Stilyagi

Hipsters (Стиляги) is a 2008 musical comedy-drama directed by Valeriy Todorovskiy (Валерий Тодоровский) and starring Anton Shagin (Антон Шагин) and Oksana Akinshina (Оксана Акиншина). Hipsters was featured at the Toronto and Cleveland International Film Festivals, among others, and won Best Film at both the Golden Eagle Awards and the Nika Awards in 2009. In Russia it has become a cult film, not least because its soundtrack consists of cover songs from quintessential Russian rock bands including Kino, Nautilus Pompilius, and the Red Elvises.

Set in 1950s Moscow, Hipsters depicts the Soviet youth subculture stilyagi and their struggle for self-expression in a social climate of Soviet repression and conservativism. After helping to break up a gathering of stilyagi, Mels, a twenty-year-old Moscow Komsomol member, falls in love with the stilyaga Polly. Much to the chagrin of his neighbors, Mels completely changes his appearance to be more like the stilyagi, for which he endures a great deal of ridicule and even violence. Mels meets another stilyaga, Bob, who reluctantly agrees to teach him how to dance like the stilyagi (to the tunes of bootlegged Western rock-and-roll). After this initiation, Mels gains acceptance into the stilyagi, dancing alongside them at underground rock-and-roll concerts. The first trouble comes when Mels’s new crew runs into his former one, and a fight ensues between the stilyagi and komsomolniki. Later, still determined to impress Polly, Mels decides to learn to play the saxophone. After spending several nights listening to pirated radio from New York City, Mels is visited by the spirit of Charlie Parker, who teaches him how to play. Shortly thereafter, Mels performs for the stilyagi and wins his first sincere kiss from Polly. Soon, even after being offered official leadership of the Moscow Komsomol, Mels formally leaves the group for the stilyagi. As time goes by, the other stilyagi begin to seem disillusioned with their rebellious lifestyle. One night, Polly meets Mels at a bar and informs him that she is pregnant with the child of an African-American exchange worker, and Mels agrees to become the father of the baby and tell no one of its origins. Polly gives birth to a dark-skinned baby, which the others in Mels’s communal apartment accept as their own. Months later, a friend returns from a trip to the United States and informs Mels that there are no stilyagi there, and that the rest of the subculture has moved on from their flamboyant and antiauthoritarian ways. Unmoved, Mels ends the film by performing a song that draws parallels between the stilyagi and Soviet subcultures of the 1980s (including rockers and punks) and shows the importance of standing up for one’s values against a repressive society.

Hipsters received mixed reviews from the mainstream Russian press, but it has remained a cult classic and spawned a renewed interest in the stilyagi subculture. In 2011 the film was reworked into a traveling concert that has toured Europe and North America.

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Director: Valeriy Todorovskiy (Валерий Тодоровский)
Stars: Anton Shagin (Антон Шагин), Oksana Akinshina (Оксана Акиншина), Yevgenia Brik (Евгения Брик), Maksim Matveev (Максим Матвеев)
Production company: Krasnaya Strela
Box office take: $15,000,000

 

Official trailer:

 

 

Stilyagi

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Zach Hicks is a PhD student in Comparative Literature at the University of Oregon. He is currently participating in SRAS's Home and Abroad scholarship program. His main areas of interest are twentieth-century Russian and Soviet literature, socialist modernism, and critical theory. Outside of academics his major interests are martial arts, the outdoors, and music. In Russia, he plans to continue to increase his language proficiency, to learn as much as possible about the Russian underground music scene, its tattoo culture, and to become a student of Russia’s native martial art, SAMBO.