But that came out back in 2017 and Mama had almost lost hope when an idle google came across the info it would be out within the year.
[Pause for the global pandemic]
After one failed attempt to get into a screening with a much reduced cinema capacity, Mama and the somewhat less enthusiastic rest of the family (there’s also a cartoon about a horse out) settled down in a darkened room OUTSIDE OF OUR OWN FOUR WALLS and watched the Last Bogatyr 2 (slash Knight, slash Hero, slash Warrior), Root of Evil.
Ivan (Viktor Khorinyak), the reluctant hero from the real world, returns, and has somewhat uneasily settled down to fairytale living, only sneaking back to the civilization of Moscow, ooooh, once a day for a hot bath and some proper coffee, a practice which surely many Russians with a datcha can relate.
In fact, almost every single character from the first film is squeezed into this one. Given that the film makers have also added new arrivals on top of that, this means that some people are rather pushed for meaningful screen time, or any real point to their being there at all aside from a name check and perhaps one good moment each. Vasilysa (Mila Sivatskaya), for example, who was one of Ivan’s main travelling companions and the muscle for the group for the first film really doesn’t have much to do apart from continue to be Ivan’s love interest this time, despite her presence on the inevitable quest.
Koshchei (Konstantin Lavronenko), who of course returns, he’s Deathless, and Baba Yaga (Elena Yakovleva) are rather upstaged in the grumpy comic side kick role by Kolabok (Garik Kharlamov), a hooligan bread roll (yes really), whose back story Mama once actually learned off by heart in Russian the better to torture our early years with (‘…and then the fox ate him’). Not easily done.
There’s also not one, not two, but three villains this time round, although they have managed to fit a bit of moral tension into this situation, plotwise, which means Mama will allow it. That said, annoyingly, this time Mama did guess the plot twist related to Galina (Elena Valyushkina) and her excellently coiffed daughter (Ekaterina Vilkova). The ROOT of EVIL, geddit? Well, you will.
Aside from the minor issues of overstuffing the cast list, there are plenty of jokes; Ivan is both endearingly caddish and what he lacks in true heroic ability, he makes up for in what is surely a very timely reminder of the value of acceptance of the full range of the weird and wonderful in Belogorie; the fight scenes are fast and furious; there are some genuine pang-inducing moments of sadness at opportunities lost; the scene with the riddle is just perfect; and the writers have continued to be inventive about how they adapt what we know (or in Mama’s case, mostly don’t know) about Russian folklore, children’s stories and fairytales.
And at least the sheer number of people on screen includes plenty of women, some of whom are still not young.
Which makes up (a bit) for the mess the story makes of trying to square the fact that all the most effective characters are women with the fact that only men seem eligible for heroic status and that only a pissing contest with the splendidly irritating Finist the Falcon (Kirill Zaitsev) can spur Ivan to get off the metaphorical oven and prove himself.
Not that that goes very well for Ivan, mark you. Ah well, perhaps that’s the point.
On the upside, there’s a bonus whale.
Plus this time the Last Bogatyr 2 (slash Knight, slash Hero, slash Warrior), Root of Evil was sponsored not by the Southern Russia Tourism Board, but the Northern one. Who does not like lovingly-filmed shots of snow-covered landscape?
So all in all, if you were in any way entertained by (the idea of) The Last Bogatyr (slash Knight, slash Hero, slash Warrior) you should definitely entertain the thought of seeing The Last Bogatyr Root of Evil.
And luckily for Mama’s impatience levels, they seem to have cracked straight on this time with the next instalment, which intriguingly seems to be set in real life Moscow itself.
Photocredit: Mama has shamelessly used a couple of interesting pictures she found lying around on the internet to promote this Disney film, a service for which she is not receiving any form of compensation whatsoever. However, if she should not be using these pictures, she is very willing to take them down.
Mama says acting, and in fact any job connected to the film industry, is a lot harder and frequently a lot less glamorous than you might first think. As demonstrated by the MosFilm Studio toilets on the MosFilm Studio tour. Which are horrible.
