Take a Drink: for identical Soviet architecture
Take a Drink: for musical interludes
Take a Drink: for every Father Frost you spot
Take a Drink: whenever the relationship tides shift
Take a Drink: for Russian culture stereotypes- banya, vodka, etc.
Do a Shot: for vodka at the banya. Never drink vodka at the banya.
Do a Shot: whenever Ippolit shows back up. Poor bastard.
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Every year for the holidays, families gather to eat good food, have some drinks, catch up with the in-laws, dream on presents, and many other such activities, and in the background the same classic film always plays- a veritable background track to this one special, annual day. Oh, did I mention I’m currently living in Russia?
GTFO, George Bailey
Ever since it debuted in 1976, Russian families have watched the two-part TV movie The Irony of Fate together, at least as background noise. The story follows a meek sort of guy, Zhenya (Andrey Myagkov) who plans to propose to his longtime girlfriend at the strike of midnight. Those plans go awry when his buddies get him well and truly vodka drunk at the banya (sauna), then he accompanies his friend to the airport, only to accidentally board his flight to Leningrad instead. Still quite drunk, he blunders his way to his address, and this being Soviet-era Russia, of course there’s the same street name, building, and apartment number as his own in Moscow. The key even works. He plops down on a bed to sleep it off, but there’s only one problem- the woman who this apartment really belongs to, Nadya (Barbara Brylska).
This is low-key, not terribly ground-breaking stuff, but director Eldar Ryazanov and his game cast deliver it in an engaging, attractive manner. If you’re under the impression that all Russians, particularly Iron Curtain-era Russians, are/were dour, humorless people, this will convince you otherwise.
Admittedly, the last time this guy smiled was over the steaming corpse of his first kill.
1976 was Brezhnev. It was on the road to Afghanistan. And yet it was just another year in the lives of the typical Russian citizen, and while The Irony of Fate undoubtedly presents a slightly idealized version of that life (like your typical Hollywood production), it’s a version that clearly resonated with its viewers. It’s estimated fully 100 million people watched the initial broadcast. That’s Superbowl numbers. As such, it’s a fascinating look at the common Russian’s image of of themselves at a time that the world’s perception of them was necessarily skewed. It’s also a gentle critique of the pervading sameness of Soviet architecture and city planning, both a proof that humor wasn’t outlawed in Soviet Russia, and a unique twist that wouldn’t work nearly so well anywhere else. Well, unless you’re talking about Martin Luther King Boulevard in the U.S., that is.
Chris Rock is 100% right on this one.
A simple piece of entertainment, you can’t deny that Myagkov and Brylska have marvelous chemistry, both romantic and comic, and it’s impossible not to be drawn into this lightly absurd premise, which is taken to its absolute limits. If anything, it reminds me of a lesser Billy Wilder farce, and that’s high praise coming from me.
The combine episodes check in at 184 minutes, which is quite a bit more than that premise demands. Small things, like Nadya’s friends that loudly bumble into the apartment not once, but twice, should’ve been cut, and like 99% of romcoms, easily avoidable misunderstandings and miscommunications pad out the drama.
Russians sure love their dubbing, even for Russian dialogue. You get used to it, but as always, sometimes the voice/mouth fit is a bit wonky. Also, what the hell happened to Zhenya’s erstwhile fiancee in Moscow? He sure tosses her aside pretty easily, and his mom for one’s not buying the new girlfriend. “Well see”, indeed.
I’ve seen it written that if you’d like to understand the Russian people, you should watch this film. Like It’s a Wonderful Life, it presents a fascinating look at the worries and comforting truths all Russians can relate to, and happens to be a mostly lovely relationships comedy to boot.