Assa (1987)
Screen on Friday, March 9, 2017
presented by Boris and Katya Oicherman
doors at 7:00pm, film at 7:30pm

March’s Screen will take place at Fresh Oysters Performance Research in Minneapolis.

Boris and Katya say,

Assa is a love story set in the mid-1980s in Yalta, a resort town on the south coast of Crimea. It has a young woman and an older man and a younger man. It has criminals, weirdos, KGB agents, Lilliputian actors. It has the beach town covered in snow, stormy Black Sea and a Tsar assassination story told by the well-tempered voice of a very real historian. It has a drunk fight involving throwing an officer into a fountain, and a large portrait of Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev. It has a cableway that brings people from the lower city uphill and lovers who take the ride, looking at each other and at the lyrically weathered city below, accompanied by the song that has a long story of its own which we will not tell here because every song in this film has a very long story worth telling, and there are way too many songs here.

Assa is also a rare event when the spirit of time has compactly allocated itself a length of cellulose film, the first and one of the most lucid expressions of the period when an entire culture, completely hidden just a moment before, exploded into the naive public consciousness; the time when, to quote a prominent Russian music critic, everyone was interested in everything. It was the informal culture whose champions and adherents were dubbed informals: musicians, poets, hippies, artists, people in their teens, twenties and thirties who came from many places of the still USSR to the big cities; rock, punk, folk, experimental, jazz, electronic, strange alliances and hybrids, unnameable acts, some are plain plagiarism of the feverishly revered Western music (I’ll make mine where I’ll see mine sang Boris Grebenshikov).

And there was this bearded, slightly overweight film director Sergei Soloviev, a well established and rewarded – but not very popular. Soloviev was envious of the popularity of his fellow director and wanted a blockbuster. He found a model to learn from: Bollywood. Romance, revenge, a story touching to tears (no sarcasm, please) and – music and dancing, there has to be music all the time. The rest is history, literally: he sources his music in that hidden culture, brings some of its best representatives to the film set and combines them with his arsenal of masterful filmmaking, literary culture and skillful actors.

And then in the very end Viktor Tsoi, so distinctly Other, gets on the stage:

Our hearts demand.
Our eyes demand.
In our laugh and our tears,
And in pulses of veins,

This cry for a change is perhaps best understood in terms of the antonym of “change” in Russian: zastoi. The direct translation as “stagnation” does not do justice to its Russian meaning of something physically standing still, like stale standing water. This was how Gorbachev branded the decades preceding his term as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the United Soviet Socialist Republics: the period of zastoi, the time when nothing was changing, and nothing was expected to change, ever. Tsoi’s romantic call for a change — undirected, unspecified, abstract — was the symbol and the manifestation of implosion of zastoi in the mid-80s. Assa is one of the prime cultural products of this implosion, the Bollywood-inspired blend that gave rise to a cultural bomb, a love story set as a straight-up portrait of a shifting Soviet reality.

Life goes on; stories follow one another, and so it is with films. Soloviev has developed Assa into a trilogy and followed it up by Black Rose – the Emblem of Sadness, Red Rose – the Emblem of Love, and then The House Under the Starry Sky. Those films tell the story of changing Russia, its music and characters, historical and imagined, as they grow old, migrating from film to film, changing roles, transforming, mutating. Generally speaking it is a sad story, but it is so very well sung.


Mosfilm, Krug, 1987
Director – Sergey Soloviev
Screen – Sergey Livnev, Sergey Soloviev
Camera – Pavel Lebeshev
Art director – Marxen Gauchman-Sverdlov
Composer – Boris Grebenshikov
Original soundtrack – Boris Grebenshikov and Aquarium
Sound – Ekaterina Popova

Stanislav Govorukhin – Krymov
Tatiana Drubich – Alika
Sergey Bugayev – Bananan
Dmitry Shumilov – Vitya