Founded in the 20s (that’s the 1920s, says Mama, slightly shocked that we are back in the twenties already), the Mosfilm Studio is one of the biggest and oldest film studios in both Russia and Europe, responsible for a huge number of Soviet-era movies by people even foreigners might know about.
Like Sergei Eisenstein’s silent movie masterpieces, including the historical drama Battleship Potemkin. Remember? A pram bouncing down some stone steps? Regularly voted the best film evah. Or at least somewhere firmly in the top 100.
Andrey Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Stalker films were also filmed here, along with the rest of his movies. Which Mama would have more to say about if she had actually seen any of them, even the remade version with George Clooney. Apparently they are good?
The Mosfilm Studio also made many films which won international awards at every possible film festival available.
Such as Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, a melodrama about the life of a female factory director, which was one of the Oscar winners in 1980. Apparently President Regan (of the US) used it as background research before his meeting with President Gorbachov (of the USSR).
Everybody else should use it as research as to what the Russian Dream looks like. Moving to Moscow, mostly.
Also worth it for the absolutely spot on early prediction (from a Western point of view) that after nearly two whole generations of mass female access to university education and state sponsored equality, women will be able to achieve modest career success despite being (spoilers) a single mother, but men will still be telling them that they should be less ambitious if they want to have a romantic relationship. Hurrah!
MosFilm produced an even larger number of films that are extremely well known within the former USSR. For example, theIrony of Fate, in which a man from Moscow gets drunk, gets on a plane for St Petersburg accidentally, and ends up in an identical street, and an identical block of flats to his Moscow home. Entering what he thinks is his flat, he meets a woman and…. It is a comedy shown religiously every New Year’s Eve and regularly quoted as an integral part of the New Year celebrations.
It’s certainly part of Mama’s salad chopping ritual.
By the end of the Soviet period the MosFilm Studio had made more than 3,000 movies, in fact. And it was by far from being the only studio in the former USSR, or even in Russia.
It is the only one now (it says) that has the capabilities of making a movie from start (I think that means scriptwriting) to finish (something something editing?)
It survived the dark, financially difficult times of the 90s (that’s the 1990s for those of you reading in the future) to benefit from fairly hefty recent investment. Which has just resulted in some lovely shiny new buildings to house props and fit 1000 actors at a time into an indoor shooting location, for example.
The architects are super pleased (says Mama, who googled them) that everyone wants an Instagram selfie with their sign.
To be fair, that sort of size is something MosFilm is used to. One of their sound recording studios can hold a full symphony orchestra and a 100 strong choir at once.
There’s also quite a bit of state financial backing from the government for film making in general in Russia currently, as an active attempt to make sure that rapidly recovering box office sales go to home grown cinema rather than Hollywood blockbusters. This is somewhat controversial as commercially, many of these movies have not been quite the roaring success of Marvel’s Avengers series. In fact, very few of them have actively made a serious profit.
MosFilm doesn’t do all that much film production under its own name any more, but it does lease its services and pavilions to other production companies for both film and TV. And luckily, it is also not so high minded that it won’t do quite a lot of high quality dubbing of foreign movies too.
So all in all the MosFilm Studio territory is still a busy place, with up to 100 new projects each year. As a company, it claims to be highly profitable.
It also has its own
Therefore you cannot just rock up wander in and wander around what is very much a real working space. You need to go on a MosFilm Studio tour, which you need to book in advance, ideally collecting 20+ of your friends together first.
There will be signing in and registering to get through.
While waiting, you can admire the T-34 tank (among others), which MosFilm has hanging around right next to the gates, in case any of them should be needed for a film.
Apparently this is just a small tip of the iceberg of the tank collection held by the MosFilm props department. 170 tanks in total, in fact. Mama recommends you don’t try to invade.
From the tanks you will be taken to look at vehicles, all of which have appeared in various films. The explanatory placards tell you which ones, and the MosFilm Studio tour guide will remind you of any particularly memorable scenes as you go round as well as pointing out any other interesting facts.
