Poddubny (Поддубный; The Iron Ivan in English) is a 2014 Russian biopic about Ukrainian/Soviet professional wrestler Ivan Poddubny. Poddubny was born in 1871 in what is now central Ukraine (it was part of the Russian Empire at the time), and he began a career in the circus and then in wrestling. He won championships all over the world and is one of the most successful and distinguished wrestlers of all time.

The film tells the story of Poddubny’s early years, as he transforms from a village boy to a factory worker to a world champion. It depicts his early wrestling successes, presenting him as not only a champion wrestler—“the champion of champions”—but also as a person of uncompromising honor, justice, and valor. He is even called a “bogatyr,” after the old Slavic knights that are valorized in fairy tales and myths.

Several earlier films have been made about Poddubny, and this one was similar to the 1957 Soviet film Wrestler and Clown (Борец и клоун). Critics also compared it to the American films Raging Bull and Ali (though not Rocky, perhaps to its credit). This film got very good reviews from audiences and critics overall—with an unusually high 7.255 rating on KinoPoisk. However, it was criticized for its direction, by Gleb Orlov, who is mostly known for his satirical TV show Our Russia (Наша Russia) and whose skills and experience were not seen as a match for the importance of the subject matter.

The film also aroused political controversy when it was banned in Ukraine for showing “contempt” for Ukraine and distorting historical fact in favor of Russia, according to the Moscow Times. Some film critics and cultural commentators in Russia almost agreed with the Ukrainian attitude toward the film, finding it to be thinly veiled propaganda that used the character of Poddubny to glorify Russia. Of course, this was not a universally shared opinion.

 

Director: Gleb Orlov
Stars: Mikhail Porechenkov, Katerina Shpitsa, Aleksandr Mikhailov, Roman Madyanov, Mikhail Krylov
Production company: Kanal Rossiya, Krasnaya Strela, Studio TriTe
Box office take: $6.18 million

Official trailer:

 

Poddubny

Julie is currently studying Russian as a Second Language in Irkutsk (and before that, Bishkek) with SRAS's Home and Abroad Scholarship program, with the goal of someday having some sort of Russia/Eurasia-related career. She recently got her master’s degree from the University of Glasgow and the University of Tartu, where she studied women’s dissent in Soviet Russia. She also has a bachelor’s degree in literature from Yale. Some of her favorite Russian authors are Sorokin, Shishkin, Il’f and Petrov, and Akhmatova. In her spare time Julie cautiously practices martial arts, reads feminist websites, and taste-tests instant coffee for her blog.