New East Digital Archive

7 cult comedies to add a touch of magic to your festive season

With Christmas just a few sleeps away, it’s the perfect time to add a few new films to your holiday watchlist. Snuggle down, and get ready to enjoy our compilation of festive comedies — ranging from Soviet classics to modern Russian rom-coms — and all available online with English subtitles. After all, ‘tis the season of feel-good films.

27 December 2021

Yolki (2010)

Director: Timur Bekmambetov

In the lead-up to New Year, a host of characters from 11 Russian cities find their lives are accidentally intertwined by “six degrees of separation”: the idea that all of us, even in the largest country on Earth, are joined by no more than six social connections. With a story that travels from a child in an orphanage in Kaliningrad to a thief in Yekaterinburg, a pop star in Krasnoyarsk to a college student in Kazan — all the way up to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev himself — Yolki offers an idiosyncratic tour across Russia where, with a candy-coated touch of festive magic, love triumphs over all. Released in 2010, the film had already spawned an eye-watering five sequels by 2017, leaving its nickname as the Russian Love Actually actually somewhat of a franchise understatement. Fun fact: in the film, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev plays himself, making it one of the few films ever where a state executive has made a cameo appearance.

Watch on Russian Film Hub

The Irony of Fate (1975)

Director: Eldar Ryazanov

The New Year film par excellence, The Irony of Fate is an unquestionable holiday classic in Russia and beyond. Released in 1975, and originally made for TV, Eldar Ryazanov’s rom-com follows the usual boy-meets-girl trope, but with a unique Brezhnev-era twist. When the newly-engaged Zhenya wakes up in Leningrad instead of Moscow after a drunken blackout, he fails to realise he’s in a different city. Instead, he makes his way to a street with the same name as his Moscow address, and — thanks to the magic of Soviet-era urban planning — enters a flat identical to his. There, he meets Nadya, the apartment’s actual owner, who also happens to be his future soulmate. While perhaps hard to believe elsewhere, this story would have been somewhat feasible in 1970s Russia, where khruschevki, or Khruschev-era prefabricated housing, dominated. These anonymous buildings imbued cities across the USSR with identical cityscapes and apartments, tragicomically portrayed in The Irony of Fate. Beyond the universal love story, the film reflects multiple layers of life struggles and aspirations through Nadya and Zhenya’s relationship, with hints of slapstick and romance that look back on a difficult time with rose-tinted glasses. To this day, millions of Russians tune in to rewatch it every New Year’s Eve.

Watch on Russian Film Hub

Three Wishes for Cinderella (1973)

Director: Václav Vorlíček

Three Wishes for Cinderella presents the perfect fantasy escape from 202i’s omnipresent gloom. A seemingly archetypal fairytale with a princess, flocks of white doves, and happily-ever-afters, Three Wishes for Cinderella is not without a twist. This Cinderella is a skilled sharpshooter, and will not simply fall into the arms of her Prince Charming — in this version, he has to actively pursue her. Unlike the Disney edition, this 1973 Czechoslovak- East German co-production is set across the idyllic landscapes and real-life castles of Bohemia and Saxony. Shortly after its premiere, the film was distributed across the world, and translated into languages as unlikely as Catalan and Japanese.

Watch on YouTube

Magicians (1981)

Director: Konstantin Bromberg

Musical fantasy and soap opera drama come together in Magicians, a 1981 holiday film set in small town Russia. When Alyona, a witch at the local Research Institute for Magic, announces that she is set to marry a non-magician, a jealous admirer arrives to cause trouble, sparking a series of dramas in the magical institute that can only be solved with a midnight kiss on New Year’s Eve. The script was initially written by acclaimed Soviet sci-fi writers the Strugatsky brothers, as an adaptation of their 1965 novel Monday Begins on Saturday. Director Konstantin Bromberg however, toned down the script due to its criticism of the Soviet scientific work ethic, instead transforming the movie into a light-hearted romantic comedy with a musical soundtrack. Social commentary aside, the movie has since enjoyed the status of cult Christmas film across Russia and the post-Soviet space.

Watch on Soviet Movies Online

Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka (1962)

Director: Aleksandr Rou

Based on an 1831 short story by Nikolai Gogol, this eccentric fairytale takes place in a Ukrainian village on the night before Christmas. Directed by prolific filmmaker Aleksandr Rou, the film portrays the love story between Oksana and Vakula, blending aspects of traditional Ukrainian peasant life with hints of folk magic and winter holiday traditions. Gogol’s writing is already known for its extraordinary tropes, but the film adaptation is supernatural, fantastical, and at times outright bizarre. In any case, it gives an unusually intellectual, literary twist to the Christmas classic, and remains invaluable as a window into 19th century life in Ukraine, where faith and magic thrived alongside the mundanity of everyday life.

Watch on Amazon Prime Video

Carnival Night (1956)

Director: Eldar Ryazanov

It’s New Year’s Eve, and in a traditional Soviet House of Culture, employees are ready to start their annual musical performance night. However, Comrade Ogurtsov is determined to prevent everyone from having any fun: in place of a modern jazz band, he instructs his subordinates to feature Soviet-approved music — and decrees that the master of ceremonies needs to be a civil servant reading an educational lecture. In order to go ahead with their original, merrier programme, the employees of the House of Culture make a plan: trapping Ogurtsov and preventing him from seeing the performance. Lighthearted, ludicrous, and uplifting, this Soviet musical is a brilliant satirical portrayal of Soviet bureaucracy, and it remains a highly popular New Year’s Eve classic across the Russian-speaking world after more than 60 years since its release.

Watch on Russian Film Hub

Black Lightning (2010)

Director: Dmitriy Kiseliev, Aleksandr Voytinskiy

Although not exactly a Christmas classic, Russian 2010 superhero film Black Lightning does end on New Year’s Eve in Red Square, offering just the right doses of action and fantasy needed for festive fun. When Dima, a student at Moscow State University, receives an old car from his father as a birthday present, his life takes an unexpected turn. The present, part of a secret Soviet project, is equipped with rocket engines that allow it to fly. Torn between his power to protect the city from evil and his old life, Dima has to contend with other flying cars in the skies of Moscow, internal demons, and his love for his girlfriend Nastya.

Watch on Amazon Prime Video

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