Are there any good movies about the Cold War from the Russian viewpoint?
February 24, 2013 8:39 PM   Subscribe

I've been watching some great Cold War movies like Thirteen Days. The aesthetics are terrific and the tension spectacular. I'm wondering, though, whether there are any films that show the conflict from the Russian perspective? I would especially like to watch (or perhaps read?) accounts by true believers who felt they were defending the people from capitalist imperialism.
posted by jefficator to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
The Detached Mission?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:20 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh my god, RVP, that looks glorious.

To attempt to answer the original question...maybe.

At least in the Soviet period, a lot more fictional output was devoted to the Great Patriotic War (WWII) or to the Civil War. Especially in the border republics like Belarus or the Ukraine, the damage in WWII was a lot more relevant to everyday life than the hypothetical damage from WWIII, until well into the 1970s.

So...stuff probably exists, like that movie above I'd never heard of, but I think that the intelligent, thoughtful movies you're looking for are probably going to be unique instances rather than an entire subgenre, like you're finding in English.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 9:37 PM on February 24, 2013

The main character in Telefon is a Russian, but the movie isn't ideological the way you seem to be wanting. He's not trying to save the masses; he's trying to prevent WWIII.

That said, it's a really good movie.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:56 PM on February 24, 2013

The Lives of Others is fantastic. It's about the surveillance state in East Germany. Not Russian but inside the Iron Curtain if that counts.
posted by srboisvert at 11:02 PM on February 24, 2013

Oh my god, RVP, that looks glorious.

If you look at the Russian Wikipedia page for the movie, you'll notice a total lack of bombastic posters.

FWIW, I've seen my share of Soviet movies, and I'm struggling to come up with ones specifically about the Cold War. I think, by and large, Soviet cinema avoided the topic of the West: it was difficult or impossible to shoot abroad, many pictures got little state funding, and it was probably difficult to depict life in the West both realistically and diplomatically. By the same token, there were few Soviet action thrillers, horror films, sci-fi adventure films, and so on. Plenty of war movies, plenty of melodramas, lots of comedies, some period dramas and even cowboy westerns. Not much else.
posted by Nomyte at 11:20 PM on February 24, 2013

Completely echoing the FX tvshow The Americans - awesome
posted by floweredfish at 12:15 AM on February 25, 2013

The Soviet Cuban Missile Crisis: Castro, Mikoyan, Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Missiles of November (Amazon; Huffington Post review) is "based on secret transcripts of top-level diplomacy undertaken by the number-two Soviet leader."
posted by kirkaracha at 6:27 AM on February 25, 2013

Not precisely what you're getting at, but "Failsafe" is an amazing movie which very much respects the Russian point of view, even though we spend all of our time with the Americans (mostly the President alone in a room with a phone and a translator) -- that is, the mutual suspicion and fear of nuclear attack, and the tragedy of same, is clear on/from both sides. How to reassure the Russians of our intent without giving anything away needlessly, for example. Worth watching on its own merits, if you're into this aesthetic right now, although it's devastating . . .
posted by acm at 6:31 AM on February 25, 2013

There's a movie called K-19: The Widowmaker. Underrated, in my view, in part because it really didn't have much to add to the earlier and better submarine movie Das Boot, in part because Western audiences just couldn't get their heads around a movie in which the Soviets were the good guys. Give it a watch, though, as it's not a bad film in its own right, and the Soviets look and talk and think like real Soviets. They captured the feeling of the mid-century Soviet Navy very accurately. Also, the director went on to great success shortly thereafter, and you can see shadows of her tense, episodic, morally ambiguous style breaking through in what would otherwise be a more 'standard' Hollywood thriller than her later films.
posted by Dreadnought at 7:43 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not quite what you're looking for, but for a lead-in to the cold war, there was the television serial Seventeen Moments of Spring. Not sure how easy it would be to get a hold of, mind.
posted by BWA at 8:00 AM on February 25, 2013

It's true that the Soviet Union was obsessed with WWII for decades after the US had pretty much forgotten it, and that used up a lot of the creative effort that might have gone into a hypothetical Cold War movie, but the real question is, how would such a movie have been made? Remember that every Soviet movie was subjected to close ideological scrutiny to make sure it followed the current party line; it was hard enough making a movie about, say, medieval history (just ask the ghost of Tarkovsky), but it would have been essentially impossible to make one about current/near-future international politics. How are you going to portray Kremlin decision-making? Even if you try to show everyone as wise and all-knowing, you're bound to offend somebody with the clout to get it shut down; worse, even if it's tentatively approved today, something's bound to happen during the months of production that will render it ideologically unacceptable. And how are you going to portray the Americans? On the one hand, they're the ideological enemy; on the other, they're admittedly ahead of you in many material ways—that's why Khrushchev promised to "catch up to and surpass" them. Plus, you're aware that most Russians have a favorable impression of Americans (as opposed to their government) and wouldn't flock to a movie where they were shown as fascist-style villains, but if you humanize them you're running an even greater risk of angering the censors. No, it's much easier to make yet another movie about the heroic struggle of the Great Patriotic War.
posted by languagehat at 11:56 AM on February 25, 2013

I really enjoyed Autumn Marathon. It really brought out the dreariness of everyday Soviet life in the 1970s.
posted by orrnyereg at 3:34 PM on February 25, 2013

Dead season, Мертвый сезон (IMDB, wiki) is a pretty great, in my opinion, Soviet spy movie from 1969. The hero is played by Donatas Banionis, a Lithuanian leading man more familiar to Western audiences for playing Kris Kelvin, the main character in Tarkovsky's Solaris. Here, he is a KGB agent who, after escaping from London in the first scene, is tasked with finding a former Nazi camp doctor now working in a NATO lab in an unnamed European country developing chemical weapons.

The film is shot in gorgeous black and white, features great locations (England, GDR and Tallinn, if my memory is good) and great actors (Rolan Bykov is especially awesome as a former camp inmate and victim of the Nazi doctor, now actor in a children's theater, who helps the hero identifying the bad guy). The production, I think, was managed straight from KGB headquarters, and features a foreword by real-life spy Rudolf Abel (aka William Fisher). The pace is rather slow, the atmosphere as far from James Bond glamour as possible, but it 's a little unknown gem. The West shown is very funnily decadent (TV commercials! rifle ranges! jukeboxes!) in addition to the heavy-handed (and quite common in the Soviet propaganda) accusation of employing former Nazis... In my (maybe partial to fancy artsy movies) mind, this propaganda piece feels heartfelt, convincing (the spy hero is shown as an ordinary man rather than a superhero, and as "true believer" as you get - that's what good propaganda is all about, of course, wherever it comes from.

It is available from the producer Lenfilm on their Youtube channel (1st part, 2nd part), and for download here, but both without any subtitles... I could not find trace of any international DVD. Only Russian subtitles available here. If you don't understand Russian, maybe you'll be happy watching a mostly silent (and realistic) scene showing an exchange of spies between East and West (à la Glienicke Bridge).
posted by susuman at 8:21 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

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