The very first example, product of a still-fledgling Soviet film industry, was the antic 1924 silent comedy The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks, in which an "inquisitive" American visitor finds his preconceptions about mustachioed Russian barbarians shattered. But even in post-Soviet Russia, the beat goes on: In 2000's Brother 2, an army veteran travels to Chicago to avenge American treachery against a former comrade-in-arms. The boyish Danila Bagrov (played by Sergei Bodrov, Jr.) blows away a bunch of stateside creeps, beds a TV newsbabe, rescues a Russian woman from life as a hooker, and delivers a triumphant lecture to the American Mr. Big -- beating the Yanks at their own game before contentedly jetting back to the motherland.
Brother 2 (the sequel to a 1997 film) was a smash, one of post-Soviet Russia's few real blockbusters. In the U.S., of course, it's nearly invisible. But starting May 5 you'll have a chance to see Brother 2 plus that earlier era's Mr. West, and other films on a similar theme, at Pittsburgh's fifth annual Russian Film Symposium, titled "Arrogance & Envy: Anti-American Cinema Under Communism and After."
Just as current arthouse favorite Russian Ark (now screening here at the Regent Square Theater) covers three centuries of Russian history up to the eve of revolution, so the symposium, organized by the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, offers a cross-section of cinema from Lenin to Putin. Lev Kuleshov, who directed Mr. West, was a pioneering film theorist whose students included future cinema giants Sergei Eisenstein (Potemkin) and V.I. Pudovkin (Mother, Storm Over Asia). The symposium's most recent entry, meanwhile, is Tycoon, a 2002 film by Pavel Lungine, whose Taxi Blues (1990) heralded a new era in Russian cinema.
Through last year, the symposium took place at the Carnegie Museum of Art Theater. When the museum abruptly shuttered its film and video department in January, symposium organizers including Pitt associate professor Vladimir Padunov approached Pittsburgh Filmmakers, which this year hosts evening screenings and discussions. (A related program of films and presentations takes place at Pitt and is listed below.)
Though it comes at a time of global resentment of the U.S., the symposium's theme of anti-Americanism is coincidental: Padunov says planning for it began two years ago. But he doesn't mind using that coincidence to boost publicity. Most likely, the Russian film industry wouldn't mind the attention, either: Just now recovering from the 1998 banking collapse, Padunov says, "It's an industry that's in the process of reinventing itself."
Symposium tickets are $5 ($4 for students and seniors). All four evening films are in Russian, with subtitles or intertitles, and screen at the Melwood Screening Room, 477 Melwood Ave., North Oakland. For more info call 412-682-4111 or see www.rusfilm.pitt.edu.
FAREWELL, AMERICA. The unfinished final film (1949-50) of Soviet master Aleksandr Dovzhenko (Arsenal, Earth) is based on an exposé of American diplomats written by Annabelle Buchard, a U.S. journalist who emigrated to the Soviet Union. (The screening will be followed by a talk and discussion led by University of Wisconsin film-studies Prof. Vance Kepley, Jr.) 8 p.m. Mon., May 5, and 7:30 p.m. Fri., May 9.
THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF MR. WEST IN THE LAND OF THE BOLSHEVIKS. If you don't associate slapstick with Soviet films of the silent era, this delightful 1924 comedy should change your mind. An American YMCA director, fed media propaganda about Bolshevik barbarians, visits Moscow and is immediately pounced upon by a scoundrel. The villain is (naturally) a flea-bitten aristocrat who cunningly strokes the Yank's ego and exploits his preconceptions about life after revolution. Directed by noted film theorist Lev Kuleshov (with the collaboration of future master filmmaker V.I. Pudovkin, who also plays the villain), Mr. West is, not surprisingly, a joy to watch. It's full of interesting compositions, punchy tracking shots, and knowingly stagey, at times almost expressionistic performances. More surprisingly, it's also quite funny, with a wry, sophisticated sensibility as well as plenty of manic physical comedy and fine stuntwork. And besides ultimately showing us "real Bolsheviks," it reveals things Soviets wanted to believe about Americans, too: Mr. West wears a fur coat and Harold Lloyd glasses, and his hot-tempered manservant is a six-shooter-totin', chaps-wearin' dude named "Cowboy Jeddie." (Guest speaker: Lucy Fischer, head of Pitt's Film Studies program.) To be screened by 16 mm projection, with live musical accompaniment. 8 p.m. Tue., May 6, only. * * *
BROTHER 2. A young veteran of the Russian army journeys to the U.S. to avenge the murder of an army buddy and the cheating of that buddy's brother, a pro hockey player (for the Pittsburgh Penguins!). A sequel to 1997's Brother, his crime thriller/road movie stars Sergei Bodrov, Jr., who was killed during a film shoot in 2002. Directed by Alexei Balabanov. (Guest speaker: Pitt Slavic-languages graduate student Gerald McCausland.) 9:15 p.m. Fri., May 9, and 5 p.m. Sat., May 10.
THE TYCOON. Set in the Wild East of the 1990s, this 2002 film by Pavel Lungine tells of a billionaire outlaw who dodges assassination attempts while trying to take control of his country's most lucrative industries -- oil, automobiles and banking. (Guest speaker: Bill Judson, former director of the Carnegie Museum of Art's film and video department.) 7:30 p.m. Sat., May 10, only.
The rest of the Russian Film Symposium takes place at 106 David Lawrence Hall, Pitt campus, in Oakland. All films at David Lawrence will be shown by video projection, in Russian without subtitles, and be presented by various Russian writers, scholars and film and TV professionals. The symposium is open to the public.
Mon, May 5: Russian Souvenir (1960), 10 a.m.; and Night Without Mercy (1961), 2 p.m. Tue., May 6: Neutral Waters (1968), 10 a.m.; and Game Without Rules (1965), 2 p.m.
Wed., May 7: Trial of the Insane (1961) and Night on the 14th Parallel (1971), 10 a.m.; and Mister MacKinley's Flight (1975) and Participation in a Murder (1986), 2 p.m.
Thu., May 8: Doctor Ivens's Silence (1973), 10 a.m.; and On Rich Red Islands (1981), 2 p.m.
Fri., May 9: Solo Journey (1985), 10 a.m.; and The Man Who Took An Interview (1986), 2 p.m.