no recipe · on USSR / Russia

Best Soviet Winter Movies. About Food Too!

In this already traditional New Year-related post I would like to share with you the movies and music that from my point of you are perfect for winter and not only the New Year’s Eve. Without appearing completely trivial, I would start with the most obvious choice.

Ironiya Sudby
Indispensable holiday attributes: guitar, champaign, gifts and new dress

I don’t know why but there are some inevitable things that come to my mind when the New Year’s Eve is drawing closer. I do not consider myself someone who enjoys the ‘modern’ concept of celebrating the coming of the new year, yet I do belong to the same Soviet culture most of the people in Russia seem to perpetuate. So it’s only natural that I have this nagging feeling to watch the Irony of Fate once more. Who could imagine at the time when this film was created (it was released on the first day of 1976) that this melodrama entirely built on the Soviet way of life, drinking and Soviet stupidities would equal to an ultimate icon of a holiday in the minds of several generations? But there’s not only this in the movie, there’s more to it… Is it that we all would probably love – juuuust a tiny bit! – to get into a similar absurd situation that would bring us the love of our life!

Ironiya Sudby
More holiday attributes: tangerines, more champaign and salads!

Sure enough, not every Russian has seen this movie and not every one loves it (too long, too melodramatic, too boring, too sentimental, etc etc). There are other things that represent the New Year’s Eve for them now. But I would really insist on the fact that for quite a lot of Russians the Irony of Fate is something so dear and so important, they would find their holiday incomplete without having at least a glimpse of this 3-hour movie on the TV.

Ironiya Sudby
The title shown against the faceless high rises and snow

And there’s food in there of course, the traditional dishes one would find on a Soviet table during most of the festivities. And there are even food-related quotes that have become bywords since then, like the phrase ‘Your fish in jelly is such shit!‘. This fish under jelly is one of the typical Soviet (and typically Soviet) dishes, which the proud housewife would place in the middle of the table. But you see, even though the Soviet women tried hard to make something out of sheer nothing, that was not always very tasty to eat.

There’s also this wonderful music, the piercing sounds of piano and vibraphone performed by Mikael Tariverdiev in this movie. And most of the people recognize the songs from this film too. Each time I hear some jazz music with jingling vibraphone, I immediately think about New Year and THE movie =) Mom says each time there was an intermission on the Soviet media, they would put this music on. My winter music? ABBA. Or Enigma. ABBA because it was tolerated and almost accepted during the Soviet times. It is also what you would certainly find on one TV channel or another on the new year’s eve here in Russia – not only that very Happy New Year song but all ABBA’s video clips sometimes. Enigma has no connection to the Soviet New Year of course, it’s just that I somehow connect it with winter and snow.

Devchata
The dream of all Soviet people!

But actually I wanted to talk to you about another movie which is super-winter and food-related, Devchata (1961). And here the title in the super-rich Russian language just cannot be rendered into the laconic English language. Devchata is “girls” but with this soft and tender connotation, quite a rare word these days. The girls are in the center of the story, especially a bunch of very different girls with very different destinies. Watch this funny scene with Tosya, the main character, eating all the stock of the other girls sharing the room with her – she was not stealing, she was just completely and sincerely sure that everyone shares everything (like they did at the orphanage).

Devchata
This is what I call SNOWY winter!

It was a snowy evening, I was passing a wagon used by the road workers where there was that pail filled with warmed tar or what do you fall that. How can a smell and light remind you of a black & white movie? Well… There’s lots of snow in the movie that makes you want to get inside this Siberian forest with tall fir trees… I’m sure that the fact that the movie is black & white creates this special atmosphere and is even better for the snow part of it – the white seems whiter against black and grey!

Devchata
Russian glamour : )

It is food related (the girl could name all the dishes with potatoes!), it has a very romantic love story (Gosh it does!), it is hilarious and witty, it’s soundtrack and songs are simply genial, it is about old times and black & white, and, although quite idealistically, it reflects that period in the Soviet history when young enthusiastic people left there cities and their homes to build new cities and work in very difficult conditions in their desire to create a new world.

Devchata
Happy Soviet working youth!

I know that these shots will tell almost nothing to you unless you watch the movie, but for me and a lot of Russians these are true jewels ; )

Devchata
Explaining a new logging technique with beer bottles in a boys’ dormitory.

Indeed, what else can a movie be if such sincere emotions are expressed by the actors and communicated to you that you can’t help smiling, laughing and repeating the familiar phrases after them.

Devchata
The ‘first guy in the village’ invites the lady for a dance.

 Like ‘I don’t dance with these [who attract girls by beckoning them with a finger]!’

Devchata
In the end the short girl dances with the tall one.

