'Hipsters': Dig this dazzling Russian musical
A movie review of "Hipsters," a dazzling, energetic Russian musical that offers an explosion of eye-and-ear candy (not for kids due to sexual content) for anyone else who digs a crazy jazz beat that sets your spirit free.
Special to The Seattle Times
'Hipsters,' with Anton Shagin, Oksana Akinshina, Evgeniya Brik, Maksim Matveev. Directed by Valery Todorovsky, from a screenplay by Todorovsky and Yuriy Korotkov. 125 minutes. Not rated; contains brief nudity, sexuality, some language. In Russian, with English subtitles. Egyptian.
Returning to the Egyptian after well- received showings at 2010's Seattle International Film Festival, the exuberant Russian musical "Hipsters" is a perfect holiday bauble: bright, colorful, full of cheer and uplifting music. It's shiny and delicate, like a Christmas-tree ornament, but it's got just enough substance to balance out the frolic and fortitude of defiant youth in Moscow circa 1955.
They're like any other kids between 16 and legal-age adulthood: desperate to find their identity as hipsters or squares, and not always happy with how they've been sorted. They fill clandestine clubs like the Pompadour, where liberated girls in dazzling dresses and horny guys with mile-high pompadours strut their stuff like peacocks in rainbow-hued regalia.
Their jazzy nightlife is routinely raided by the killjoy kids who toe the Communist Party line: With their dull gray uniforms and scowling demeanor, the squares don't get it and probably never will. As they sing in their own big production number, they're happy to be "bound by the same chain, tied to the same aim."
That's why Mels (Anton Shagin) so eagerly joins the "stilyagi" (or hipster) movement: His name is an acronym for Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, and those names are a Party burden he's itching to unload. So he gravitates toward ultra-hipster Fred (Maksim Matveev) and woos the notoriously promiscuous (but not really) Polly (Oksana Akinshina), provoking his jealous friend Katya (Evgeniya Brik) to intensify her embrace of Leninist propaganda in a city where Mels' beloved saxophone is considered "a concealed weapon."
While it recalls "Footloose" (original and remake) in breaking the shackles of ideological repression, "Hipsters" has more in common with 1986's "Absolute Beginners," which applied a similar storyline to London's pop/jazz scene circa 1958.
From Charlie Parker and Miles Davis to the rumored emergence of a rocker named Elvis, Western influence is a keenly felt presence in "Hipsters," prompting equal amounts of humor and hardship. It's an inflated ideal that mid-'50s Russians can only indulge in a forbidden, underground context, and director Valery Todorovsky cleverly indicates how every generation holds bragging rights to its own unique brand of youthful defiance.
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