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And drove to the Summer Garden

Frenchman (2019)
drama
Director: Andrey Smirnov
Cast: Anton Rival, Evgenia Obraztsova, Alexander Baluev, Evgeny Tkachuk, Mikhail Efremov
Premiere: October 31, 2019
In 1957, Pierre Duran, a French student with Russian roots (Anton Rival), flew to Soviet Moscow for an annual internship at Moscow State University. Pierre has two tasks in the USSR – to collect information for his report on Russian ballet and a more personal motive, to establish the fate of his father, white officer Alexei Tatishchev (Alexander Baluev), whose trace was lost in the camps of the 1930s. The acquaintances with whom Pierre acquires in Moscow (among them Prima Bolshoi (Yevgeny Obraztsova) and VGIK student Valera (Yevgeny Tkachuk)), become for him guides to a mentality alien to himself and a society full of mysteries, living by other laws.

Shot from the movie “Frenchman”
78-year-old Andrei Smirnov always looked out of the ordinary in a local cinema as an outstanding figure. Having removed only five full-length films (“The Frenchman” the sixth) during his career, Smirnov managed to make tapes that instantly received the status of a classic (“Belorussky Vokzal” as a study of post-war injuries of veterans), and films about which the nomenclature pretended to be does not exist (“Autumn” with its unusually disrespectful attitude to the cell of society for Soviet cinema).

Shot from the movie “Frenchman”
Therefore, as a director, he is very comfortable feeling in the role of an outsider, and he well understands the benefits that a distant look at our reality brings. And the black and white retrodrama about the early years of the Khrushchev thaw (Stalin died just a few years ago) refracts the laws of this cozy genre, throwing hooks into the present and even into the inevitable near future. And in some places it looks like a fantasy at all, where a lone hero painstakingly examines the inhospitable red planet with a look for signs of life on it.

Shot from the movie “Frenchman”
In fact, Smirnov, of course, is well acquainted with the subject of the story and is happy to saturate it with mouth-watering details and nuances. In addition to the nightly vigil obligatory for the genre, the radio station in search of enemy voices of freedom will also have a trip to Lianozovo to get acquainted with unofficial art, huddled in barracks near Moscow. There will be underground jazz concerts in clubs, and home parties with dancing and drinking. In these scenes they will show not only the places where life has been and continues to boil in our area (dead bodies and corridors of power and organs will fall into their antithesis to them). Here, in a natural habitat, a homo sovietkus torn by deep internal contradictions will be shown: ready to clumsily praise the Three Musketeers as a favorite book of Soviet youth, and then scribble denunciation to foreigners in the KGB.

Shot from the movie “Frenchman”
Of course, almost completely conversational monochrome drama is not the easiest test for the modern viewer, who is completely unprepared for any trials. But Smirnov, if possible, dilutes it with references to paintings of the new wave and the thaw movie. He also enlisted the masterful acting work of both the new (Tkachuk) and the older (Baluev, Efremov) generations, and he himself enters the frame – which he has been doing regularly lately.

The film has real historical roots – in the fifties a delegation of French Slavists came to Moscow State University, including Georges Niva, who translated Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Bely, had an affair with the daughter of his wife Pasternak and was awarded a poem by Bulat Okudzhava. The Frenchman is dedicated to the dissident Alexander Ginzburg, and his comrade-in-arms Vera Lashkova played a small role in it. Smirnov seems to have no desire to determine the fate of an entire ethnic group, as in his previous, much more epic and not so successful painting, “Once upon a time there was a woman.” But thanks to its focus, integrity and confidence, the “Frenchman” becomes such a reminder to himself (as well as to those who have already forgotten, and to those who never knew), what an amazing feeling this is, when the frost weakens, the temperature drops and the air becomes softer.

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