contemporary Russian fiction: many of the 19 authors featured here have won major Russian literary prizes and/or become bestsellers. These are life-affirming stories of love, family, hope, rebirth, mystery and imagination, masterfully translated by some of the best Russian-English translators working today. The selections reassert the power of Russian literature to affect readers of all cultures in profound and lasting ways. Best of all, 100% of the profits from the sale of this book are going to benefit Russian hospice—not-for-profit care for fellow human beings who are nearing the end of their own life stories.
The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The fables of Ivan Krylov are rich fonts of Russian cultural wisdom and experience – reading and understanding them is vital to grasping the Russian worldview. This new edition of 62 of Krylov’s tales presents them side-by-side in English and Russian. The wonderfully lyrical translations by Lydia Razran Stone are accompanied by original, whimsical color illustrations by Katya Korobkina.
22 Russian Crosswords

22 Russian Crosswords

Test your knowledge of the Russian language, Russian history and society with these 22 challenging puzzles taken from the pages of Russian Life magazine. Most all the clues are in English, but you must fill in the answers in Russian. If you get stumped, of course all the puzzles have answers printed at the back of the book.
Woe From Wit (bilingual)

Woe From Wit (bilingual)

One of the most famous works of Russian literature, the four-act comedy in verse Woe from Wit skewers staid, nineteenth century Russian society, and it positively teems with “winged phrases” that are essential colloquialisms for students of Russian and Russian culture.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955