A bit about the film: A girl who has just graduated from a culinary college arrives at a village in the Urals, takes over a hard task to feed the hungry timber-industry workers and falls in love with a popular macho who actually bets with his friend she would fall in love with him in a week (the winner would get his new hat). Guess what happens!

Devchata

  Love through food…

Devchata

…gets to a happy end!

Devchata

I guess that for girls who are not that very tall this movie was and is super-inspiring =) And the story itself (it’s a novel actually) is really good though undeservedly forgotten (the librarian had to order the ONLY book from the store-room for me…). The book expands on the characters and their inner life which is missing from the movie and moreover it has such a sparkling humour (iskrometny, love the word, it literally means ‘throwing sparkles’) that it overrides this propaganda thing about the workers and building the communism together. A good read!

I’ve just seen another winter movie (though only episodically food-related) – Vesna na Zarechnoy Ulitse (Spring on Zarechnaya Street, 1956), where the same irresistibly charming actor Nikolay Rybnikov plays an illiterate steelmaker who falls desperately in love with a young hard-hearted teacher, commissioned to a workers’ village evening school (she loves Rakhmaninov!). I watched it in black & white though they’ve recently coloured it.

Vesna na Zarechnoy Ulitse
The same actor 5 years earlier…

This movie has more minutes spent on propaganda with the factories and the country’s new power, the laborious workers’ class which is driving the country towards prosperity. And they keep singing the song with the same name that became very popular after the movie.

Vesna na Zarechnoy Ulitse
Oh this cold-cold teacher!

However… it is with a teacher (apparently from a big city and not knowing anything about their world) that this steelmaker falls in love, leaving his unsophisticated girlfriend in tears! It’s weird and at the same time quite informative to watch movies about your grandparents’ youth! Especially when that time of the inspiring Khruchev’s Thaw seems so very far from today.

Vesna na Zarechnoy Ulitse
Notice the ever-present bottles of Soviet Champagne – this sweet fizzy drink would shock French people!

Sure enough there are lots of other winter movies, some of them being shown every single New Year. But I’ve been watching other movies recently and also a couple of documentaries on the early-mid 2oth century. And as if in connecting with these, seeing the decaying remains of the old Russia in Arkhangelsk has led me to some amount of thinking. There’s such a tremendous gap between us, the heirs of the Soviet empire and the Russian empire. On these photographs – how about first COLOUR photos of the Russian empire in 1900s?! – everything seems so robust and so ever-lasting (especially when you see COLOUR, not just sepia or black & white pictures which create a distance between you and the object), yet it all disappeared in such a dramatic way that we have almost NO connection at all to it.

Imagine that throughout the USSR times we never learnt about the First World war in a proper way: it was always and only ‘Ze Grejt Oktobjer Rjevoljushion‘ as one of my teachers of English would say (thanks to my Mom she did not last more than two weeks as my teacher!). As if that was a completely different country, different nation and different world even, that Russian empire. There are some vestiges left from it in our days, that’s true, but we do look at them as at something alien. It seems to me that that world became suddenly interesting and searched-for only after 100 years have passed.

But you cannot bring it all back, particularly the people. That is why it seems as if we are a completely different nation now: so many of those people died during the First World war, then the Civil war, some of them emigrated, the remainder died in Stalin’s camps or did not survive the Second World War. Some of them survived all through the years but they were so few. Why is it so that our history is divided in such distinct periods? First figure who has made this ‘cut’ was Peter the Great of course, with his European ideas he forcedly reformatted Russia into something it had never been. A completely different country! That’s why I sometimes crave for some truly Russian places in St Petersburg, it seems so artificial and not Russian when you think about it. The second ‘cut’ that comes to my mind is that ‘Grejt Oktobjer Rjevoljushion‘ of course. But the country that it created did not survive even a century.

And now what? It looks like a permanent waiting for something, as if we are still in between something, however ‘grejt’ our country might try to appear right now. However distant the Soviet era might seem to us at the moment, we are so deeply stuck in it still, it will take another century to look back on it and say ‘gosh, it all looks so weird and distant!’.

Prokudin-Gorsky
Source: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/prok/

By the way, if you know Russian and are interested in that pioneer photographer Prokudin-Gorsky who toured round Russian empire to depict its life in the early 1900s, watch this and this. If you look at his photos of the objects – they are so unrealistically realistic, it seems you can touch them!

And you know what? Talking about the movies… 2015 is the year Marty McFly and Doc Brown visit in the future (one of the pivotal points of the story) – with all the flying cars, ovens boosting dehydrated pizza 4 times and dogs walking on leash all alone. People are already discussing these ‘predictions’ on the Internet. Well, we’ll see : )

Other New Year in USSR and Russia related posts on my blog:

G.

Movie screenshots taken from all over Internet, including such websites as kinopoisk.ru, kino-teatr.ru and Wikipedia.

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