Films on Russia

FILMS ON RUSSIA AND SOVIET UNION

Commanding Heights:
The Battle for the World Economy

Documentary 2002 NR 360 minutes. Based on the best-selling book by Pulitzer Prize-winner Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw, this three-part PBS documentary series is the story of how the new global economy was born. It traces the rise of free markets during the last century, as well as the process of globalization. There are three segments – 1. “The Battle of Ideas” (primarily between Capitalism and Communism);  2. “The Agony of Reform” (after the end of Communism)  3. “The New Rules of the Game” (of Globalization). See Full Review

Poisoned by Polonium:
The Litvinenko File
(Bunt. Delo Litvinenko)

Documentary 2007 NR 1hr 44m. This thought-provoking documentary looks at the role the Russian government may have played in the poisoning death of former spy Alexander Litvinenko. Brilliant exposé of the brutal Kremlin regime of Vladimir Putin. Exiled dissident Alexander Litvinenko (since murdered) comes across in interviews as an honest and articulate critic of Putin’s Kremlin and its FSB (Federal Security Service) murder gang. Formerly an FSB counter-intelligence officer Litvinenko makes his case as somebody who refused to be corrupted by the mafia culture within the FSB, risking prison and assassination by staging a notorious press conference in Moscow in 1998. During this event he accused his FSB superiors of betraying their duty to serve and protect the Russian people by instead engaging in policies of assassination and intimidation in the goal of self-enrichment. After his trial acquittal in 1999, Litvinenko was granted political asylum in Britain, where he continued to be a thorn in Putin’s side until his assassination by poisoning in 2006. Film-maker Andrei Nekrasov got to interview Litvinenko and the journalist Politkovskaya shortly before both were murdered. Nekrasov uses these exclusive interviews, hidden cameras, rare stock footage, and banned tapes from now forbidden Russian programs to paint a tragic picture of an entire nation, one that is both victim and an enabler of one of the most corrupt and cynical regimes currently in power. After seeing this film, you’ll have little doubt in your mind about who did it and why. This powerful and terrifying documentary offers a clear indictment of Putin’s criminal regime. This may not be laid out like a typical 60 minutes report, but the facts are all there. Director Andrei Nekrasov probably put his life in risk by doing this documentary. Heroic individual. His personal reflections of life in the Soviet Union and modern-day Russia and poignant and help to explain much about this sad tormented country. For those interested in the Litvinenko case and Putin’s Russia in general, this is a must see. Compelling story. Amazing this got so little expose in the western media.

Along with the Litvinenko documentary, the DVD includes the hour-long doc “Disbelief”, which lays out a serious case for the FSB actually orchestrating the Moscow apartment bombings in 99 in order to solidify their authoritarian regime. Also make sure to view this additional documentary “Disbelief” which suggests that Putin’s FSB were responsible for the Moscow apartment bombings of 1999 in order to divert the nation’s attention away from Russia’s dire financial crisis. By blaming Chechen separatists for the bombings Putin was swept into the presidency on a wave of patriotic fervor, taking people’s minds off their poverty as the Chechen nation was obliterated. A staggering accusation against the Kremlin and their ultimate cover-up of one of the crimes of the century. This is emotionally wrenching stuff and dark enough to give you nightmares.

Putin’s Kiss

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr 24m. This political drama traces the saga of Masha Drokova, a member of a Russian nationalist youth movement who starts to question its beliefs and her belief in Putin. A real true-to-life story of innocence lost and how a political youth movement can act against the interests of a nation as a tool not unlike what transpired under the NKVD, KGB and Hitler Youth. This young woman has her eyes opened slowly, as she has a taste the cult of personality and the power of the former head of the KGB.

My Perestroika

Documentary 2010 NR 88 minutes. An intimate look at five longtime friends who grew up shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, this documentary sheds light on how Russians have adapted to post-Soviet society and their nation’s continually shifting political landscape. Perestroika literally means restructuring in Russian, and it was also the term used to define the political and social changes that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent collapse of the USSR. This documentary captures the ideology and feelings of a small group of Russians who are of the right age to remember Russia both before and after the wall fell. The cast of characters interviewed are intelligent, well-spoken, and well-read, which says something about the quality of the education in the old Communist system. Archival footage shows them growing up in the society that the Communist Party was trying to build, and that is wonderfully intercut with the director’s modern footage of them now as adults. Their opinions about the old guard and the new more-Western society are diverse, with some seeming pleased with the recent changes and others pining ever so slightly for the stability that the USSR offered. After watching this film, I found it impossible to ignore how similar the USSR and the USA were during the Cold War. While US children were being taught that the Soviet evil empire was trying to conquer the world and it was up to the inherent purity of the US to stand against this threat, Russian children were being told very similar things. Hearing them as kids say such in the archival footage is chilling. It makes you wonder if paranoia is the foundation for a lot of global issues.

