New East Digital Archive

7 timeless Soviet classics to watch this summer

7 timeless Soviet classics to watch this summer
Still from Amphibian Man (1965), dirs. Vladimir Chebotaryov and Gennadi Kazansky

24 July 2020

We might usually associate summers with trips abroad, new romance, or the great outdoors, but this summer can also be a chance to catch up on the underappreciated classics you’ve never had time to enjoy.

We’ve selected the best light-hearted romances and cheerful comedies available online with English subtitles to help you rediscover Soviet classics.

Little Vera (1988)

Director: Vasili Pichul

This late Soviet classic is the tender coming-of-age story of the film’s namesake, Vera, a teenage girl who feels trapped in her provincial Russian town. Purposefully ambiguous, the title in Russian can also mean “Little Faith”, subtly hinting at the characters’ lack of belief in both themselves and their surroundings. The film was released in 1988, and powerfully reflects perestroika’s pessimistic outlook on Soviet society.

In the film, young Vera postpones applying to university, and instead spends her time worshipping her American and European musical idols: Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Debbie Harry. Famous for its authenticity — and for being one of the first Soviet films with explicit sex scenes — Little Vera is a light-hearted take on the profound trials and tribulations of growing up, and a vivid portrait of Soviet society at the time.

Sportloto-82 (1982)

Director: Leonid Gadai

It’s a hot summer day, and in a train compartment en route to the fictional city of Yuzhnogorsk, four passengers are reading the same detective novel. Kostya, a young man, becomes infatuated with his fellow traveller Tanya, and they decide to buy a lottery ticket, which she hides in his book. When they arrive at their destination, all four part ways. The lottery ticket, however, turns out to be a winner — and brings the characters back together for an unexpected quest.

Ludicrous and highly amusing, this comedy was an all-time leader at the Soviet box office, and continues to be a perfect watch to unwind from the summer heat.

Mimino (1977)

Director: Georgiy Danieliya

In this emblematic Caucasian classic, Valiko Mizandari, also known as Mimino (the Georgian word for falcon) works for a small local airline, carrying goats and people between villages in small helicopters. Blinded by his ambition of piloting international planes, he decides to abandon his life in the Georgian countryside and ventures to Moscow to chase his dreams. In a hotel, he meets Armenian truck driver Ruben Khachikan, and together they embark on a series of misadventures in the Russian capital.

Although popular at the time of its release, Mimino was later heavily criticised for stereotyping both Georgians and Armenians. However, it remains a must-watch as a product of its time, and a humorous take on the historic rivalries between the two Caucasian neighbours.

Amphibian Man (1962)

Directors: Vladimir Chebotaryov and Gennadi Kazansky

Hailed as the Soviet precursor to Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning Shape of Water, Amphibian Man is a sci-fi film about the romance between a man with shark gills who lives underwater, and the daughter of a pearl diver. Set in a seaside port in Argentina, this ill-fated love story was actually filmed in Baku, on the Caspian Sea. In a classic Romeo-and-Juliet-like tragedy, the film narrates the dramatic story between the amphibian man, Ichtyander, and his beloved Guttiere as his unusual condition and societal expectations get in the way of their love. The film was released in 1962, and it became the leader of Soviet distribution during its initial run. Little-known in the West, Amphibian Man is an underappreciated Soviet cult classic with a charming but unlikely story and an idyllic summer feel.

Love and Pigeons (1984)

Director: Vladimir Menshov

In Love and Pigeons, director Vladimir Menshov — whose previous film Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1981 — takes a lighter, more summery approach to love and heartbreak. Shot between Karelia, close to the Finnish border, and the idyllic shores of Batumi, Georgia, Love and Pigeons follows the story of Vasily Kuzyakin, an amateur pigeon breeder who lives in a small town with his wife Nadezhda and their three daughters. When Vasily is injured at work, he receives a ticket to recover at a seaside sanatorium. While in the resort, he embarks on a love affair, but eventually returns to his family. While the film’s representation of women and femininity is painfully outdated and often falls back on negative stereotypes, Love and Pigeons remains a colourful Soviet classic on love, ambition, and family bonds.

The Garage (1980)

Director: Eldar Ryazanov

When the members of a garage cooperative find out that a highway is going to be built through their land, chaos ensues. This amusing comedy takes the shape of a late night meeting between the collective members as they try to find a way to save their workplace — but clashing personalities and constant tricks means that nothing runs smoothly. Allegedly inspired by Ryazanov’s own experience of a meeting in the garage at Mosfilm, the Russian film studio that produced the film, The Garage is a humorous portrayal of the universal eccentricities of human nature.

Operation Y and Shurik’s Other Adventures (1965)

Director: Leonid Gaidai

Operation Y is Soviet slapstick par excellence: depicting the adventures of Shurik, a geeky Soviet student with a flair for getting into ludicrous situations, and always emerging unscathed. We follow Shurik as he gets into a fight on a bus, takes his summer exams, and babysits his landlady’s granddaughter — but at each turn, the unfortunate Shurik finds himself trapped in a chain of misfortunes involving untimely characters and eccentric situations. After the film was released, Shurik became so popular that he appeared in two more features, and the film still is a fountain of quotes for its devoted fans. The original is a must-watch to immerse yourself in the erratic world of Soviet humour.

Read more

7 timeless Soviet classics to watch this summer

4 summer poems to make you feel free 

7 timeless Soviet classics to watch this summer

Men with movie cameras: why documentary cinema owes everything to Soviet filmmakers

7 timeless Soviet classics to watch this summer

8 Eastern European summer love novels to make your heart flutter