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Essential Cinema



January 2 - February 20, 2014
Thursday Nights at 7:30 PM
AFS at the Marchesa (6226 Middle Fiskville Rd)

$8 General Admission
$5 for AFS Make and Watch members // Students with valid ID
Free admission for AFS Love and Premiere members

In the first full decade of the Communist Revolution, the Soviet Union produced some of the most innovative works of international silent cinema. The Stalinist repression which followed in the 1930s and hardened even further in the 1940s curtailed nearly all creativity and forced Socialist Realism onto Soviet screens. From the 1950s onward there were occasional moments of relative freedom, which allowed wonderful works like THE CRANES ARE FLYING. But not until the works of Andrei Tarkovsky did we dare believe that film art could still be made in Russia, if only sporadically. Even Tarkovsky left the country to make his two final films. Sadly he died in 1986, just a handful of years before the Iron Curtain rusted away into the ashbin of history. Now we can see what cultural freedom allows Russian filmmakers to do.

Among the eight films chosen for this post-Soviet Russian film series are six by three distinctive directors who have already made their mark in international film festivals. Karen Shakhnazarov, Andrei Zvyagintsev, and the highly praised Aleksandr Sokurov inevitably explore different eras of their country’s history and try out different cinematic styles. In his two films in this series Shakhnazarov looks at rebellious, rhythmic youths of 1973 and bomb-tossing anarchists of the early 20th century. Zvyagintsev shows us relations between two brothers and their estranged gangster father and then explores the avarice of older children lining up for their inheritance. Sokurov, as mystical and mysterious as Tarkovsky, takes us into an almost impressionistic landscape in the Russian countryside as the love of a son for his mother obliterates all of Freud’s paranoia about Oedipus. Then in quite another landscape, one found in paintings, Sokurov travels through Russian history by gliding through the rooms of one of the world’s premier museums. Another important Russian director, Aleksey Balabanov, is represented here by his young-gangster film, full of action and moral decisions made by pulling a trigger. Unfortunately Balabanov died in 2013 at the age of 54. Finally, deciding that this series would be incomplete without a Russian musical, I’ve added an award-winning film which has lots of singing, dancing, and bright colors in an eye-popping 1955 setting, which I bet Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev would have accepted as a consolation prize for being turned away from Disneyland in 1959.

– Chale Nafus, Director of Programming, Austin Film Society 

VANISHED EMPIRE (Ischeznuvshaya imperiya)

Thursday, January 2, 7:30 PM


In Moscow in 1973, college students wanting decadent rock ‘n’ roll LPs and pot had to go to underground sources, but finding willing sexual partners was not so difficult, if they didn’t mind the cold. More Info & Tickets>>

THE RIDER NAMED DEATH (Vsadnik po imeni Smert)

Thursday, January 9, 7:30 PM 


Before the toppling of the Czar in 1917, a small group of revolutionary terrorists dedicated themselves to assassinating government ministers and creating fear among the ruling class. More Info & Tickets>>

THE RETURN (Vozvrashchenie)

Thursday, January 16, 7:30 PM


What should be a happy outing with a long-absent father causes two young brothers to learn too much about life and death. More Info & Tickets>>



Thursday, January 23, 7:30 PM

Fresh out of the army, a young man discovers a talent for making money by killing for the mob, but his easy amorality becomes a liability. More Info & Tickets>>


Thursday, January 30, 7:30 PM


When a nurse marries a wealthy patient, her life seems to be set, but then their children from previous marriages begin jockeying for a place at the money table pending the old man’s death. More Info & Tickets>>


HIPSTERS (Stilyagi)

Thursday, February 6, 7:30 PM


1955 Moscow: an underground hotbed of forbidden American jazz and swing dance moves wedded to 50s pompadours and outlandish fashions. Soon even devout Commies are practicing dance steps in this fresh Russian musical. More Info & Tickets>>


MOTHER AND SON (Mat i syn)

Thursday, February 13, 7:30 PM


A simple but stunningly filmed portrait of a young man caring for his dying mother who loves to enjoy the beauty of natural locations near her home. More Info & Tickets>>

RUSSIAN ARK (Russkiy kovcheg)

Thursday, February 20, 7:30 PM

In Sokurov’s cinematic tour de force, the opulent artistic riches of Russia are explored through the eyes and thoughts of an unknown narrator as he strolls through the rooms of the Hermitage museum back through earlier epochs. More Info & Tickets>>