Khodorkovsky

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 56m. This documentary follows the rise and fall of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who became one of Russia’s wealthiest men before butting heads with Vladimir Putin and winding up imprisoned on controversial charges.

The Singing Revolution

Documentary 2006 NR 97 minutes. This moving documentary recounts Estonia’s fight for freedom from 50 years of Soviet occupation, telling the remarkable story of the hundreds of thousands of protestors who gathered in public to voice their dissent through song.

E-mail Order Bride

Documentary 2009 TV-14 45m. Take a rare, intimate glimpse into the quirky and sometimes dangerous business of arranging marriages across thousands of miles and cultural borders. Documentary about an older fat guy, and a socially awkward guy, taking advantage of the fact that there are women in Russia trying to escape their living conditions.

Lilya 4-Ever

Drama 2003 R 109 minutes. In director Lukas Moodysson’s gut-wrenching drama, Oksana Akinshina stars as the 16-year-old title character who’s left to fend for herself in a blighted Estonian suburb when her mother (Lyubov Agapova) abandons her to move to America. Eager to escape her grim surroundings and seek a bright future, she falls victim to the promises of the charming Andrei (Pavel Ponomaryov), only to find a new life in Sweden worse than the one she left behind.

Sex Slaves (2006)

Documentary Frontline 2006. An estimated half-million women are trafficked annually for the purpose of sexual slavery. The women are kidnapped — or lured by traffickers who prey on their dreams of employment abroad — then they are “exported” to Europe, the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere, where they are sold to pimps, drugged, terrorized, locked in brothels, and raped repeatedly. In Eastern Europe, since the fall of communism, sex trafficking has become the fastest growing form of organized crime, with Moldova and Ukraine widely seen as the centers of the global trade in women and girls. Frontline presents a unique hidden camera look at this world of sexual slavery, talking with traffickers and their victims, and exposing the government indifference that allows the abuses to continue virtually unchecked. Sex Slaves also follows the remarkable journey of one man determined to find his trafficked wife by posing as a trafficker himself to buy back her freedom.

Moldova: The Price of Sex
Women Caught in the Sex Trade

Documentary Frontline / World 2007. “Flash Point” is a series of online slideshows that present the work of up-and-coming as well as established photojournalists. In the series debut, “The Price of Sex,” documentary photographer Mimi Chakarova looks into the lives of young East European women trafficked into the sex trade.

Good Bye, Lenin!

Dramedy 2003 R 121 minutes. Alex’s mother falls into a coma just as the Berlin Wall is about to come down. But when she wakes up months later, she’s too weak to withstand shock — so Alex goes to great lengths to keep the truth about her country’s reform a secret.

9th Company
(9 Rota)

Drama 2005 R 2hr 20m. An eclectic group of Soviet soldiers ships off to fight in Afghanistan, where they must endure hellish conditions and dangerous mujahedeen forces.

The Diplomat  (2013)

Documentary 2013 NR. Gaining legendary status as a world champion and Olympic gold medalist during the Cold War, East German figure skater Katarina Witt experienced both public adoration and constant surveillance from her country’s notorious secret police force.

The Lives of Others
(Das Leben der Anderen)

Drama 2006 R 138 minutes. In 1984, secret police agent Wiesler is assigned to eavesdrop on a successful but possibly disloyal playwright in East Germany. As the lonely Wiesler learns more about the man and his lover, a prominent actress, he becomes fascinated by their lives.

Refusenik

Documentary 2007 NR 1hr 55m. Offering a glimpse into a little-known aspect of the Cold War, this documentary follows the fight to free Jews in the U.S.S.R. from Soviet oppression. Under Stalin the repression began again and it specifically targeted the Refuseniks–Jews who had requested to leave the country–for almost three decades. With American and the newly founded Israel ready and anxious to provide a haven for these Jews they needed only the permission of the government to exit. As a policy permission was never granted. Being refused the people came to be called Refuseniks, but their punishment went beyond merely being refused. Jews who requested to leave were treated with barbaric hatred. They typically lost their employment and frequently were imprisoned and even tortured. Many were exiled to the frozen Gulag. Others were treated as mentally ill for wanting to leave the “ideal workers’ state” and were committed to mental institutions. With the fall of the Soviet Union and with pressure from the West and worldwide eventually the Jews of the Russia were allowed to leave. 1,500,000 of them did leave, most settling in Israel and the United States.

