Some of you may know that the venerable Russian studio Mosfilm recently dumped a bonanza of Soviet-era films, many of which have rarely been seen in the West, onto YouTube: a fantastic service to lovers of world cinema, right? The only catch is that they listed all the titles and descriptions in Russian, with no indication of which movies are subtitled in English (many are). To make matters even worse, a few of the movie titles have been translated into English, but these seem to have been done at random: there’s no relationship between whether the title has been rendered in English and whether the dialogue has.
Thanks to Russian translator and “friend-of-366” Irene Goncharova, who previously gave us the lowdown on Russian cult director Rustam Khamdamov, we’re able to provide you at least with some titles, guidelines and recommendations on exploring the musty archives of Soviet films—there are some real treasures hidden there. Irene painstakingly figured out which movies were subtitled in English and provided us with the translated titles and matching links, with some commentary of her own (her comments are marked “IG”). We’ve included IMDB links for more information on the films along with a direct link to the full free movie on YouTube.
UPDATE 6/27: I discovered that more films are subtitled than we originally thought (Irene estimates more than 280!) Although some of the Mosfilm movies have “hard” subtitles (on the image itself), there are additional movies that offer translations via “closed captioning.” Look for a little “CC” button in the bottom right area of the YouTube player; if you see this button and push it (it’s not available on all videos), you get a “pop-up” English translation. The button will turn red when the service is active. You learn something new every day!
If you have any additions or information, leave them in the comments and we’ll incorporate them into the guide.
Let’s begin with the giant of Russian weird films, the only name here known known to Westerners: Andrei Tarkovsky (whose films Nostalghia and Stalker already grace the List of 366). Several of the Tarkovsky pictures Mosfilm put up on YouTube (Andrei Rublev and Solaris) have already been taken down (we suspect at the request of the Criterion Collection). The Mirror (1975), which tells a man’s life in a series of disconnected flashbacks, dreams and historical re-enactments, remains available.
FILMS OF WEIRD INTEREST
Assassin of the Tsar (1991, d. Karen Shakhnazarov) – Assassin was a co-production between Mosfilm and a British studio. It stars Malcolm McDowell as a patient in an insane asylum who believes that he assassinated the Tsar in 1918. McDowell spoke Russian for the production and later dubbed himself into English, which can be disconcerting. [IMDB Entry] [Watch on YouTube]
Viy (1967, d. Georgi Kropachyov & Konstantin Yershov) – Read our review. Virtually the only Soviet horror movie, from a Nicolai Gogol story, with a witch flying on a coffin and a horde of demons at the end. An excellent film.
Zero Town (1990, d. Karen Shakhnazarov) – An engineer is sent to a small provincial town where everyone seems to be crazy, even the nude secretary. This looks pretty weird. “Staring Leonid Filatov, a very good actor.”-IG. [IMDB Entry] [Watch on YouTube]
Alexander Nevsky (1938, d. Sergei Eisenstein) – Prince Nevsky turns back the invading Teutonic knights in this epic war classic. Closed captioned (push the “CC” button for English translation). [IMDB Entry] [Watch on YouTube]
The Battleship Potemkin (1925, d. Sergei Eisenstein) – A classic of world cinema; other movies quote from Odessa steps massacre scene all the time. Closed captioned (push the “CC” button for English translation). [IMDB Entry] [Watch on YouTube]
Ivan Vasilievich Changes Occupations [AKA Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future] (1973, Leonid Gaidai) – Popular Soviet time travel comedy that involves an apartment manager swicthing places with Ivan the Terrible. Closed captioned (push the “CC” button for English translation). [IMDB Entry] [Watch on YouTube]
Poisons, or the World History of Poisoning (2001, d. Karen Shakhnazarov) – Comedy (?) about the title subject, with re-enactments of historical poisonings by the Borgias and others. [IMDB Entry] [Watch on YouTube]
Ruslan and Ludmilla (1976, d. Aleksandr Ptushko) – “A Fairy Tale after a poem by Alexander Pushkin.”–IG. Special effects are dated by the sets and costumes are colorful. [IMDB Entry] [Watch Part 1 on YouTube] [Watch Part 2 on YouTube]
Sadko (1953, d. Aleksandr Ptushko) – A Russian “Sinbad” seeks the Bluebird of Happiness. You may have seen the dubbed version of this film (The Magic Voyage of Sinbad) spoofed on Mystery Science Theater 3000; here’s a chance to see at as originally intended, with the Rimsky-Korsakov classical score intact. [IMDB Entry] [Watch on YouTube]
Two Comrades Were Serving (1968, d. Yevgueny Karelov) – “A movie made to mark the 50th anniversary of the Soviets rise to power. Yet, the film is VERY GOOD! Romantic and tragic at a time with a very good cast. “-IG. [IMDB Entry] [Watch on YouTube]
The White Sun of the Desert (1970, d. Vladimir Motyl) – Set in Central Asia during the Russian Civil War, the story involves a soldier pressed into guarding a harem. “A kind of the Soviet Western. Very good cast and music. We all love it!”–IG [IMDB Entry] [Watch on YouTube]