The complexity of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the Russian Federation in 1991 is reflected in its history of movies, as is the culture, history, and political stance – so choosing a top five selection of the best is tricky, but we’ve come up with some of our favourites from the two regimes.
The Academy Awards is the highest honour bestowed on the film industry, and the USSR and Russia have had 14 nominations for Best Foreign Language film, and won four times in the category – here’s a small sample you should check out when you can:
1. Burnt By The Sun (1994)
No list of Russian films would be complete without featuring the legendary director and actor Nikita Mikhalkov – the most prolific and successful filmmaker of his country.
Burnt By The Sun is set in 1936, and is a dark and brooding film steeped in the paranoia of Stalin’s repressive regime, and not only won the Grand Prize at Cannes and the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, but it remains the highest grossing film ever to come out of Russia.
2. 12 (2007)
Along the lines of 12 Angry Men, this Oscar nominee is another with Mikhalkov at the helm (behind the camera and starring on screen), and tells the harrowing tale of a Chechen teenager on trial for the murder of his Russian step-father.
Similarities to Sidney Lumet’s 1957 film are unavoidable, but the backdrop of diversity and societal struggle in modern day Russia is riveting either way.
3. A Driver For Vera (2004)
Like The Thief, A Driver For Vera is written and directed by Pavel Chukhray. A psychological drama set in 1962 Ukraine, it won many Russian film awards including the much coveted Best Film category at the Sochi Film Festival – and although it didn’t win an Oscar, I still believe it deserved one!
If you like twisting plots, KGB storylines, romance, murder, and sexual tension, you’ll love this film, as it has all that… and more!
4. The Thief (1997)
Set in post-WWII USSR, this exceptional Oscar nominee is a gripping drama themed around the political climate of Stalin’s final years from the narrative of a young boy with his mother, and a charismatic soldier that at first glance is there to help.
5. War And Peace (1966)
Between 1966-1967 the Soviet film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel was released in four parts, and sold 135 million tickets within the Soviet Union, which would have made the local authorities happy with their investment in the then most expensive film production to date.
Directed by and starring Sergei Bondarchuk, the film series tells the epic story of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia, and the impact it had on society, specifically from the perspective of five aristocratic Russian families.
As well as being a commercial success, the film won many local and international accolades including the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Russia may not be recognized as a leading power-house on the movie making world stage, but as these films prove, they have a great story to tell – and they tell it in style.
Another thing these films will do is inspire you to visit this remarkable country, but you’ll definitely need to learn the basics of the language, and if you do, here are some places we highly recommend.