Power Trip

Documentary 2003 NR 86 minutes. Filmmaker Paul Devlin objectively documents the multifaceted story of a country trying to rebuild itself amid a changing political landscape. Accustomed to getting their electricity for free, the residents of Tbilisi, the capital of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, are suddenly faced with shelling out money for power. Can the American energy company now running things persuade the disgruntled populace that it’s the right thing to do?

Tycoon: A New Russian

Drama 2002 UR 120 minutes.  In this film set 15 years after the demise of the former Soviet Union, Russian businessman Platon Makovsky (Vladimir Mashkov) has experienced an abrupt rise to fame recently. But suddenly, Makovsky’s world is turned upside down when his reputation and accomplishments become the subject of an investigation by the government for supposed unfair business practices.  This is purportedly based on a book about the life of Boris Berezovsky, a Russian businessman/oligarch. However, the fellow pictured here is handsome, kind, brilliant, sexy, and fearless. Right: just a typical power-hungry tycoon. Once you understand the romanticized version you’re getting, the movie is easy to enjoy.  The film flips back and forth in time to the pre- and post-death of its protagonist (somewhat like modern movies such as “The Usual Suspects”). The subtitles tell you the time frame, in any case.  Frankly, I had a hard time keeping up with the story, which often left me confused as to who was who and why certain things were being done by certain people. The plot and characters were presented in such a jumble, with flashbacks and flash forwards, …I found myself lost and a little agitated, as it was addressing politics, the mob, business and Moscow versus the outlying provinces. Perhaps a second viewing (now that I know the ending) would straighten it out. This may help foreigners better understand what it is actually like in chaotic modern-day Russia.  It’s fast-paced, beautifully acted and photographed–and well written and directed by a Russian émigré who now lives mostly in France.  I do think that the makers of the DVD did the viewer a big favor in adding the Directors interview as an extra feature. He gives some fairly interesting answers in the interview.

The Tunnel

Docudrama Thriller 2001 NR 167 minutes. In this acclaimed drama inspired by true events, Olympic swimmer Harry Melchior (Heino Ferch) defects from East Germany in the 1960s and hatches a daring plot to help his sister (Alexandra Maria Lara) and others flee East Berlin through a 145-yard underground tunnel. With the help of an engineer (Sebastian Koch), Melchior leads the risky plan, under constant threat of being discovered by the authorities.

Berlin Tunnel 21

Docudrama Thriller 1981 NR 2hr 21m. Following the rise of the Berlin Wall, determined American soldier Sandy (Richard Thomas) and pessimistic engineer Emerich (Horst Buchholz) put their lives on the line in order to build a secret underground tunnel and spring their loved ones out of East Berlin. Full of nonstop tension, this gripping made-for-TV drama based on a true story finds the duo facing unexpected traitors, devastating setbacks and the constant threat of being discovered.

The Wall
A World Divided

Documentary 2010 NR 55 minutes. With insights from political leaders like George H.W. Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev and Condoleezza Rice, explore the origins and demise of the notorious Berlin Wall, the structure’s affect on ordinary German lives and the peaceful end to the Cold War. Full of detailed information, this historical PBS documentary explains the stark differences between East and West Germany and their process of reunification.

Burning Wall

Documentary 2002 NR. Hava Kohav Beller’s documentary examines dissent within East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Despite being subject to government surveillance and made to endure psychological warfare from the secret police force known as the Stasi, opponents of the totalitarian state saw their numbers continue to swell. Candid interviews with former dissidents and Stasi agents reveal the events leading up to the regime’s collapse in 1989.

After the Wall
A World United

Documentary 2011 NR 55 minutes. After serving as a geographic and ideological divide for 40 years, the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, bringing the reunification of Germany and an end to the Cold War. This documentary revisits the events surrounding the wall’s historic collapse. Interviews with major players such as George Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev and Helmut Kohl offer insight into political maneuverings while firsthand accounts from Germans provide personal perspectives.

Poland – The Morning After

Documentary Frontline 1990. In the summer of 1989, Poland astonished the world by starting the revolution which has swept Eastern Europe. Solidarity, the once-banned independent trade union, took power in a coalition government ending 45 years of Communist repression. In this report, Frontline examines a society attempting something which has never been done-changing overnight from Communism to capitalism.

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu
(Autobiografia lui Nicolae Ceausescu)

Documentary 2010 NR 3hr 7m. Track the rise and fall of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu through this documentary which constructs his portrait by only using archival footage.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
(4 luni, 3 saptamâni si 2 zile)

Drama 2007 NR 113 minutes. . In the last days of communism in Romania, college student Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) wants to end her unplanned pregnancy. With help from best friend and fellow student Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), Gabita seeks an abortion — which is illegal under the oppressive Ceausescu regime. Director Cristian Mungiu’s searing portrait of life under a dictatorship received a slew of film festival awards along with a Golden Globe nod for Best Foreign Language Film.

