When you learn a language, it is important to listen to native speakers as much as you can to get the feel of its general dynamics, pronunciation and natural ways of expression. In certain cases, watching a film in the comfort of your home can be much more efficient than the “immersion in the environment” (such as traveling to the country of interest), especially at the first stages of language learning. You can pause and watch again the scenes and dialogues you did not understand the first time, and the subtitles make it easier to learn most of new words on-the-go, without the need to search for translations in a vocabulary.
Soviet film heritage might be of a particular interest for those who study Russian language. Foreigners are often curious about the Soviet era but usually know very little about the lifestyle of people back then. Although dialogues in Soviet motion pictures include lots of jokes and references that are sometimes difficult to understand if you (or your parents) have not grown in USSR, nonetheless there are many films that can provide a decently accurate picture of a soviet lifestyle through an easily comprehensible plot with simple dialogues.
Mosfilm is one of the oldest and the biggest film studios in Europe. With its large facility complex, it can perform the full cycle of film production. Even though nowadays there are not so many films produced entirely by Mosfilm, the studio’s facilities are actively rented by private production companies for their needs. At the Mosfilm’s museum you can find a unique collection of vintage cars and military vehicles that are still fully functional and can be used for shootings. Here is a short reportage of the Russia Today about the history of Mosfilm:
Several years ago, Mosfilm has published a wide collection of old Soviet films which are now available for free. You can find its Youtube channel here.
Founded in 1918 and located in the very center of St. Petersburg, Lenfilm Studios is the oldest Russian film production company. More than 1500 films were produced here, including Soviet golden classics such as “Chapaev”, famous Shakespeare adaptations and legendary “Cinderella”. Today OAO “Kinostudiya Lenfilm” is a corporation with its shares distributed between private owners and several private film studios operating on the premises. Like Mosfilm, Lenfilm has its own YouTube channel where you can find many films in free access with subtitles.
We have made our own selection of films produced by both studios that worth to be watched if you learn Russian language.
What to watch
If you have an intermediate level of Russian, these films should be relatively easy for you to watch. The stories evolve around daily situations and the dialogues do not have a complex language.
The film is set in Moscow in 1958 and 1979. The plot centers on the life stories of three young women: Katerina, Lyudmila, and Antonina, who move to Moscow from province towns and start out their adult lives. This film received many international and Soviet acclaims, including the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1981. It is believed that U.S. President Ronald Reagan watched the film several times before his meetings with Mikhail Gorbachev, the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in order to gain a better understanding of the “Russian soul”.
Also known as “Ivan VasiIievich Changes Professions”, this film is a Soviet science fiction comedy directed by Leonid Gaidai. A scientist builds a time machine that accidentally brings Ivan the Terrible to the year 1973 and sends two ordinary Russians back to the 16th century. This film is based on the play Ivan Vasilievich by Mikhail Bulgakov and it was one of the most attended films in the Soviet Union in 1973 with more than 60 million tickets sold. The original play was written by Bulgakov in 1935 and, therefore, used a setting typical to the 1930s. The film, released in 1973, made changes to the setting to make it contemporary.
A Soviet comedy film directed by Aleksey Korenev. It is a story of an ordinary family that goes through various conflicts resulting from misunderstanding between generations. The film focuses on the problematic relationships of children and parents living together under the same roof and on the struggles an ordinary Soviet citizen had to face in order to change the apartment and find an own place to live (the real estate market did not practically exist in USSR with planned economy). Featuring scenes shot in various apartments of the protagonists, this film illustrates perfectly a daily life of an ordinary family.
Upper Intermediate/Advanced level
If your level of listening is upper intermediate or advanced, you may find interesting the selection of films below. In order to be understood, some of them require an extra knowledge of historical background of USSR, while others feature some dialogues in dialects or just use quite a complex language.
A Soviet television film directed by Vladimir Bortko. It is based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel Heart Of A Dog , a story that is generally considered to be an allegory of the changes in society after the Communist revolution and “the revolution’s misguided attempt to radically transform mankind”. This screen version of Bulgakov’s novel is famous for its attention to the original text. The film focuses on a story of a professor and a stray dog Sharik which starts to turn into a man (representing an incarnation of the New Soviet man) after he gets some human organs implanted as a result of a scientific experiment.
It is a 1984 Soviet romantic comedy film by Vladimir Menshov, the director of Moscow Doesn’t Believe In Tears that mentioned earlier. Vasily Kuzyakin is a simple man from the countryside who lives with his wife Nadezhda and three children and is passionate about breeding pigeons. He works as an employee of the forestry enterprise and one day is injured at work and gets a ticket to a resort as a compensation for the health damage. While staying there, Vasily, a simple man from country-side, meets a corrupted city woman who lures him away. Eventually, Vasiliy starts missing his family and decides to return to his native village, where his wife and children miss him too.
ПРИКЛЮЧЕНИЯ ШЕРЛОКА ХОЛМСА И ДОКТОРА ВАТСОНА / ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES AND DOCTOR WATSON (1979-1986)
It is series of film adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories directed by Igor Maslennikov. It has more than ten episodes which were released between 1979 and 1986. Some scenes in the films were altered to satisfy the censorship requirements or to make the plot line easier to understand for Soviet viewers. For example, in the adaptation of A Study in Scarlet, Holmes never mentions that he uses cocaine since drug use was banned on Soviet television and in films. Nonetheless, British critics have pointed out that the creators of the series have treated the original source with due care and respect and have successfully recreated the atmosphere of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works. In 2006, Vasily Livanov, the actor who played the main role in the series, became an Honorary MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.
The film plot evolves around Yuriy Detochkin, a humble Soviet insurance agent. Detochkin applies great resourcefulness and exceptional driving skill to stealing cars from corrupt Soviet officials in a Robin Hood way: Detochkin sells the stolen cars and anonymously transfers the money to the accounts of various orphanages. Detective Maxim Podberyozovikov investigates his crimes and tries to prosecute him, but faces a serious moral problem in doing that, partly because the suspect appears to be his drama class mate and good friend.