By Don Simpson | December 1, 2011
Director: Valeriy Todorovskiy
Writers: Valeriy Todorovskiy, Yuriy Korotkov
Starring: Anton Shagin, Oksana Akinshina, Maksim Matveev, Igor Voynarovskiy, Evgeniya Brik
Mels (Anton Shagin) is a shy 20-year-old “square” whose identity — or lackthereof — is defined by the drab sameness of the Soviet Union’s Communist youth circa 1954. Mels (an acronym for Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin) roams the streets with his cold and emotionless comrades in search of hipsters — derogatorily known as stilyagi — in order to shred their candy-colored clothes and snip their outrageous hairdos. An actual Russian youth movement, hipsters mimicked American rockabilly culture. They were defined by their fashion — the men with narrow pants, long jackets, narrow ties, brightly colored shirts, thick soled shoes and magnificent pompadours; the women with permed and poofed hairstyles, alluring make-up and flamboyantly flowing skirts.
Mels discovers his destiny when he and his comrades raid an underground dance party. This is where Mels first lays eyes on Polly (Oksana Akinshina), a stunning young nurse; he falls immediately in love, but the only way this star-crossed love will ever come to fruition is if Mels truly embraces hipsterdom. Mels becomes fully awakened. He crafts his own style, begins to really listen to music, learns how to dance, and [merely by osmosis] becomes a great saxophonist (even though “a saxophone is one small step to a switchblade”). And it is a good thing Mels picks up the sax, because Polly continues to hold out on Mels — making it very clear to him that she is not just a prize in some contest — until she hears his first sax solo. Next thing we know, a baby is on its way…
Writer-director Valery Todorovsky’s Hipsters — an admirable throwback to the musical sub-genre about star-crossed lovers (West Side Story, Grease, Dirty Dancing and Cry-Baby) — seamlessly blends jazz, bebop and boogie sounds with Russian folk music. Hipsters is certainly not unafraid to be bold and stylish, but it always remains firmly rooted in the Soviet experience. Set in the year after Stalin’s death, with Soviet communism at the peak of its strength, the hipsters’ apolitical and amoral (at least by Soviet standards) views as well as their open admiration of modern (especially American) lifestyles works in brilliant contrast to the claustrophobic Soviet drab. Hipsters is unique celebration of a small group of non-conformist youngsters (representing individuality and freedom) who take on the fully-conformed majority.
Hipsters won four Nikas (essentially the Russian Oscar) for best film, production design, costumes and sound. At the very least, Todorovsky’s film is definitely worth watching for its stunning cinematography (Roman Vasyanov), over-the-top visuals, outlandish fashions (Aleksandr Osipov) and inventive dance and musical numbers; and let us not forget Anton Shagin (The Weather Station) and Oksana Akinshina (Lilya 4-Ever, The Bourne Supremacy) who are perfectly cast and brilliant in their roles.