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Post by Anna Fomicheva

The 6th Russian Film Festival, which showcases the latest in Russian contemporary cinema, kicked off last Friday and will be running all week (till 11 November) primarily in London, with a few screenings in Cambridge and Edinburgh. Here’s my pick of the most interesting and exciting films to look out for.

In my interview with Voice of Russia last week I emphasised that this year’s documentary selection is the real gem of the festival. So I’ll start by looking at this category. This programme was curated by Vitaly Mansky, one of the biggest names in Russian documentary filmmaking and the president of ArtDocFest. Mansky’s latest film Iconoscope, a 100 minute history of television which focuses on the lives and careers of Dan Rather and his Soviet counterpart Igor Kirillov, is also part of the programme.

Winter, Go Away! (“Зима, уходи!”, 2012)

Directed by a group of students from the Moscow documentary film school of Marina Razbezhkina and Mikhail Ugarov Winter, Go Away! is a close, intimate look at the people in the crowds of the oppositional protests that took place in Moscow last winter following the Duma elections and in the run-up to the Russian presidential election. This documentary is not interested in taking sides or giving any kind of socio-political analysis of the events. The freshness of its approach to the protests is that it focuses on the individuals, their personal motivations and spirit.

Anton’s Right Here (“Антон тут рядом”, 2012)

The debut film of Lyubov’ Arkus, the founder and editor-in-chief of Russia’s best film magazine Seance, Anton’s Right Here has been six years in the making. It follows the life of a remarkably talented autistic boy, Anton, and his mother through the trials and tribulations which so often befall Russian families dealing with autism. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival this year to rave reviews. The film not only raises awareness of autism and its underrepresentation in Russian media and culture, but is also a philosophical essay on human empathy and ability to connect with others.

Milana (“Милана”, 2011)

Another debut film, Milana was directed by student filmmaker Madina Mustafina. This film is not an easy one to encourage people to see, as its subject matter is so harsh. It focuses on a delightful seven year-old girl, whose parents are homeless alcoholics living in a bushy area on the side of the road in Karaganda. Mustafina follows the everyday existence of this family with a remarkable ability to be invisible. Together with the very gentle cutting and transitions Mustafina employs, it is too easy to forget that we are watching a film. It is a heartbreaking story and the scenes of Milana’s mother screaming at her child are often difficult to bear. However, I urge people to see it, as it is a testimony to the power and the world-changing potential of documentary cinema.

Inside a Square Circle (“Внутри квадратного круга”, 2011)

This 20 minute documentary, directed by Valery Shevchenko, is one of the most affecting and delightful films I’ve seen this year. Each year the biggest and most important New Year’s celebration for children (known as yolka) takes place in the Moscow Kremlin. However, almost five thousand children leaving the show all at once in order to reunite with their waiting parents outside turns this rather mundane event into a real human drama, to which you can’t help but react with laughter, frustration, sadness and delight. All in 20 minutes. Don’t miss this one.

The feature film category of the festival is packed with big names, well-established in Russia and internationally. Among those are Pavel Lungin (known for The Wedding, The Island, Tsar and his latest film is The Conductor), Aleksey Balabanov (known for Brother, Brother 2, Of Freaks and Men, his latest film is Me Too), and Boris Khlebnikov (known for Roads to Koktebel, his latest film is Till Night Do Us Part).

But here are the festival films by the directors less known outside of Russia that I would like to highlight.

 Chapiteau-Show (“Шапито-шоу”, 2011)

This is without a doubt my favourite Russian film of the last few years, and is up there with the best films of the decade. Directed by Sergey Loban, this unique film is rather difficult to describe. Structurally, it consists of four interconnected novellas, which by the end of the second half of the film (because of its length it was divided into two parts, which are screened as two separate movies) come together as pieces of puzzle to reveal the big picture. This kind of structure is not new, but the film’s themes, humour, music and overall spirit are unlike anything you’d ever seen. In very broad terms I would describe it as postmodern kaleidoscope of cultural references, language, sounds and visuals that make up the experience of the “transitional” generation of Russians, i.e. people who were born in the 1970′s and came of age after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This is the film that showcases to the Western audiences the Russian viewpoint they have never heard of or had any idea about. It is a must-see.

Watch the trailer here

PS “Chapiteau” is the word used in Russian to refer to a travelling circus.

Rita’s Last Tale (“Последняя сказка Риты”, 2012)

Renata Litvinova, a scriptwriter, actress and film director, is one of the most unique and talented voices in Russian contemporary culture. Everything from her acting style (see Kira Muratova’s Three Stories for the most exhilarating example), to the choice of words in her scripts and interviews, as well as the films she directs, is mesmerising, puzzling and completely irresistible. Her latest film Rita’s Last Tale is no exception. It focuses on the experiences of three women, close friends, one of whom – Rita – is dying and one of whom, played by the director herself, is the Angel of Death who prepares Rita for her last journey. Typically for Litvinova the film unfolds somewhere on the border of life and death and is set in a surreal unrecognisable world that loosely resembles Russia.

Watch trailer here

This article has also been published on Russian Art and Culture