Children Underground

Documentary 2001 NR 1hr 48m. This documentary explores Romanian dictator Nicolei Ceaucescu’s decision to outlaw contraceptives and encourage the populace to have more children.

Joseph Stalin:
Red Terror

Documentary 2004 NR 50 minutes. Joseph Stalin ranks as one of the greatest tyrants of all time, responsible for the deaths of 20 million of his own countrymen. This portrait revisits the life of “Uncle Joe” via Soviet archival film and an astonishing collection of interviews. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the extent of Stalin’s atrocities has been revealed, and he has taken his place alongside Hitler as one of the most reviled leaders of the 20th century.

Stalingrad

Documentary 2003 NR 156 minutes. The long and bloody battle that marked the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany is the subject of this Emmy-nominated World War II documentary. Filmmakers Sebastian Dehnhardt, Christian Deick and Jorg Mullner make extensive use of soldier-shot footage to show the conflict from both Russian and German perspectives, and employ eyewitness accounts, archive film and 3-D animation to reconstruct the city and plot the course of its destruction.

Attack on Leningrad

Docudrama 2009 R 1hr 50m. Trapped in Leningrad during the Nazi occupation, a foreign journalist teams up with a police officer to help residents survive horrific conditions.

The World at War  (WW2)

Documentary 1974 NR 11 discs. Many regard this 26-hour British TV documentary from 1973 as television’s greatest and most comprehensive account of World War II — a stirring history that features interviews with Allied and Axis leaders, civilians, officers, politicians and more. Narrated by the great Laurence Olivier, this 30th-anniversary collection also features eight hours of bonus documentaries, including a making-of-the series retrospective.

Reds

Docudrama 1981 PG 3hr 15m. Radical journalist and socialist John Reed (Warren Beatty), along with his paramour, protofeminist Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton), gets swept up in the world-changing spirit, euphoria and aftermath of Russia’s 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the newly founded Soviet Union. Jack Nicholson, Paul Sorvino, Edward Herrmann, M. Emmet Walsh and Maureen Stapleton co-star in this Beatty-directed, Oscar-winning epic.

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Drama 1965 PG-13 200 minutes. A young physician (Omar Sharif) and his beautiful mistress (Julie Christie) get swept up in the danger and drama of the Bolshevik Revolution in this Oscar-winning epic based on the classic novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Boris Pasternak. The film earned five Academy Awards in all, including statues for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Score and Best Screenplay. Alec Guinness and Rod Steiger co-star.

The Battleship Potemkin
(Bronenosets Potyomkin)

Docudrama 1925 NR 1hr 9m. Director Sergei M. Eisenstein’s cinematic landmark charts the events that led to the Bolshevik Revolution. The rebellion of a battleship crew ignites a citizens’ uprising, resulting in czarist troops’ infamous slaughter of insurgents and bystanders.

Man with the Movie Camera
(Chelovek s Kinoapparatom / Man With a Camera)

Documentary 1929 NR 68 minutes. Cinema pioneer Dziga Vertov’s controversial 1929 film still pulses with energy, innovation and genius. This landmark silent masterpiece from the Soviet avant-garde director stylishly highlights the buzz of everyday city life (shops, traffic, children, coal miners, nature) as seen through the eyes of a roving cameraman. Many filmic devices are used to comment on vision, life, Marxism and modernity in the Soviet Union.

Rasputin: The Mad Monk

Documentary 1997 NR 50 minutes. Once a peasant, shady monk Rasputin worked his way into the confidence of Emperor Nicholas II, eventually becoming a dominant player during Russia’s final imperial years. But why did the royals tolerate his corrupt and scandalous behavior? Through the analysis of leading historians, period accounts and rare photos, this biography delves into Rasputin’s power over the Czar, his role in the Revolution and his death at the hands of aristocrats.

Catherine the Great

Docudrama 2006 NR 120 minutes. This superb PBS docudrama chronicles Catherine the Great, a minor 18th-century German princess who married into Russia’s royal family and brought her adopted country into the modern world. Wedding the successor to the Russian throne at age 16, Catherine governed Russia for 34 years after fomenting a coup and ousting her husband. Her ambitious foreign policy and advancement of Western reforms greatly bolstered Russia’s position on the world stage.

Andrei Rublev
(Andrei Rublyov)

Docudrama 1966 UR 205 minutes. This mesmerizing account of 15th century Russian monk Andrei Rublev follows the icon painter as he faces violence, political persecution and, eventually, a crisis of faith after leaving the monastery to paint Vladimir Cathedral’s interior. The Soviets suppressed this sweeping epic — widely recognized as a cinematic masterpiece — and did not allow it to be seen as director Andrei Tarkovsky intended until more than 20 years after completion.

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