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Hipsters (A PopEntertainment.com Movie Review)



Starring Anton Shagin, Oksana Akinshina, Evgeniya Khirivskaya, Maksim Matveev, Igor Voynarovskiy, Ekaterina Vilkova, Konstantin Balakirev, Aleksandr Stefantsov, Georgiy Sivokhin and Olga Smirnova.

Screenplay by Yuri Korotkov.

Directed by Valeriy Todorovskiy.

Distributed by Leisure Time Features.  127 minutes.  Not Rated.

If you think it was hard to be a jazz-obsessed beatnik in 1955 America, imagine what it would be like at the same time in communist Russia.

This is the idea behind Hipsters, apparently the first musical film made in Russia in about 50 years.  It’s an intriguing notion and even if the tone of the film is a little off-kilter sometimes (like the best jazz, the filmmakers would undoubtedly proclaim) there is enough life and style here to make the film sparkle.  It’s a love story and a fantasy and social commentary all whipped up into a meringue.

Back in ’55 in Russia, Stalin was still a fresh memory (having died two years earlier), and the new kinder/gentler (relatively) Khrushchev leadership was allowing a bit of a schism in the lifestyles.  While the Communist Party still led with fierce determination and life was bleak and colorless, little pockets of “hipsters” – young kids in love with jazz and loud clothing – were popping up.

They sort of had an off-beat, Technicolor misinterpretation of the American jazz scene, but the hipsters embraced it in wild music, crazy dance, poofed-up hair and colorful outfits.  This flew in the face of the “common people” rhetoric of the Party, as one member of the Youth Communist League warns here “Every hipster is a potential criminal.”  Groups of good communists would raid hipster gatherings – ripping their clothes, cutting their hair, beating them.  And that wasn’t the worst part.  If the government caught you listening to the music or dancing, you could be arrested or sent away into exile.

It’s sort of like Footloose with real life-or-death consequences.

This film – made in 2008, but finally just getting US release a few years later – is full of the vibrancy and excitement of youth.  And yet, it is intriguing also from a historical perspective – this is a view that we never really got behind the Iron Curtain.

This is a good thing and a bad one.  It is a fascinating world view which does not get so much exposure on these shores.  Still, I do get the feeling that there are a lot of in-jokes that I just wouldn’t pick up on.

The movie does have a tiny bit of trouble deciding whether it wants to be a razzle-dazzle musical, a quirky comedy or a more serious drama, but most of its elements work well

The strongest part is the central romance, with a young Communist guard (Anton Shagin) who falls in love with a carefree hipster girl (the gorgeous Oksana Akinshina, previously of Lilya 4-Ever.)  He is so seduced by her lifestyle (and her beauty) that he turns his back on his Communist leanings, grows out a pompadour and takes upjazz saxophone to win her attention.  Of course, in his old world of repression, he was led by an equally attractive woman (Evgeniya Khirivskaya) who also has interest in him and takes his new lifestyle and girlfriend extremely poorly.

This stuff is mostly very intriguing, though towards the end it does get a touch melodramatic – and there is one major dramatic turning point which is played seriously, but it feels like the punch line of an old joke.

However, the love story is in some ways just seasoning for the film.  The musical numbers are mostly extremely well shot and catchy and some of the hijinks with the hipsters is quite funny.

Hipsters is an off-beat, different kind of film, but that is most of its charm.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 23, 2012.

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