Sunday, May 29, 2011
A friend tuned me into Stiliagi, or Hipsters, as it was called in its all too brief American release. The movie would have seemed to have great cross-over appeal with its rousing 1950s musical theme, portraying a "gang" of hipsters bucking the repressive conformity of Soviet Moscow by staging underground Swing bars, while evading Komsomol kids. But, it seems the movie got very limited play beyond Russia.
The film is loosely based on a real movement at the time, as noted in Volha Isakava's review. These stylish kids mostly came from the elite ranks of the Communist Party, and were therefor immune from overt censorship, which would help explain why they flaunted their American style so openly. Still, they found themselves coming up against the Komsomol, receiving harsh reprimands and sometimes being expelled from university, as was depicted in this riveting scene. Isakava also notes the interesting juxtaposition of 50s theme with 80s Russian rock, showing that this defiance spanned post-war generations.
However, the director, Valeriy Todorovskiy, maintains a breezy style, choosing to not delve too deeply into harsh realities, even turning life in communal housing into an engaging musical number, as the young Mels (an acronym of Marx Engels Lenin Stalin) wrestles with his new found attraction to this subculture. Mels becomes the star of the movie. A former Komsomol kid smitten by the engaging "Polly." He drops the "S" to become more "American," which leads to his expulsion from school and his full embrace of swing music, looking like a young Chet Baker.
Eventually, the kids need to make some tough choices and the movie veers toward reality, while avoiding any head on collision. Mel and Polly are forced to grapple with parenthood, with an interesting twist; and the leader of the group, Fred, follows in his father's footsteps and becomes a diplomat. Fred's father is played by the great Oleg Yankovskiy.
I suppose it may have seemed a bit too much like Swing Kids for some audiences, but it is a fun movie that deserves more international exposure.