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While the Cold War heats up on the world stage, rebellious youth in 1955 Moscow wage a cultural battle against dismal Soviet conformity, donning brightly colored black-market clothing, adopting American nicknames and reveling in forbidden jazz. Straight-laced 20-year-old Communist Mels finds these brazen 'hipsters' shocking until he falls under the spell of one, namely Polly, and joins the new revolution. Soon he's a peacock, cavorting in the latest flashy fashions, sporting an enormous pompadour and wailing on the saxophone.Written by
Enjoyable and with insight into postwar Russian history
"Stilyagi" is one of the best Russian movies I have seen in the past 10 years. The director and actors did wonderful job. The movie is both romantic and fun, and at the same time it gives insight about a curious historical phenomenon.
The World War II not only devastated Russia, but also exposed the otherwise isolated country to Western culture through captured movies, vinyl LPs, art, fashion clothes, and other spoils of war. This was particularly valuable for people who wanted to express their difference from others. They started to copy perceived "American" lifestyle, especially the clothes, using films like "Sun Valley Serenade" and the covers of jazz LPs as primary references. Not surprisingly, the result was an outlook more typical for Western show business entertainers than for mainstream design. Although the group believed that their attire was the true definition of style, the rest of Soviet population labeled them "stilyagi" to show their disapproval. In the totalitarian regime "admiration for the West" was a felony, however, after Stalin's death state security was reluctant to take action and stilyagi were facing relatively modest retaliation, mostly from local Komsomol (Communist Party youth wing) activists.
Since the movie is about liberty and has elements of a modern musical, I feel like comparing it with "Across the Universe" (2007). In this comparison, "Stilyagi" is more dynamic and psychological, while actors' voices are just as good. The main duo of Anton Shagin and Oksana Akinshina, who are playing a Komsomol activist Mels in love with a female stilyagi member Polza, are delivering excellent performance, which is especially striking given their young ages. (It is ironic that Mels is an acronym for "Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin," and "Polza" in translation from Russian means "use.") A scene of a Komsomol meeting is truly memorable and in my view is a masterpiece. The music is mostly modern Russian pop and alternative rock, with lyrics adapted to the plot. The ending, which makes a connection between liberty ideals of stilyagi and modern youth, sounds like a bold statement in the nation that is still re-thinking its past.
35 of 44 people found this review helpful.
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