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Rave!, Friday, April 18, 2003

Friday, April 18, 2003


Russian cinema, for most American film buffs, begins and ends with Sergei Eisenstein. His 1925 masterpiece, "Battleship Potemkm," includes the famous baby carriage rolling down a staircase scene, which has been copied by several directors, including Brian De Palma in "The Untouchables."
But most of Russia's films during the last century were never exported beyond the Iron Curtain. Several of the country's most respected directors, working under extreme censorship, created a rich and varied cinematic movement — one that Western audiences have never experienced.
That is about to change.
Stas Namin, who, among his several careers, was a member of the first successful Soviet Union rock band (Flowers), has spent more than a decade working with the Russian Ministry of Culture to gather 30 films for the LA Exhibition of Russian Cinema, which opens tonight at the Arclight, Hollywood. This is the first major retrospective of the country's most talked about features, animation and documentaries from the last 100 years.
Some of the films chosen by Namin have never been seen in America, and several have enjoyed only limited screenings in Russia.
"In the 1980s, after I graduated from Moscow University, my dream was to make a movie, and it didn't come true," said Namin, who was born in 1951, the grandson of Anastas Mikoyan, a former high official of the Soviet Union. "But I produced movies, and I became close to people in the movies, in America and Russia. All that tinu I was thinking how Hollywood is the capital of the film world, but that there is also a strong film culture in Italy, Germany and France.
"But Russian film culture was less known than any of them because of the regimes we had," he said. "Now, we can show anything we want. And an idea came into my mind that for the first time in history, we would bring to this film capital the art by talented directors made during Communism."
Opening and closing night previews represent the critical pinnacle of recent and past Russian filmmakers, respectively.
The weeklong exhibition begins at 7:30 tonight with Andrei Konchalovsky's "House of Fools," the 2002 Venice Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner, and Russia's offering for this year's Academy Award consideration.
"House of Fools" concerns patients in an asylum during the Chechen War. When doctors abandon the hospital, the residents are left on their own. Janna, a patient, dreams of being rescued by her imaginary fiance, pop star Bryan Adams, who plays himself in the film.
Closing ceremonies include a screening of "Ivan the Terrible," parts 1 and 2, Eisenstein's epic depiction of the 16th-entury Tsar of Russia.
Features in the Soviet Union faced much tighter scrutiny than in the United States, which is why critics still marvel at Abram Room's ability to successfully direct the 1927 silent, "Bed and Sofa" (screening at 7 pjn. Tuesday). The film depicts a love triangle, similar to the real-life one of qg6et Vladimir Mayakovsky with husband and wife Osip and Iilya Brik. "Bed and Sofa's" plot, rife with sex and including homosexual undertones, was unlike any Russian film before or for decades afterward.
"Almost nobody in Russia ever got to see the film, and those who did were totally shocked," said Namin, who had trouble finding even a single copy of the movie. "Without help from the Ministry of Culture, I wouldn't have been allowed to bring this print here."
One historical misconception Namin hopes to rectify is that all Russian films are heavy and depressing.
"Several directors and writers had a great sense of humor," he said. "I am bringing "The Diamond Arm' (screening at 3:30 p.m. Sunday), directed by Leonid Gaidi, which is one of the funniest films ever made."
Considered by several polls as Russia's most popular comedy ever, the 1968 farce is about a businessman, a swindler and some hidden jewel.
Of all of Russia's directors, Namin's favorite, and the one he is most determined to promote to America audiences, is Sergei Paradzhanov. " Не was a gay man who spent 12 years in prison because of it," Namin said. "He made only a few films, but he was loved by directors around the world. Federico Fellini and some other greats wrote letters to the government asking that he be let out of prison, because they respected him so much.
"He invented a language in cinema-fumed paintings. And once you see one of his films, you will always be able to tell another one of his right away, because they look like nothing else."
Namin will show Paradzhanov's best-known film, 1964's "Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors" (screening at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday).
Russia also predates Disney with animation, and two of its earliest offerings, "The Cameraman's Revenge" from 1912 and "The Dragonfly and the Ant" from 1913 will be shown at 11 a.m. Sunday.
The exhibition will include an art show with several examples of early Russian film posters, which will be on display at Arclight.
"The films in this exhibition don't show you Russian culture today," Namin said. "But they show some of the greatest art that Russia has. If enough people come to this exhibition, we can do this again next year and bring even more films."