tue 02/03/2021

Russia

Blu-ray: The Ascent

There’s a striking interview among the extras for this Criterion edition of Russian director Larisa Shepitko’s fourth and final feature. The director was talking in 1978 to Bavarian Television at the Berlin Film Festival, where The Ascent had won...

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Coote, Blackshaw, Fiennes, Wigmore Hall online review – lonely hearts club band

Why, in Lieder singing above all, should an outpouring of deep feeling so frighten critics? Alice Coote’s unabashed emotionalism as a recitalist can sometimes bring out the worst in the stiff-upper-lip brigade, as reactions to her high-impact...

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Dear Comrades! review - Andrei Konchalovsky exposes the Soviet past

Veteran Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky has gone back to his beginnings for his latest film. The real-life events on which Dear Comrades! is based took place in June 1962, when social unrest over rising prices saw strikes break out in...

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George Saunders: A Swim in a Pond in the Rain review – Russian lessons in literature and life

Before he published fiction, George Saunders trained as an engineer and wrote technical reports. The Booker-winning author of Lincoln in the Bardo, and four volumes of short stories, still has a telling fondness for precisely-scaled kits, blueprints...

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The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, Bristol Old Vic/Kneehigh/Wise Children online review – ravishing vision of Chagall's early life

One of Marc Chagall’s last commissions was for a stained-glass window in Chichester Cathedral, which channelled his characteristically exuberant spirituality into a response to the verse from Psalm 150, “Let everything that has breath praise the...

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Christine Rice, Julius Drake, Wigmore Hall review - songs of love and death

It began as a Christmas present in the bleakest of winters. In December 1939, as war engulfed Europe, Bertolt Brecht sent a poem to the exiled Kurt Weill in New York. Weill set it as a bittersweet gift for his wife Lotte Lenya. “Nannas Lied” – the...

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The Queen's Gambit, Netflix review - chess prodigy's story makes brilliant television

It’s surprising, perhaps, that the dramatic potential of chess hasn’t been more widely exploited. There was a nail-biting tournament in From Russia with Love, while the knight’s chequerboard struggle with Death was the centrepiece of Ingmar Bergman’...

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Blu-ray: Beanpole

Kantemir Balagov’s second feature announces the arrival of a major new talent in arthouse cinema. Made by the Russian director when he was just 27, and premiered at Cannes last year, where it won in the “Un Certain Regard” strand, Beanpole...

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Storyville: Welcome to Chechnya, BBC Four review - trauma, tension and resistance

David France’s revelatory film may have been subtitled “The Gay Purge”, but from the start it was clear this wasn’t just another documentary from Russia charting the increasing pressure faced by that country’s queer community. Since “propaganda” of...

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In memoriam Dmitri Smirnov (1948-2020) - a personal tribute by Gerard McBurney

November 1979… and a small group of Soviet composers (dubbed the "Khrennikov Seven") unexpectedly found themselves the targets of a boorish public assault by that once infamous General Secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers, in a speech at the...

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A Russian Youth, MUBI review - First World War setting, contemporary orchestra

Alexander Tolotukhin’s debut film places the viewer into a microcosm of the first world war and frames the experience with a peculiar musical device. Spliced between grainy images of trenches, artillery strikes and field hospitals are shots of a...

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Why Don't You Just Die! review - Russian roulette

It’s hard to feel sympathy for a young man plotting to stove his prospective father-in-law’s head in with a hammer. But when Matvei (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) discovers his quarry is bull-necked cop Andrei (Vitaliy Khaev), this simple plan inevitably...

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