A HERO'S SPARK: the final book in the Wicked Women series!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

To Russia with Love: American Movies set in Russia

Good evening!

So I'll admit it.  I've set aside a ton of time in my life to watch the Olympics.  Those of you who read this blog know I am an Olympic junkie, and the Sochi games have me hooked.  Right now I'm recording figure skating that I actually watched live earlier today.  I love the Olympics.

Growing up during the 70's and 80's, my childhood memories of all things Russian were of the Soviet Union.  Rather, I should say, my parents portrait of the Soviet Union.  And really, the topic only came up once every four years when the Soviets kicked American fanny in sports like gymnastics and figure skating.  Seeing Irina Rodnina at last night's opening ceremonies woke many childhood memories, including the year she and her skating partner continued skating though their tape broke.  It was an amazing feat and I remember it all these years later.  She was a skating goddess in my eyes, just like Olga Korbut was my hero
in gymnastics.  Unlike my parents, I really didn't fear the Soviet Union.  I wondered if what my mother said was true, about gymnasts not getting soup if they messed up a routine, but mostly I remember thinking that Russia was a very big and mysterious place.

Since I am also a film lover, I find myself drawn to movies that are set in a place of mystery, vastness, and struggle.  I guess that's why I'm drawn to films set in Russia.  Now, as an adult, having lived through the end of the Cold War, and watching the Berlin Wall fall down, I don't look at Russia as the big bad wolf, but rather, as they are portrayed in "War and Remembrance."  (I've recently finished watching that entire mini series.  We can thank a back injury last weekend for that.)  I think of a hearty, sturdy people who are ready to laugh and share and dance, but who tend to keep to themselves and are therefore misunderstood.  They've had bumps in their history, yes, but so has America.  Every country on this planet has chapters they'd rather not broadcast.

So I was thinking about Russia a lot this past week, and I was thinking about just how many of my favorite movies are set there, and that got me to looking for lists of movies set in Russia.

You can check out one pretty comprehensive list by clicking here.

But, since I'm also a fan of the countdown, I thought I'd give you a few of my favorite flicks, set in Russia:

10) Anna Karenina (1948)

I tried watching the 2012 version, because I love the 1948 Vivien Leigh version.  But something about the overly bright colors, and the vibe that this was a comedy (I couldn't tell, honestly, if the 2012 version meant to be funny or not.) left me colder than a train scene set in Russia.  No, I like the 1948.  Vivien Leigh adds a touch of Scarlett O'Hara  (how could she not) and while the dialogue gets tangled in the rapid fire recitation so common to actor back then, it's still a very worthy outing.

9) K-19 The Widowmaker

Set on a Russian nuclear sub...there are some really, really, really disturbing scenes in this Harrison Ford movie, and I will happily sit through another viewing.

8) Quantum of Solace

Hardly the ONLY James Bond movie set in Russia, it's really just the most recent.  While I'm not a huge fan of James Bonds as a genre, I have had big enough crushes on all the Bond guys over the years for this to make the list.

7)  Enemy at the Gates
Fantastic World War II movie, fantastic cast.  Joseph Fiennes at his...wait for it...finest!

6) The Bourne Supremacy/A  Good Day to Die Harder/Red 2/RockyIV

This might be cheating, but honestly, these movies are all parts of series, and Russia is really more a part of the scenery than anything else.  Still, all solid flicks if you're looking for big loud movies where stuff explodes and guys get sweaty in spite of the cold.

5) The Hunt for Red October

Maybe I'm sentimental. This was my uncle's favorite movie even after he began slipping into a cruel senility that took him away from us.  But, the cast is solid, the source material is stellar, and it's on submarines.  Which is super cool.

4)  War and Remembrance

Okay, I know. Technically not a movie and also technically not set in Russia. But enough film is dedicated to the Russian front in this 30 hour opus, and I have to admit I learned a ton about just how much Russians sacrificed for the rest of the world.  So yeah, it makes the list and yeah, you should all set aside a weekend and watch it.

3)  White Nights

Interesting to me that of all the lists I looked at for films set in Russia, this unlikely 1985 tap dance/ballet buddy flick set in the heart of Soviet Moscow wasn't on any of them.  Still, I own it, and I love it. , Gregory Hines, Isabella Rossilinni, and a great song by Lionel Richie makes this one sort of a haunting keeper.

2)  Fiddler on the Roof

Jews, Catholics, Russians.  Poverty, strife, matchmaking, love, and it's all in a musical?  Sign me up!  Topol  (who is also in "War and Remembrance")  IS Tevye, and this 1971 musical is a delight in spite of the potentially dreary background.

1)  Dr. Zhivago (1965)

Was there going to be anything else?  Don't get sucked into any more recent remakes.  Hold out for the real deal because the magnitude of Russia itself is captured in this post World War I/Bolshevik love story.  I like to watch it in the dead of summer because the scenes are so pervasively cold, I don't need air conditioning!

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