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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Food, drink and restaurants in Russian and Soviet Film (1)

If Khlebnikov's new film didn't quite do justice to the theme of restaurants in contemporary Moscow one can, however, reflect as to how food and restaurants have been used in previous films both from the Soviet through the post- Soviet period (as well as in the pre-Soviet period).

The end of the Khlebnikov's film involving the restaurant fight of course had its predecessor (and surely much more of the film) in Ryazanov's Дайте жалобную книгу (Give me the complaints book) 


Ryazanov's film from the Thaw is replete with scenes that had their replica in the Khlebnikov film- the surly waiters, the annoying or pretentious music etc. However, there is surely no greater small scene from Soviet cinema capturing the awfulness of  restaurant atmosphere and their clients than Danelia's Афоня (Afoniya) in ths small sequence of Kuravlev's drunk dance in front of one of film's least inspiring restaurant bands:


The food scene in Eisenstein's great film Брононосец Потемкин (Battleship Potemkin, 1925) is, of course, essential. Doctor Smirnov's certification of rotten meat full of maggots sets off the whole mutiny in the first place. 

Food and radical social critique (or at least outraged sensibility) is also not absent in Kira Muratova's films. One of the most radical scenes in recent post-Soviet cinema is the shoplifting scene where rich jeunesse doree shoplift immense quantities of food and drink as entertainment (with the complicity of the supermarket management) while a starving orphan who shoplifts some bread to stay alive is arrested and persecuted. This scene not found on YouTube is complemented by another in the film where the two starving children are left to look at an idyllic Christmas scene through a window - the food on the other side of the window a reminder of their obscene hunger:

The splendid semi-animated sequence in Andrei Khrzhanovsky's film Полторы комнаты или сентиментальное путешествие на родину (A Room and a Half or a Sentimental Journey to the Homeland) based on the Stalin era Soviet cookbook named 'The Book on Tasty and Healthy Food' (Книга О Вкусной И Здоровой Пище) in which Joseph Stalin appears as cook who shows the young Brodsky all the delights of Soviet cuisine reminding him that they are not for him is another kind of using food as critique (this time of Stalinist anti-semitism):

Khlebnikov's film is, of course, a comedy and food as comic pretext is present again and again in Soviet films (from Alexandrov's early musicals through to Danelia and Ryazanov's sad comedies- whether through the New Year feast in Ирония судьбы (The Irony of Fate) or the restaurant scene of Мимино (Mimino). 


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