Such as this not being a real Rolls Royce. It’s a Rolls Royce chassis built out of, I dunno, cardboard, around another car.
This is a car from Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears, which Mama doesn’t have much of a recollection of ever noticing while actually watching the film.
These fine vehicles appeared in a variety of films like the Russian version of Catch 22, 12 Chairs, a biopic of the rock star poet Yesenin, and one of the sequels (the many many sequels) to a knock about contemporary comedy called Yolki.
There are also carriages that were in the award winning War and Peace adaptation. And the much more recent Anna Karenina movie.
But the exhibit that blew our socks off so that we clutched each other happily when we spotted it and took numerous selfies around it was this one. Mama had already given it a shout out in our film review of Viy 2 recently. Look at it! All steampunk and everything!
What refined cinematic taste we have.
Then we set off round corridors, because a number of display cases of items such as costumes, props and All The Awards are in all sorts of random out of the way corners.
Mama quite enjoyed feeling as though she was properly backstage as she was trotting along the linoleum, past the institutional decorating choices. Mind you, this was where the toilet experience occurred so it wasn’t all joy.
This sort of expertise probably came in quite handy when they were assisting the real life KGB by providing a body double for an abruptly deceased spy so they could catch his CIA handler too.
The Mosfilm Studio is so proud of its historical FX department they actively advertise a special animatronic exposition. Which aims to bring a whole scene from the 60 year old original Viy horror film (originally a short story by Nikolai Gogol) to life. With sound and everything.
We children of the digital age watched it. We were polite about it.
Mama thinks that perhaps it doesn’t need its own bullet point in the promotional materials.
What was genuinely thrilling, was getting to amble around the mock ups of classical St Petersburg and old Moscow. In what Mama gathers are called backlots.
This is especially true as the day that we were there, at the end of December in the warmest winter on record in Moscow, it was not snowing but it was the shortest day of the year and foggy. So, extremely atmospheric, and utterly convincing. Except for the oddly piercing lights, and super modern large new apartment block right next to MosFilm.
Mama also wonders what the astonishingly hard to walk on cobbles are all about. Is it to get an authentic historical swagger out of method actors trained by Stanislavsky? Or because you need really big stones in order for it to show up properly on camera?
And! A friend who went at a different time says that the sets were actually being used for filming on her excursion, so they got to watch that as well.
Cool, although we also came across filming in progress in London once, and what that consisted of was standing around admiring some admittedly spectacular camera equipment and the lack of anything at all happening for about 45 minutes, and then someone crashed through a window, taking all of a split second.
Mama still enjoys watching Kingsmen to spot that very moment though.
Getting to see an actual sound stage, was also cool, again because, aside from the chandeliers, it comes just as it is.
They do let you into the permanent mock up of an Orthodox chapel interior. Which Mama has made a mental note to look out for in any future Russian film/ TV watching she does. She was particularly impressed that they have even recreated the little booth of religious essentials, candles, bible verses and domestic icons.
Should you go on a tour? Even if you don’t know much about Soviet or Russian films? Yes, of course. It’s not wildly expensive, and what you are getting is a genuine unprettied up look behind the scenes at the reality of the film industry. Akin to being allowed to go and admire how everything is held together with gaffer tape at a theatre, or watch the dancers massaging their torn up feet between set pieces at the ballet, and so on.
Mama would have liked the MosFilm excursion to include the new buildings, but you can’t have everything.
Of course, you might want to pay special attention to any cars, bikes and carriages in any Russian films you do decide to watch between then and now. And see all the versions of Viy available.
Alternatively, there is an English language podcast devoted to Russian and Russian interest films by a former Moscow resident, Russophiles Unite! which also features a number of MosFilm creations, and special guests.
Moscow was 869 years old on this year’s City Day, and that’s official.
