Экипаж (Ekipazh) was released in Russia and a handful of Eastern European countries on April 21, 2016.  The film’s resemblance to Alexander Mitta’s 1969 Экипаж, which was popular in the Soviet Union, is limited to its title and the earthquakes that make its characters’ situations progressively worse. Экипаж (2016) is a modern survivalist film in which the characters struggle with love, pride, and familial bonds.

The plot revolves around a team of three pilots who attempt to save people escaping a volcanic eruption on an island in the Pacific Ocean. The film features incredible displays of humility, strength, and courage on the part of its main characters, trainee pilot Alexei Gushin, seasoned Captain Leonid Zinchenko, and cynical female pilot Alexandra Kuzmina. It begins by showing Gushin’s dismissal from his post in the army due to insubordination. Gushin returns to his father, with whom he shares a difficult relationship, and whose connections snag him an opportunity to work at a successful Russian airline. Gushin is admitted as a trainee after failing an incredibly difficult landing simulation, which Captain Zinchenko himself could not successfully finish.

Gushin and his fellow pilots value doing what is right and moral. The main plotline of the film begins when one of their flights is rerouted to provide assistance to victims of a volcano eruption and the team goes above and beyond the call of duty. Among burning lava and ash, Gushin, Zinchenko, and Alexandra (along with the stewards and civilians) come together to save everyone they can. Gushin and Zinchenko’s failed landing simulation comes to life as they struggle to fly planes out of a burning landing strip. The survivalist elements of the film are gripping and, at times, hard to watch, as the characters are pushed to inconceivable limits. After many mid-air obstacles and struggles, the characters’ mission succeeds, and Экипаж ends happily.

Throughout the film, the audience sees Gushin and Zinchenko’s very different lives – we watch Gushin fall in love with his fellow pilot Alexandra, while Zinchenko tries to maintain his marriage and keep his rowdy son under control. Though the film is fairly serious, lighthearted humor in the interactions among way that stewards, pilots, and management interact adds color to the movie.

Экипаж was directed by Nikolay Lebedev and stars Vladimir Mashkov as Captain Zinchenko, Agne Grudyte as Alexandra Kuzima, and Danila Kozlovsky — well known in the movie world, most recently from his role as Yuriy Stoleshnikov in  The Trainer, which he also directedas Alexei Gushin.  (Soccer fans may also recognize Kozlovsky from his recent cultural diplomacy activities; he posted to Instagram about his attendance at many of the FIFA World Cup games held in Russia this year.) In Экипаж , he is caring and gallant as Gushin; his performance radiates calm and confidence, especially when disaster strikes.

The film’s cinematography is one of its strongest points; the harrowing scenes of disaster on the island and aboard the planes add to the thrill expected of a survival film. The film also succeeds in its depictions of the difficulty of relationships. Some examples include Gushin’s strained relationship with his father, Captain Zinchenko’s relationship with his son, the tension between Gushin and Zinchenko upon Gushin’s arrival, and the love interest between Gushin and Kuzmina. The film, which balances human strife and humor, reminds us (as all good survival films do) that shared humanity brings people together during their most difficult times. This universal message, that struggles are best shared, sticks with the audience.

The film was produced by Three T Productions and the All-Russia State Television and Broadcasting Company (VGTRK). It was a popular and box office success, with an intake of 27.31 million USD and a 10 million USD budget. It was the top-grossing Russian film of 2016 and received 6.9 stars out of ten on Rotten Tomatoes. Экипаж is the second Russian movie to be released in IMAX since 2013’s Stalingrad.

Watch the full movie on YouTube here.

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Lucine Poturyan is an Armenian-American student double-majoring in Government and Russian, East European, Eurasian Studies (REES) at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. She is currently studying the role of cultural diplomacy in international politics through SRAS’s Cuba-Russia Connection program. Writing about Russian and East European culture helps her sharpen her multicultural communication skills and gain the background and open-mindedness that will be fundamental to her future international law career.