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Film / Stilyagi

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Стиляги (Stilyagi) is a 2008 Musical Dramedy by Valery Todorovsky set in 1955-1956. It was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009. Josef Stalin has been dead for two years, but Nikita Khrushchev has not yet denounced the Cult of Personality, and the Soviet Union has just begun to be liberalized. Young people are experimenting with Rock & Roll, jazz and other trademarks of American pop culture. In the secret rock clubs and cocktail lounges, they find freedom from Soviet life. But the Komsomol (Communist Youth League), acting in the role of Culture Police, is constantly hunting these youth, who are called "stilyagi," a rude term roughly translating as "hipsters" or "mods."

One evening, Komsomol are patrolling a park and find a secret dance party. They break up the party, but one of the girls, Polly (Oksana Akinshina), escapes. The Komsomol leader Katya (Eugenia Brik) orders her friend Mels (Anton Shagin) to chase Polly. He finds her, but falls in love with her, and she escapes the Komsomol punishment. Mels is captivated, and tries to find Polly. One day, he finds her on the street with her other stilyagi friends, such as Fred, Bob, Drin, Betsy, Ellie, Sophie, and Lizzie. All of them dress in colorful clothes, wear makeup, sculpt their hair in wild styles, call each other by English names, and have secret rock parties. Mels decides to join the stilyagi, and learns dancing from Bob. He manages to get rock songs, makes a colorful suit, and begins to go out with Polly, gradually having fun and becoming his own man. He even takes on the English name Mel.

Mel gets a saxophone, becoming a Sexy Sax Man under the guidance of an apparition of Charlie Parker. He and Polly deepen their relationship, and they have sex. But not everything goes well. Mel's old friends abandon him, and his neighbors tease him for being a stilyaga. Katya, who secretly likes Mel, feels conflicted. Mel goes to Katya's house and teaches her to express herself through dance and fashion. But when Katya kisses Mel, he confesses he is in love with Polly, and Katya throws him out of her house. Persuaded by his father Brusnitsyn, who is a powerful diplomat, Fred goes to America for an internship so that he himself can become a diplomat. As a final gesture, though, Brusnitsyn hosts a party in his house for the stilyagi, and reveals that he himself was a rebel in his youth.

Polly tells Mel she wants to break up with him as she is pregnant, but the baby is not his. Mel persuades her to stay as he and his father can help her raise the baby. Mel is a big hit with the stilyagi, playing the saxophone and singing, but Katya and the Komsomol find their hideout again. The next day, at a Komsomol meeting, Katya throws Mel out of the league, saying his Meaningful Rename (see below for details) signifies he is a traitor, and making all the other Komsomol members join her in a chant as Mel hands in his membership card.

Polly gives birth to a son, John, but he is black. Mel is not sure how to react, but his father takes the baby, shows it to the other people in the apartment, and says "She is ours!" Later on, Polly reveals that John's real father was a visiting black man from America who was lost. She welcomed him into her home and, since he was like a creature from another planet, they could not really talk, and instead had sex. Mel and Polly stay together, though, and their stilyagi friends come to visit them. Bob becomes an authority on the purchase of American records, Drin serves on a submarine, and Betsy has a nervous breakdown and is expelled from Moscow.

At the end, Fred returns from America with three things. The first is a saxophone for Mel. The second is a marriage to the homely daughter of an American academician. The third is terrible news—there are no stilyagi in America!

Songs heard in the film

  • Буги-вуги (в оригинале — «Жёлтые ботинки», инструментал, Евгений Хавтан и группа «Браво»)
  • Человек и кошка (Фёдор Чистяков и группа «Ноль», оставлен оригинальный текст), исполняет Сергей Гармаш
  • Я то, что надо (Дай мне эту ночь) (Валерий Сюткин и группа «Браво»), исполняет Андрей Бирин
  • Я люблю буги-вуги (Майк Науменко и группа «Зоопарк»), оригинал — Марк Болан и группа T. Rex, исполняет Игорь Войнаровский
  • Playboy (Моя маленькая бейба) (Гарик Сукачёв и «Бригада С»), исполняет Константин Пона
  • Песня старого джазмена (в оригинале — «Старый корабль», Андрей Макаревич и группа «Машина времени»), исполняет Алексей Горбунов
  • Summertime (инструментал, George Gershwin), исполняет Charlie Parker (запись), Игорь Чернов
  • 17 лет (Пусть всё будет так, как ты захочешь) (Владимир Шахрин и группа «Чайф»), исполняет Константин Пона
  • Восьмиклассница (Viktor Tsoi), performed by Andrei Birin and Oksana Akinshina
  • Ему не нужна американская жена (группа «Колибри»), исполняют Наталья Гура, Алёна Романовская, Татьяна Решетняк, Эльвира Соловей, на ремикс был снят клип группы «ВИА Гра»
  • Скованные одной цепью (Вячеслав Бутусов и группа Nautilus Pompilius, оригинальный текст — Илья Кормильцев), исполняет Евгения Брик
  • Шаляй-валяй (Владимир Шахрин и группа «Чайф», сохранён оригинальный текст и дописан куплет), исполняет Андрей Бирин
  • До свидания, мама (группа «Моральный кодекс», в фильм не вошла) — исполняет Ани Лорак
  • Московские огни (Будь со мной) (Жанна Агузарова и группа «Браво», сохранён оригинальный текст, в фильм не вошла; мелодия в ритме вальса звучит на танцах в парке, в самом начале фильма)

Tropes in the film

  • An Aesop: It's not important what the style is. What matters is that the style exists.
  • Era Establishing Scene: The beginning, which tells us "Moscow, the year 1955."
  • Femme Fatale: Polly starts off as one.
  • The '50s: A rather balanced view of the Fifties in Soviet Russia, as a time of both post-war depression, political pressure and paranoia - and a longing for a bright and flashy life.
  • From Bad to Worse: Subverted, surprisingly. Late in the movie, many bad things happen, but most of the time the characters manage to shrug it off and continue having fun, until the final scenes.
  • Gainax Ending: The movie ends with a parade of different subcultures on the Red Square.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Fred marries a red-haired American girl.
  • Hitler Cam: Used on Katya when she expels Mel from the Komsomol.
  • Important Haircut: When Katya cuts Polly's hair, she makes her face the hard reality of the consequences of being a stilyaga.
  • Impossibly Tacky Clothes: The stilyagi think this is how they dress in America.
  • Jerkass: Polly, Fred and their friends act downright mean towards Mel at first, but become much nicer when he wins the crowd.
  • Large Ham: Sergey Garmash as Mel's father acts in its usual over-the-top style, and steals quite a few scenes.
  • Meaningful Rename: Mels is named for Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin. His change of name to Mel signifies his break with Soviet society, and presages the de-Stalinization of the country. The other stilyagi similarly take on English names to distance themselves from conventional culture.
  • Mood Whiplash: The film, sometimes jarringly, swings from a light-hearted musical to serious period drama.
  • Real Is Brown: Moscow and the Soviet authorities are depicted in a dull palette of grey, brown, black, and blue.

Alternative Title(s): Hipsters