20 Essential Films For An Introduction To Soviet Cinema

7. Earth (Alexander Dovzhenko, 1930)


Earth is a political film. It’s about Stalin’s idea of the collectivization in Ukraine, which means that individual farms had to be labored into collective ones. And as we know, farming was the only way for one to feed your family if you weren’t into politics back then. Dovzhenko filmed Earth when collectivization was the hottest topic in the 1930s Ukraine, so it spanned a lot of controversy in the USSR.

Some criticized it for delivering the wrong political message, some criticized it for being philosophical instead of political. While the truth is this: Earth is a true film, with true intentions and true representation of Ukraine and the hard times these people had to face during Stalin’s rule.


6. Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)

Man with a Movie Camera

No storyline, no plot, just a man with a movie camera. This is more of an experiment than a film. Slow motion, fast motion, double exposure, tracking shots, people, strangers, buildings, a cameraman in a beer glass. Vertov tries everything. He tries to show the viewer the character of the industrial, socialistic cities of Odessa, Kharkiv and Kiev. He shows people working with machinery, playing, getting dressed, giving birth.

No actors, no script. Just the natural state of everything that was so unnatural back in the 1925 Ukraine. The Russian avant-garde is presented immensely in this film, with the industrialism and modernism. This film is so perfectly artistic, that paying attention to its every shot and theme will make your mind spin out of control.


5. The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath! (Eldar Ryazanov, 1975)

The Irony of Fate

A great comedy by Ryazanov. If you mention the Irony of Fate in any post-Soviet country, you will instantly have applause and criticism coming at you. This is the film every generation will seen in New Year’s Eve, and every generation waits for it every year on Christmas. This screwball comedy tells the story of Zhenya and Nadya, who meet under strange circumstances.

The film makes a joke about the similar apartments and buildings of the Soviet Union. What happens is that Zhenya gets drunk in a bath with friends and passes out. They mistakingly take him to the airport instead of another passed-out friend, and Zhenya wakes up in Leningrad, instead of Moscow. He takes the cab “home”.

As it turns out, there is a house with a similar alignement, similar lock, similar furniture, on the street named exactly like Zhenya’s street in Moscow. So Zhenya thinks he’s home. But as it turns out, he sneaks into the house of Nadya, who has a fiancee – Ippolit.

So this is where the comedy starts. Ringing phones, bells, New Year’s Eve songs, drinks, Ippolit’s misunderstanding and repeated returns, Nadya’s dislike of Zhenya, Zhenya leaving, then coming back. It all happens fast. Guess who end up together in the end.


4. Office Romance (Eldar Ryazanov, 1977)

Office Romance

Office Romance is a film that is so out of date, that this fact makes it funnier to watch. The name pretty much says it all – Ludmila is strict, head-strong and unmarried. Anatoly is clumsy, slobby, and a single father of two. Anatoly also works for Ludmila. Somehow, these two fall in love, but Ludmila is afraid.

She tries to hide her confidence problems behind her cold and strict persona, but eventually, everyone learns about their affair, so it becomes a bigger mess. Women try to make Ludmila believe in herself, while men try to make a real gentlemen from Anatoly.

As a result, we get a very funny story with each character comical in their own, special way. This film is just so simple, so honest, that there is nothing more to say about it, just watch it.


3. Blue Mountains, or Unbeliavable Story (Eldar Shengelaia, 1983)

Blue Mountains, or Unbelievable Story

Blue Mountains is one of the most celebrated Georgian films of all time. The most amazing thing about Soviet Georgian films, was that they never tried to prove anything. They were just there, and they are wonderful. Blue Mountains is one of the comedy films that you end up crying about, because it tells you the truth, and the truth is harsh.

The truth of Blue Mountains is this – bureaucrats don’t do anything, at all. Blue Mountains is a funny but also sad story about a young author who enters the bureaucratic world of Soviet Georgia to get his book published, and every time he gets back to the company to hear the progress of his book, he gets neglected.

Everybody tells him they have read it and it was amazing, and then everybody gets back to their own business, never minds the man or bothers to publish his novel. All this pretty much shows the harsh truth of Georgia even today – People say they care, they work, they do their job, but the truth is, they care only about themselves.


2. Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925)

The Battleship Potemkin

Battleship Potemkin’s crew members rebel against the officers of the Tsarist regime. there is blood, there is fight, there is mutiny, and there is some bad-ass editing. The film is divided into five acts, which show the progression of the fight. This is a great film. This is a propaganda film. This film is revolutionary in every way. The Odessa steps sequence, the use of violence – all of this was extremely shocking at that time.

Eisenstein tried hard to make this film into something nobody had ever seen, and he managed to do it through his revolutionary ways of editing and his fearless use of politics and propaganda. This film is, to this day, one of the most influential films of all time and it’s amazing how Potemkin managed to reach such heights in such dark times.


1. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)


Stalker is like a rollercoaster ride through the mind of a person with wishes and desires. Trying to explain this film is like trying to explain how the world was created. Simply put, the film is about a man, Stalker, whose job is to lead people through the military-protected “Zone”.

In The Zone, there is a place called “The Room”, where people’s wishes come true, but not the conscious. Which is why the Zone is also dangerous – the humans themselves have no idea what they want, and sometimes our wishes are very twisted and evil.

The first thing that comes to our mind when mentioning Stalker is the colors and atmosphere: the sepia of the industrial, ruined town, and the colors of the beautiful Zone. The set designs and lighting are very ethereal and unnatural. It’s like a sepia colored acid trip. The plot revolves around Stalker and his “clients” – Writer and Professor, each of them has their own reason to enter the Zone, and each of them reach their own conclusions about the place.

Stalker is one of those films which are open to any kind of interpretation, since it deals with themes like poverty, faith, supernatural, fantasy, human nature and so on. This is a definite must-see and the last two minutes will leave you feeling totally drained and shocked and the same time. Some people expect Stalker to be an action-packed mystery-thriller kind of film, but it is not. It moves slowly and has shots last for minutes and leaves us speechless.

Author Bio: Salome Khazaradze began studying production design in the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts in 2012. She also likes to write and hopes to make her own film or write a novel someday.