I think it must be very hard to decide what to give someone who is 869. There are only so many My Little Pony dolls, accessories, houses, ice cream parlours, DVDs, costumes, card games and apps out there, whatever Mama might think. The Moscow authorities looked at the profusion of round numbers and gifted the capital of Russia a new circular metro line encompassing the more outlying areas of the city. Which was nice of them. A train set is always acceptable, even if it isn’t actually pink or covered in unicorns. But despite Mama’s keeness to ride the rails, we decided it might be a bit busy on its first day of opening. Instead, we went to the giant street party in the centre.
There’s always a street party for City Day.
But as it turned out, this one was not transport related. 2016 is the Year of Film in Russia and so instead we had pop up cafes, stage shows, cosplayers and street performers all working around the theme of movies set in Moscow. You could even hunker down and watch the films themselves in tiny temporary cinemas if the other entertainment on offer got too much for you.
Now, by films set in Moscow, of course I mean those made by the very prolific Soviet and Russian film industry. Surprisingly, that means virtually none of them feature Brucik Willisov speeding around fighting the mafia and/ or the KGB among grim tower blocks and dilapidated nuclear power stations or fighting off prostitutes in seedy nightclubs.
So what we had instead was the circus, time travel, Tolstoy, precocious children, singing in the rain, time travel (again), vampires and hipsters. Naturally.
There’s a running joke in the excellent (if very short-lived) Mitchell and Webb series the Ambassadors, set in a Former Soviet Country, which all expats in the Former States really should watch if only to cringe at the spot on portrayal of their foibles. This gag’s about the propensity of the natives to offer the circus as a high treat to any and all visiting foreigners. And the propensity of the expats to cringe with horror at the paucity of this unsophisticated entertainment.
Not a view shared by us, let me tell you! Even if Mama doesn’t have the faintest clue what the film it was referencing was, you can’t go too far wrong, in our opinion, with colourful costumed stilt walkers prepared to lift you up for a selfie, acrobats prepared to teach you some of the tricks of their trade and unicycle riders who took my Jammy Big Brother up with them and rode round the assembled audience, to his everlasting delight. Except I didn’t get to have a go.
Plus, the rather fabulous costumes from the actual film were on display, and that was definitely worth a gawk.
One of what I can only assume is War and Peace’s many iterations, saw the interactive fun themed around members of the public being invited to dress up in early 19th century dresses and hang out with the main characters whilst admiring the uniforms of the soldiers sitting around staring moodily into the distance or playing on their iphones. Mama says that Russians admit to skipping the War bits in the novelisation. This must be why. Not much happens.
Mama, being British, particularly enjoyed the installation where you could stand underneath umbrellas and have water poured on you. A bold choice, she thought, given that it’s mid September and last year’s City Day was a bit of a washout. And you thought Russians don’t have a sense of humour. I, on the other hand, was delighted to be able to show off my performance skills as this was the bit of the street devoted to the musical film, Here I Go, Walking Through Moscow, the title song to which I learned in school! Singalongs! With actions! That’s what every good party needs!
Then it started to get weird, otherwise known as Soviet sci fi.
Now, they weren’t celebrating Mama’s favourite film in this genre, about a robot boy who takes the place of his lookalike human counterpart at school (The Adventures of an Electronic). Which goes about as successfully as you might expect but also gives a surprisingly interesting insight into what Soviet childhood was actually like in the 80s. No, this one, Guests from the Future, was the one where visitors from the future end up fighting for control of a little black box, to be ultimately thwarted by upstanding members of Muscovite youth culture. I gather from the rolling interactive performance of the main scenes which this area of Tverskaya Street consisted of.
Frankly, my Jammy Big Brother and I were decidedly sceptical about the fabulously dressed people milling around, although Mama, who you may have gathered is a bit of a geek, didn’t really see this as a problem as it allowed her the opportunity of getting her photo taken for once. More than once. More than twice, actually. But we enjoyed playing tug of war with the bad guys (we won) and chasing them through the streets of Moscow on our imaginary motorcycles (we won) and generally contributing to the triumph of the gentleman dressed in silver lame over the men in yellow (we won). I mean, who wouldn’t?
