December is almost over but we managed to catch four comedies made in Soviet Russia. I thought I take a shot at reviewing the theme month and relive some of the best moments from these fine films.
During the month, I reviewed The House on Trubnaya, The Cigarette Girl of Mosselprom, The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks and A Kiss from Mary Pickford.
While any of the four films would make for an amusing evening’s entertainment, The House of Trubnaya‘s winning blend of charismatic stars, zany humor and sweet romance made it my favorite film of the month.
This one is difficult because talents like Boris Barnet, Aleksandra Khokhlova and Vsevolod Pudovkin are hard to beat but I have to say that comedian Igor Ilyinsky wins full honors as both comedy relief in The Cigarette Girl of Mosselprom and leading man in A Kiss from Mary Pickford.
The Russian Sense of Humor
These films showcase the variety of humor enjoyed by Soviet audiences during the period Lenin’s NEP (New Economic Policy). There’s romantic comedy, farce and social commentary but my favorite element that all of these films have in common is a sharp eye for human behavior and eccentricity. We can all relate to the humor of asking for directions and getting different answers every time, the eccentricities of fandoms and the silliness of xenophobes.
While most of the great Soviet silents are dramas like Battleship Potemkin, heading off the beaten path is most rewarding. If you would like to continue your journey into Russian humor, I recommend talkies like Volga Volga, Lieutenant Kijé (yes, that famous Prokofiev suite is indeed a film score) or heading off to France to enjoy Russian emigre comedies like The Burning Crucible and L’Enfant du carnaval. If you want more written humor, I recommend Ilf and Petrov’s American Road Trip: The 1935 Travelogue of Two Soviet Writers. (If you are a Mel Brooks fan, they wrote The Twelve Chairs.)
If nothing else, I hope this month has shown that Russian humor is more than Yakov Smirnoff. On internet, you get Russian comedy, on Movies Silently, Russian comedy gets you.
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Thanks Fritzi – an interesting and entertaining summary of a theme month I greatly enjoyed. And if anyone wants to venture into early Soviet talkies, I’d also recommend The New Moscow, which is almost a musical comedy and which I think continues most of the themes of the silent comedies you have explained so well.
Thanks for the suggestion!
Those few Soviet comedies I’ve seen focus on human characters, which makes them easier to enjoy than drama that according to the ideology focus on people or proletariat, not on individuals. Even though the NEP period was relatively optimistic and peaceful compared to times before and after, Soviet drama often brings the words “death of one person is a tragedy; the death of one million is a statistic” in my subconscious.
The comedies were definitely not popular with the powers that be, especially since they tended to take their inspiration from American and German fare.
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