Khrustalyov, mashinu! (1998)
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- 147 min.
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Aleksey German is a Russian director with only 4 directorial efforts in 16 years. With Khrustalyov, mashinu!, he'll be at 5 movies in 30 years. He's not known for a large body of work but he is recognized for the quality of what he's done. His films usually present Russia and Joseph Stalin in a negative light so it's pretty easy to see why he had so much trouble with censorship laws at the time.
The movie is set during the "Doctors' plot" which was really just an excuse to usher in some anti-Semitic policies. A group of big time doctors were arrested and accused of conspiring to assassinate Russian leaders. Publications were then sent out to the public condemning Jews. All Jews who held prominent positions were promptly fired from their jobs and arrested. In the aftermath of Joseph Stalin's death, the whole situation was simply said to be a mistake and that was that. Great way to ruin a whole bunch of lives right?
I am going to go right ahead and admit that I did not understand the story of Khrustalyov, mashinu! I had to refer to other blogs and sites while Khrustalyov, mashinu! was paused because if I didn't, I'd have just been even more lost than I already was. Even with the story right in front of me, it was still pretty hard to follow the story because each scene is just overloaded with details that just seemed really abstract.
General Klensky (Yuriy Tsurilo) is the main character of the film and he's a brain surgeon. This of course isn't good news for him since it's 1953 and it's full on "Doctor's plot" time. He's a pretty powerful fellow but he's obviously no match for Stalin secret police though. He has to avoid getting caught or things could end up pretty ugly for him.
Khrustalyov, mashinu! is a film to be deciphered. The story is understandable to a certain point but there are so many other things going on in individual scenes that it's hard to know where to focus. Khrustalyov, mashinu! almost feels like being in a dream. The kind of dream where random things happen and when you wake up you're left wondering what the hell just happened? There's ton of symbolism that I'm sure is very deep, but most of it went right over my head. I don't mind a challenging film but Khrustalyov, mashinu! definitely got the better of me.
One thing I can say though is that Khrustalyov, mashinu! is extremely well filmed. It's in black and white and has a certain aged quality. The story is set in 1953 but it looks like it was filmed in 1953. Scenes all seem to be taking place at night so everything is dark, cramped and cold. Not only is
Khrustalyov, mashinu! just a weird film, it's extremely dark and depressing and there are some very disturbing scenes.
Would I want to watch Khrustalyov, mashinu! again? I'd answer that with a resounding "NO!" I'm still extremely unsure of what it is exactly I just watched but I'm sure I'll be thinking about it tomorrow just the same. Khrustalyov, mashinu! isn't accessible in the least. It was nominated for a Palme D'or at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival but lost to the Greek film Mia aioniotita kai mia mera. Khrustalyov, mashinu! is all the same an amazing piece of work despite my inability to completely understand it. I can still see the work that was put into it and can appreciate that. If you're feeling brave give it a whirl.
the main story is easy to grasp, but the movie's is rather chaotic or abstract, lots going on, focus moving between 3 or 4 characters.
what, checking movies with narratives I couldn't really follow? yep, unfortunately
thankfully, sets and camerawork are pretty amazing
totally had more tolerance for this than those guys in Cannes - maybe it was badly subbed?
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In 6 official lists
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This movie ranks #44 in Empire Russia's 100 Best Russian Films: Readers' Choice
This movie ranks #53 in Russian Guild of Film Critics's Best Russian Films
This movie ranks #173 in TSPDT's 1,000 Greatest Films: 1001-2000
This movie ranks #350 in ICM Forum's 500<400
This movie ranks #359 in Doubling the Canon
This movie ranks #952 in Jonathan Rosenbaum's Essential Cinema