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An evening of rousing Russian revelry is planned for the Opening Night of the 2006 Russian Resurrection Film Festival on September 26 at Sydney’s Chauvel cinema in Paddington. The Stolichnaya Festival Lounge will be filled with Vodka and wild Cossack Dancers, all to the powerful tones of the renowned Russian soloist from Opera Australia, Gennadi Dubinsky, prior to the screening of Counsellor of the State. Andrew L. Urban reports.

Counsellor of the State, directed by Filip Yankovksy, is a classic who-dun-it murder mystery starring leading Russian actors, including Nikita Mikhalkov (Academy Award winning Director/Actor Burnt By the Sun) and Vladimir Mashkov (star of other Festival highlights Piranha, The Captain’s Daughter and the soon to be released The Good Shepherd, directed by Robert de Niro).

On a ministerial train heading for Moscow at the end of the 19th century, as the Russian Empire is crumbling, the Governor Genreal of Siberia is found murdered. The official report blames the state counsellor who is sworn to protect him. A famous detective is hired who uncovers a sinister plot that goes further up the chain of command.

Other features include the haunting Not By Bread Alone (2005), a romantic drama shot in beautiful monochrome and set in the Stalinist era just after WWII, when science and technology are subjects of extreme patriotism. Director Stanislav Govorukhin delivers an engaging movie of many layers, providing intimate insights into politics and society at a time in Russia’s recent history often overshadowed by its Communist mistakes. Here, the mistakes are personalised in a film of subtle power, with a superb cast.

One of the film’s great achievements is how it conjures the era so completely, not just by production design but by its profound essence as a time of ironic conflict between achievement and humanity. The inventor at the centre of the drama is symbolic of the positive aspects of the regime at the time, while his lover’s husband represents the brittle and brutal coldness of the regime’s flip side.

Not By Bread Alone makes a perfect companion piece to First on the Moon (2005), a mockumentary that actually gets it right about the Soviet mindset in the race for the moon – albeit in a comedic context. It opens the window on the often destructive and ridiculous obsession that Russia had with making a statement about communism by reaching the moon ahead of the Americans.

For a complete contrast, the festival is screening The Italian (2005), a haunting film from Andrei Kravchuk, an engaging and moving story of a six year old Russian orphan setting off to find his mother, on the eve of adoption by an Italian couple. Andrei Kravchuk’s direction is focused and sensitive, always allowing us to make our own assessments and judgements of the characters and their actions. A wonderfully complex film with plenty of tension and plenty of heart.

Other films in the Festival include the historical romance, The Captain’s Daughter by Alexander Proshkin, the melodrama The Nankin Landscape by Valery Rubinchik, the action thriller, Piranha, by Andrei Kavun, and the war action drama, Ninth Company, by Fyodor Bondarchuk. A sidebar will present an Andrei Tarkovsky retrospective, which includes his seminal Solaris, Mirror, and Andrei Rublev – the latter widely regarded as a masterpiece.

Published September 14, 2006

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Counsellor of the State

Sydney: Sept 26 – Oct 1
Melbourne: Oct 5 – 10
Canberra: Sept 28 – Oct 4

Not By Bread Alone

First On The Moon

The Italian

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