A Russian Film Festival has been launched in London. It includes eight films made in the past two years. Many have won prestigious awards, either in Russia or abroad.
Sixteen years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, followed by a deep crisis in the homegrown film industry, a new generation of Russian film makers is pioneering a fresh, personal genre of cinema and winning prizes around the world.
A one-week extravaganza in London's Apollo West End includes a penetrating, atmospheric drama by Pavel Lungin, “The Island”, deals with sin, repentance and monasticism and so impressed the Russian Orthodox Church that it has, unusually, been recommended from the pulpit.
The director, Pavel Lungin, explains what the festival is all about.
“It's as important as going to visit your friends, it has no practical sense, but we just wanted British people to see a different Russia not the one they see from TV news bulletins or from the newspapers,” Mr Lungin explained.
His favorite actress echoes him:
“We are here to show that there are no bears on the streets of Russian cities, that it's not all about vodka. It's about other things, about the depth of the Russian soul, about awesome unbelievable nature – everyone will find what they are looking for in these films. I am happy to have been born in Russia at a time when there is a lot to see and a lot to tell,” Viktoria Isakova said.
The movies focus on eternal moral issues and universal subjects – love, loyalty, individual responsibility.
“Good movies are, as a rule, understandable to everyone, as all the people have similar problems. My movie is about everyday problems of existence of a small girl in a huge megapolis. And as I live in Moscow, it's a story of a young girl in Moscow. But it could have been New York or London,” Anna Melikyan, director of “The Mermaid” said.
Many of the films on show have already won praise at other festivals.
“Euphoria”, directed by Ivan Vyrypayev, the winner of the debut prize, the Small Golden Lion, last year at Venice, depicts a passionate affair between a young man and a married woman, living as recluses under the immense sky of the boundless steppes.
A decade ago such low-budget films might have appealed only to a small art-house audience. But today their appeal is much wider. And it's not just Russians living in Britain, the British themselves are getting used to subtitles.
Having said that, many know very little about Russian movies.
“All European cinema ought to be somehow connected – I am fascinated to find out about the Russian cinema and the talented people who make it – and certainly learn from them and tell them what we do,” Duncan Kenworthy, ex-Chairman of BAFTA, said.
“I am just delighted that finally there is a Russian film festival in London and I can't think of anything better than for us to exchange,” Satwanat Gill, Deputy Director of British Council’s film department, said.
British audiences have a week to explore and enjoy the latest creations of Russian filmmakers – and maybe some of these films will find their way to the hearts of British viewers. If that happens, it will prove once again that the language of cinema has no borders.