It’s no secret that when you’re bored of textbooks and grammar exercises, it’s high time to close your weighty volumes and switch on the TV to watch some Russian films--and to master your Russian.
If your Russian level is a bit higher than that of a beginner, then find your favourite Hollywood film, which you already know almost by heart, and watch it in Russian with subtitles. However, if you feel confident enough to get familiar with original Russian films, then you may choose something from the list below.
Don’t expect that you’ll understand every word, but pictures and mimicry will help you grasp the gist. Moreover, watching original films immerses you into the cultural reality and opens up Russian homes and hearts to you. How else, especially when living abroad, could you experience that? So, get comfortable, and prepare for a good evening!
To understand Russian culture, start with Soviet films which have become integral in Russian society. Most Russians know these films by heart and are proud of them. Funny and sweet, serious and confabulated, they lift the veil from a phenomenon named “the Russian". Marvellous soundtracks are a worthy supplement in these classics.
Андрей Рублёв Andrei Rublev
Андрей Рублёв dramatizes The Rus of the XV century, the Princes’ internecine quarrels, the Tatar raids, famines and pestilences. And, in such a period there appears a great icon-painter -- Andrei Rublev. This film is for lovers of Russian history and art.
В бой идут одни «старики» Only Old Men Are Going to Battle
This is probably one of the most famous and touching Soviet films about World War II fighter pilots. Here, "old men" means experienced people. However, it was young boys who sang, flew, loved and died. There are black and white, and color versions.
Летят журавли The Cranes Are Flying
This one is a black and white Soviet film which won the Golden Palm award in 1958. It is an emotional movie telling a tragic story about a couple separated forever by the war (1941-1945).
Вам и не снилось… Love and Lies
This movie tells about the first love of two schoolchildren -- and the other people around who know nothing about love; it’s one of the top 10 Soviet love stories.
Москва слезам не верит Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears
They say that in 1985, before meeting Gorbachev for the first time, Ronald Reagan had watched this film no less than eight times in order to understand the "mysterious Russian soul". The film tells about three girls who start paving their way from a Moscow dormitory apartment at the end of 1950s. In 20 years, one of them becomes a successful “iron lady” and falls in love with a mechanic. Two other women’s lives have also developed according to their character traits and expectations of a great lottery named Moscow. Some famous expressions from the film are:
Все в Москву лезут, будто она резиновая.
Everybody strives to live in Moscow as if it were elastic.
Полюбить--так королеву, проиграть--так миллион!
If to love--then to love a queen, if to lose--then to lose a million.
Не учите меня жить, лучше помогите материально!
Don’t teach me how to live, better help me financially.
Ирония судьбы, или С лёгким паром! The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!
Служебный роман Office Romance
These are two legendary Soviet films which people know almost by heart, but still watch them; the former for the New Year’s celebration, the latter for the 8th of March, or for just when you are blue. This is sweet Soviet reality, masterly pictured, with wonderful soundtracks.
Война и мир War And Peace
An epic film with the stars of Soviet cinematography. Take heart and watch this six-hour screen version of the famous novel by Leo Tolstoy, which received the Golden Globe Award and The Oscar.
Белый Бим Чёрное Ухо White Bim Black Ear
The film is a “word to little people who will become adults and to adults who have not forgotten that [once] they were children,” as the author of the like-named book once said. It is a poignant drama of a setter (dog) who became homeless and hopeless because of his owner’s illness. It’s a definite must-see.
If you like old comedies, then the films by Leonid Gaidai are for you:
Операция «Ы» и другие приключения Шурика (Operation Y and Shurik's Other Adventures), Кавказская пленница (Kidnapping, Caucasian Style), Иван Васильевич меняет профессию (Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession)
Остров The Island
This is a story of a spiritual search and a choice--another way to comprehend a soul, and not only a Russian one.
Lay people have to decide whether a teenager who killed his stepfather, a Russian officer in Chechnya, is guilty. Eleven people and the evidence are against the boy but the twelfth person does not see the situation so clearly. The slogan of the film is “For everybody and about everyone.”
Адмиралъ The Admiral
This is an epic life and love story of the white admiral Kolchak on the verge of the Civil War in Russia in 1917.
Рождённые в СССР: 28 лет Born in the USSR: 28 years
The characters are 28 years old. They live in different countries, have different complexities and education. But, they are united by one fact in their lives: all of them were born in the USSR. They were filmed four times--at the age of seven, fourteen, twenty one and, finally, at twenty eight.
Я буду рядом I’ll be Nearby
This film is a modern drama of a Moscow woman who is terminally ill, and looks for adoptive parents for her only son.
Пара гнедых A Couple of Sorrels
Just a nice Russian melodrama with two women, a granddaughter and a grandmother. It covers two generations, has clever dialogue and shows off the beautiful Ukrainian southern nature.
О чём говорят мужчины What Men are Talking About
This is a funny comedy, casting light on men’s outlook on life.
Russian TV series is a topic for another article.
However, my personal favorites are На пути к сердцу (On the Way to the Heart) and various semi-autobiographical series, e.g. Есенин (Esenin), Идиот (The Idiot) by the like-named Dostoyevsky novel, among others.
You may also like the Russian localization of numerous international sitcoms, such as Воронины (The Voronyns) or Папины дочки (The Dad’s Girls), but note that first seasons are much better.
Modern Russian films are diverse, and the choice of the one made especially for you depends on your genre preferences and interests. That is why it is hard to recommend something particular.
If you want to choose a film to suit your taste, you can simply go to Kinopoisk.ru, where you can study reviews and top lists and find your favourite films. The website is in Russian, but the language is quite simple.
Cartoons and Animations
When your Russian level is quite high, it is time to watch cartoons. The language used in them is childish and the voices are usually high-pitched. However, despite such difficulties, Russian cartoons can help you understand Russian mentality, sometimes even more efficiently than films. What is to be recommended?
Ну, погоди! Well, Just You Wait!
This is a Soviet series of comical adventures of a wolf trying to catch a hare.
Трое из Простоквашино Three From the Buttermilk Village
A Soviet series about a teenager, a postman, a cat, a dog and a young jackdaw living in a village. Features clever dialogues and a lot of famous Russian quotations.
This is the Soviet version of the famous story.
Ёжик в тумане Hedgehog in the Fog
Amid brilliant animation, this is a very gentle story. Penned by a great script writer Sergei Kozlov (take time and read some of his stories, you’ll be surprised) and a masterful animator Yuriy Norshteyn.
Малыш и Карлсон Junior and Carlsson
A film version of the first part of a trilogy by Astrid Lindgren.
Котёнок по имени Гав A Kitten Named Gav
A Soviet series about the adventures of a kitten and his friend, the puppy.
Моя любовь My Love
The merchant’s Moscow of the XIX century. Tells the story, according to the Ivan Shmelyov’s short story, of a first love via a modern cartoon, made by using an interesting technique.