Despite the approach of October both heat and humidity are not improving in the UAE, so watching DVDs is still a valid way to spend a few hours.
Last weekend a friend lent me a Russian film from 1975 called Ironiya sudby, ili S lyogkim parom!, which translates to Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath! Absolutely everybody from the former Soviet Union knows this film by heart, especially since TV stations have taken to showing it every new year without fail over the past decade. Directed by Eldar Ryazanov, one of Russia’s best known directors, this film is a whopping 192 minutes long. It is mildly critical of the Soviet way of doing things, specifically their “economy” architecture, but managed to slide through the censors to become one of Russians’ favourite films.
The story begins with the leading male Zhenya agreeing to spend that evening, New Year’s Eve, with his new fiancee in the apartment in Moscow which he shares with his mother. However, he and his friends have a tradition of going to a public bath house on New Year’s Eve and – surprisingly for a group of Russian men – drinking. Unfortunately they overdo it, so when they set off from the bath house to the airport to see off one of the group, Pavel, who is catching a flight to Leningrad they are all extremely drunk. The drinking continues at the airport, and Zhenya and Pavel fall asleep. The other two are sober enough to realise that one of their group must board the aircraft, but cannot remember which one. So by a comical process of elimination they decide Zhenya is going to Leningrad and bundle him on the plane.
When the plane lands, Zhenya is still not sober and does not realise where he is. So, thinking he is still in Moscow, he jumps in a taxi and asks to be taken to his home address, something like Building 25, 3rd Constructors’ St., or similar. “No problem,” says the taxi driver and off they go. Earlier in the film the point was made that every Russian city has some of the same buildings, street names, and street layouts such that a man arriving in a strange Russian city feels right at home. When the taxi reaches its destination, Zhenya gets out to see a familiar building, and takes the lift up to “his” apartment. The building is identical to his own in Moscow. When he reaches the front door, he finds his key fits (“uniform locks in uniform doors”), he stumbles in, gets partially undressed, and collapses on the bed. Even the furniture is the same as in his own apartment, right down to the bedspread.
Shortly after he has fallen asleep, the leading lady of the film Nadya comes home and is rather surprised to find a druken man in her bed. The scene which follows is rather amusing, with both the man and woman ordering each other out of the apartment. Zhenya is still drunk, and staggering around in his spotty underpants. The actor Andrei Myagkov is so convincing as a man on the journey between inebriation and serious hangover that he had me reaching for the box of paracetamol. Once the argument has been raging for several minutes, the doorbell goes and Nadya’s boyfriend Ippolit is at the door, ready to spend a romantic evening with his soon-to-be fiancee. Understandably, he is less than impressed to discover a semi-naked Zhenya, who has crawled back to her Nadya’s bed to sleep off his hangover.
From here the film becomes a superb interaction and dialogue between Zhenya, Nadya, and as Zhenya realises he is in the wrong city but has no money to return home, where his fiancee is waiting for him. Appearances by other characters such as Nadya’s interfering middle-aged friends add to the colour as the situation in the apartment changes by the minute. As the film progresses it becomes less of a comedy and more of a romance, a transition which the director manages to carry out without the viewer losing interest. Despite being over 3 hours long, this film never gets boring.
I watched this film with English subtitles, only able to understand 10-20% of what was being said in Russian. It was well translated and the dialogue came through very well, although I’m sure something would have been lost along the way. It is the dialogue and the superb acting from the leads which makes this film what it is, and it provides a useful glimpse into Russian culture in ways both subtle and overt.