Russian Hipsters

The Russian Club hosted a Russian film showing Tuesday, March 6 in Kaufman Hall with small attendance but a great feature film. Stilyagi, the word for Hipsters in Russian, was released in 2008 and is a funny musical drama, sort of the equivalent of a “Russian Hairspray.” The setting is 1950s Moscow in an era of Soviet repression, a time in which the young, main characters of the film, boldly dressing teenagers, struggled to publicly express themselves as they wanted. The score features many hits from 1980s and 1990s Russian rock bands. The film was well received and has even been remade into a concert that has toured Europe.

The movie opens with a young Communist group, known as Komsomol, raiding a club of partying Stilyagi and cutting up their brightly-colored skirts and ties. To the Komsomol, the Stilyagi are considered “enemies of society,” since they stray from the orderly, drab, and predictable styles and behavior. The main Stilyaga girl, Polly, lures away a Komsomol guy, Mels, to push him into a pond, then promptly invite him to hang with her raucous group. Mels is convinced he is love and decides to change himself into a Stilyaga so that she will love him in return. He finds a textile dealer that secretly makes hipster clothing to update his wardrobe, gels up his hair, and makes a pair of platform shoes. His change makes his brother angry while those in his apartment complex speechlessly ignore him or shout at him that they don’t want to be seen with such a character.

Mels finds Bob, another Stilyaga, cornering him and pressuring Bob to teach him to dance properly. Wary that it’s a trap, Bob finally shows him the boogie, until Bob’s parents come home and scold Bob for associating with someone that could be tricking him. Mels is finding his way into the crowd and dances that night at a VIP rock and roll concert.  After several embarrassments with trying to talk with Polly, and a clash with his old group of friends, astonished at his betrayal, he is advised to take up saxophone to impress his love. This earns him his first real kiss from Polly.

The leader of the Stilyagi, who is leaving to work in the USA, gives new leadership to Mels. Mels accepts this position and gives up membership of the Komsomol by officially resigning his badge. Mels’ attention grows, but the Stilyagi realize that as they are growing up, they need to conform somewhat in order to be successful in society. Polly admits that she has become pregnant from a one-night stand with an African American, but Mels is hopeful that he can raise the child as his own. The Stilyagi settle down and act less rambunctiously and the new baby, John, is accepted into the family. The Stilyagi all move on with their own lives, but still uphold Stilyagi values of self-expression and fun. The final song brings back memories of other Soviet nonconformist subcultures, such as punks and rockers, but says that it is important to stand up for personal values.

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