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Poster for 'August 8th'
If your image of Russian films is sad people in bleak settings, then the upcoming Russian Film Festival will blow your mind, with a sparkling program that offers comedies, cartoons and romances as well as top-quality dramas.
Screening at the Palace Centro Cinema from Friday the 7th to Sunday the 16th of September, the festival is a rare opportunity to see almost 30 Russian movies, ranging from recently released blockbusters to art-house classics.
I was lucky enough to head along to the festival's media launch recently to catch a screening of action movie August 8th. A hit at the Russian box office earlier this year, this is a riveting story of a young Moscow mother trying to rescue her son from a war zone during the 2008 war of the Caucuses.
The beautiful Svetlana Ivanova in 'The Admirer'
My companion and I knew little about the Caucuses conflict, but were soon swept up in a fast-moving tale that owed more than a little to Hollywood war movies but still had a distinctly Russian flavour.
Throw in some Transformer-style robots (courtesy of the little boy's imagination), and you've got one heck of a movie that sucked us right in. Yes, it had a fair whack of propaganda, but it was fascinating to see that from the other side for once. And if you're not interested in the political controversies that surrounded the film, you'll still get a well-made, gripping story that kept us on the edge of our seats till the very end.
On a different note, I'm also hoping to get along and see some of the romantic comedies that will feature in the festival. Five Brides tells the story of a young soldier who must woo five feisty girls on behalf of his comrades who are stranded in Berlin. Yolki 2 sounds a little like Love Actually, featuring some of Russia's most celebrated actors in a series of romantic and funny vignettes set on New Year's Eve.
And My Boyfriend is an Angel features the funky Anna Starshenbaum as a young Muscovite who is rescued by an angel when she falls from her window. (Click below to watch a trailer for 'My Boyfriend is an Angel'. No subtitles, sorry, but you'll get the vibe. And all the movies at the festival will be subtitled.)
If drama is more your thing, you have plenty of choices. A couple that stood out to me were The Admirer (a tale of Chekhov and his lady love Lidia Avilova), and Home (a family epic set in the steppes).
There's also what looks like a great soccer movie (The Match), based on a famous 1942 football match when players from the Ukraine's top team played a team of Nazi occupiers. And the festival will open with Spy, a steampunk thriller based on a best-selling novel by mystery writer Boris Akunin.
Two other movies deserve a special mention: Ivan and the Grey Wolf, the highest-grossing Russian animated film of all time, and Sergei Bonarchuk's War and Peace -- probably the longest Russian film of all time! Clocking in at 7 hours, this is an epic like no other. It's regularly nominated by critics as one of the best films ever.
I could go on and on, but you're better off heading to the festival website and reading more for yourself.
Whatever you see at the festival, it's likely to be very good and to give you the added bonus of a window into another world. At a time when so many Hollywood films have become deadeningly predictable, that's a wonderful thing.
To go in the draw for a double pass to the festival, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the words 'Russian Film Festival' in the subject line. Make sure to tell me your name and phone number in case you win. (Bonus points if you can sign off in Russian.) Entries close midnight Wednesday 5th of September.
The competition has now closed and the winners have been notified. Thanks for all your wonderful entries, including all the ones with Russian sign-offs! Well done, everybody. Unfortunately I only had three double-passes to give away, but stay tuned -- the Italian Film Festival is coming up and I'll have more giveaways then.