We also enjoyed taking part in the obstacle course races, the aim of which, was to act as good Soviet pioneers (like the scouts/ guides but more…. compulsory), and carry the milk in string bags home to Mama through tunnels, and so on. We both won our rounds in that one too. Mama notes we seem to have become a tad competitive over the summer.
In fact, as you can see there was quite a lot going on for us kids, despite the fact that they didn’t seem to be celebrating any of the excellent Soviet cartoons we have been brought up on. And while it was crowded for Moscow, we’d recently attended one of the cultural hat tips on Trafalgar Square, and believe you me, you haven’t experienced packed until you have been to Maslenitsa, Diwali, Eid, a Japanese Matsuri, St Patrick’s Day and Pride in a space which can comfortably fit about a tenth of the people attending it, and you definitely haven’t felt frustrated until you have seen the queues for the interesting looking food or waited in line to get you hand hennaed for ages and ages and ages and ages and ages.
In contrast, for Moscow’s City Day it didn’t take us long to get the obligatory ice cream, or find seats in the obligingly comfortable bean bag chill out zones when our stamina started flagging about half way down Tverskaya.
Mama wasn’t, inexplicably, all that keen on experiencing food from a mock Soviet café. But we could have popped into any of the usual eateries which line the street had she not promised us fast food as compensation for indulging her love of spectacle – Moscow city centre is amply provided for refreshment options.
Buoyed by our break, we hit the final film sets and were away. There were a few at this point Mama didn’t recognise, including the one which involved a giant Christmas New Year tree and ice/ roller skating rink. So we ignored them. Especially as Mama feels we will have had quite enough of Christmas New Year trees, snow and ice rinks in a few months.
The first one Mama was interested in neatly combined one of the mock ups of Moscow architectural landmarks dotted up and down the street with an actual scene from the film involved. Members of the public were climbing the archways to stand and survey the city. Just like the vampire members of the Day Watch police force, tasked with making sure that the magical forces of Light don’t take advantage during the times when most upright citizens of the Dark are having a well-earned nap from drinking blood, promoting the evil agenda, and so on.
From the films (and books) called the Night Watch. Which are pretty bloody good, says Mama, and widely available in English. Hint hint. And the films are worth it for the subtitles alone, Mama says. Hint hint HINT. But as Mama feels that the plot of this one isn’t really very suitable for our ears and as we think vampires are to be avoided, perplexed is what we were.
Stilyagi (Hipsters), which ended the film parade, is another fairly recent film. This time, about the people who listened to that alternative underground music of the West, RocknRoll. It’s another pretty good film, and does a very neat balancing act between the jauntiness of the soundtrack and colourful musical numbers and a glimpse at what happened to non conformists in the Soviet Union back in the day. But there’s also a refusal to turn them entirely into entirely righteous martyrs to individual freeeeeeedom and the American way. And a frankly odd ending. Mama thinks they just ran out of plot, or possibly money, but it’s still worth seeing.
Of course, for the perspective of a giant street party, it’s an excellent excuse to have beautifully dressed people performing energetic, hysterically happy, highly danceable music. And have beautifully dressed people mingle energetically with hysterical happiness with the crowd. Carrying a double bass! Mama was cross that at this point her camera battery died and she didn’t get to hysterically happily mug at us with correct hand positioning on the fretboard. You’ll just have to imagine the big skirts, the fifites hairdos and the hysterically happy grinning.
So, will you enjoy City Day, should you be in Moscow sometime in September next year? Will you enjoy a saunter down a street full of colour and distraction with the occasional snacking opportunity? Even if you are not the target audience and may find whatever theme they have a bit incomprehensible? Well, we certainly did, and so we can highly recommend Tverskaya Street on City Day to anybody. Other venues for celebration are available, but this is our top pick.
Metro: Okhotniy Ryad (red line) Teatralnaya (green line) and Ploshard Revolutsii (dark blue line) are at one end, and Chekhovskaya (grey line), Pushkinskaya (purple line) and Tverskaya (green line) at the other.
By other means: What part of the centre is closed to traffic did you not understand?