Mar 042012

Forgotten melody for fluteIt seems I liked Forgotten Melody for Flute a lot more than the Washington Post reviewer did when the film came out in 1988, during perestroika.   He wrote:

The major attraction of  “A Forgotten Tune for the Flute” is its insights into everyday Soviet life. It takes us inside the apartments of privileged bureaucrats and less-well-off nurses and gives us a sense of the Soviet attitude toward cultural reform, careerism and sex. There’s even a glimpse of how Soviet paramedics handle a heart attack emergency. As a glasnost document, it has something of interest to offer; as a movie, it’s a rather drab occasion.

But what kind of movie about life in a bureaucratic system could it be if it was not about drabness?

Forgotten melody for flute - chorusI’m pretty sure Eldar Ryazanov was well aware of the drabness of deception and careerism, because why else did he intermix it with the occasional scenes of the pure voices of young innocents who he sent off on a tour?

Forgotten melody for flute - sailorsThe rapt attention of young sailors on an aircraft carrier where the chorus is performing is also a contrast to the everyday corruption that some of the characters back home at the Leisure Time Directorate would occasionally like to escape.

I think Ryazanov knew what he was doing, and did it well.

I wonder if Tatyana Dogileva considers this the best role she ever had.   From the three other movies in which I’ve seen her I wouldn’t have guessed that she could turn in a nuanced performance like this one.

Oct 132009


I still haven’t worked up enough nerve to finish watching Voditel dlya Very. Instead I took in something easy and watched parts of Ironya Sudba.

I’ve watched it a few times already, but this time something caught my eye just a few seconds from the end of Part One.

In most of the Eldar Ryazanov films I’ve seen, he works something about western communication technology into the film. In Vokzal dlya Voikh (1982) it was a VCR player. In Sluzhebnyy roman it was a built-in 8-track player in a car. In these two films, the items were shown as if some new technology was being introduced to the viewers. In Beregis Avtomobilya the bad guy helped obtain a western tape player (if I remember correctly) on the black market, because the customer said a Soviet one wouldn’t do.

Ryazanov has made a lot more films than that, most of which I have not seen. So I don’t know if this is a theme that recurs throughout. Until I saw the above screenshot in Ironya Sudba, I thought it might be an exception. But the close-up of the phonograph turntable shows the English words “Party-Time.”

Why an American (or English) phonograph in a film in which Barbara Brylska had her voice dubbed because it wasn’t Russian enough? I presume that in 1971 there were Russian phonographs, too. Is Ryazanov playing a little game with us?

Google hasn’t helped me learn much about Party-Time phonographs, btw. I’ve found a few that are sold as collectors items, but they look cheaper than the one shown in the film. It’s not a brand name that I recall ever paying attention to.

Jul 212007

We watched part of Railway Station for Two again tonight. It’s my 3rd or 4th time. My major excuse is that it’s a good one for learning the language, which it is indeed. But I continue to be amazed. That had to have been a subversive film in pre-Gorbachev Russia. It would be a subversive film even in the U.S., at least in the vicinity of our major universities, for its portrayal of the values of private property and free markets.

I only hope that Madame Hillary’s prison camps will be as gentle as the Siberian gulag shown in that film.

And I continue to enjoy that Russian actors know how to act like they’re really cold when it’s supposed to be cold out, though it may have helped that the Siberian winter segments were filmed on site in winter. Hollywood has no clue how to portray winter realistically, but these people do. One thing not even the Russians can do is show how emaciated a person looks when deprived of food. This one has a charming way of making the point, though, in passing.

Too bad Netflix has very few of Eldar Ryazanov’s films. This one makes me want to see more. But I just now moved “The Irony of Fate, or ‘Enjoy your bath'” to the top of my Netflix queue. (Well, not quite the top. I’ve promised to get “Sophie Scholl: Die letzten Tage” next, and I’m looking forward to another viewing of that one, too.)