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The Russians are coming

As the BFI kicks off its Russian season, Alexei Popogrebsky talks about his Fellini phase.

“We’re not the new barbarians. I do not expect any breakthroughs from this generation of Russian filmmakers. Hopefully great, artistic films, but not any breakthroughs.”

So said Alexei Popogrebsky, the director of the acclaimed Koktebel and How I Ended The Summer, to help launch the British Film Institute (BFI)’s Kino: Russian Film Pioneers season in London on Tuesday.

Knocking back vivid purple beetroot shooters and tucking into delicious, possibly Russian-inspired potato and blue cheese ravioli, Popogrebsky clarified his statement. “The Russian directors working now are part of a continuation, a tradition,” he said, explaining his own love since childhood for the French Nouvelle Vague, particularly Francois Truffaut as well as Soviet-era films such as The Maxim Trilogy. I saw 8 1/2 when I was seven and a half,” he adds of his Fellini phase.  

It is this tradition the BFI is celebrating with its remarkable six-month love letter to Russian cinema. Two years in the making, the three-part season will include Kino (May-June), showcasing Soviet films such as Abram Room’s 1927 comedy Bed And Sofa, banned in the UK for years thanks to its depiction of a love triangle and a mention of abortion, and Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan The Terrible, apparently inspired (visually, in part) by Walt Disney’s Willie The Whale (Eisenstein loved Disney films); Kosmos (July and August), a salute to Soviet sci-fi films of the 1950s and 1960s; and Sokurov (November and December), the first UK retrospective of the work of the renowned Aleksandr, which will included the spell-binding Russian Ark and his dictator series.

“Are we commemorating the past or bringing some of the best films that have ever been made to a new audience?” mused film professor and historian Ian Christie, one of the curators of the season. “Obviously I think we are doing the second as much as the first.”

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