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Happy New Years, Jabronis.
***Editors note: I realize this is the 2nd of January, and not in fact, the 1st. I’d written this to go up on Jan 1, but I got started on it late- about 1pm on Jan 1, and I decided to take a minute to, you know, make it better. The unfortunate side effect is that this is now published on the 2nd and you’re probably sick and tired of things about New Year’s. Sorry***
A few years ago, I married into a Russian family. In fact, I had a kid with them, so I am now in deep with this Russian family, which means that I am absolutely booked for New Year’s Eve for the considerable future. Having a killer New Year’s Eve party? Sick. I can’t go. Because New Year’s Eve is a really big deal to the Russians. It’s effectively both New Year’s Eve and also Christmas.
I’m not exaggerating.
They have a Christmas tree. A man who is ostensibly Santa Claus breaks into your house at night to drop off Russian presents. Also, for whatever reason he has some little girl helper with him. I don’t know if it’s a simple intern thing or a child bride, but it’s Russia and he’s dealing with cheap labor, so let’s just assume child bride, and move on. Tragic, but you know…what are you going to do, am I right?
Anyway, I now make the trek out to the wilds of New Jersey to spend New Year’s Eve with in-laws. A few years ago I watched the classic film The Irony of Fates (Or possibly just Irony of Fates. Don’t @ me with your take on Russian translation, comrade.) a few years ago, and now I would like to talk about it, because this movie is batshit.
As it happens, it’s also totally available on YouTube with English subtitles. Do you want to watch The Irony of Fates, and have hours and hours to kill? Well, С новым годом, bitches.
Here’s part 1
And Part 2
I’m not going to BS you, this is a long ass movie. We watched it in two parts, the first on New Year’s Eve, and the second on New Year’s Day. Honestly, if you need to break it into five pieces, go right ahead. It’s created for the people who thought Scarface had a little too brisk of a pace. If you want, you could easily justify watching this movie as a New Year’s resolution, because it is quite the undertaking. But the movie is fascinating, because you learn a little bit about life in Soviet Union, and a lot about the strange morality code of their people.
The movie starts out with a simple premise: That Russia is being designed into cookie cutter cities, with cookie cutter buildings. Every city will have streets with identical names, and on those streets, they will have identical buildings, with identical layouts. In fact the house keys given to somebody who lives at an address in Moscow, will unlock the door to somebody who lives in the identical address in Leningrad (Or as it is now known today, St. Petersburg, Florida). Given that and the cute little cartoon at the beginning of the movie, you might get the impression that this will be an absurdist farce in the spirit of Brazil or something to that effect. It isn’t. That’s all you get. Here’s the deal, this whole movie hinges on that premise, but the rest of the movie is played straight.
Zhenya is a simple man with simple tastes. He lives in Moscow, and his girlfriend Galya is starting to wonder when he’s going to pop the question.
Galya seems pretty nice. She’s pretty. Sure, she’s ready for him to get off his ass and make a commitment, but she’s not a bitch about it. She doesn’t hound him over it. She makes him the fucking crab salad that he likes. She’s happy to listen to him play the guitar while they set up for the big night. Hopefully you are as well, because this movie is roughly 35% unedited songs. These bastards sing more than the good people of Whoville. She’s not super stoked that he suddenly gets the call to go get pie eyed with his friends at a sauna, but she lets the player play. His mom seems to like her as well. Really, she checks off a lot of boxes. If you’re picking up a tone in how I describe the two of them, that’s because in my opinion Galya gets a raw deal. In terms of movie logic, Galya gets fucked over pretty hard here. I want to establish right off the bat that I am absolutely #TeamGalya. What is shocking is that I am apparently the only person who feels this way. The Russians who grew up on this story are absolutely #TeamZhenya. This is madness.
Anyway, after The Big Ж tells her that he’s going to propose at midnight, he goes off to the bathhouse with his boys, as one does in Mother Russia. Zhenya tells friends that he’s got big plans that night, and agrees to have just one drink. As is the case when anybody says that in a movie, he proceeds to get absolutely ruined. After driving vodka down for a few hours, the boys go to the airport. One of them has to get to Leningrad because…who cares? It’s not important, really, and I haven’t seen this movie in two years. But because everybody is stone cold drunk, Ж-Dog gets on the plane instead, and flies out to Leningrad.
After arriving in Leningrad, Zhenya takes those oh so familiar streets to what would have been his address in Moscow. He gets to what would be his apartment, unlocks the door, and passes out in what is not at all his bed. That bed, and entire apartment, really, belongs to Nadya. Before we get any further, Nadya is marginally hotter than Galya.
Maybe? I’m not sure. She strikes me as more overtly sensual. Maybe that’s because she seems angrier. I’m still on Galya’s side here, but let’s be real, Nadya in the opinion of the movie, is portrayed as somewhat more attractive.
She also has some goddamn plans of her own. Her boyfriend is going to propose to her that night, and she’s laid out a spread. It’s gonna be lit. There are a great many differences between Russians and Americans during the Cold War, but drunkenly passing out in a stranger’s bed on a night when they have life changing plans is gauche in any culture. Unfortunately for Nadya, Zhenya is only metaphorically “tossed to the curb.” In reality he is unable to be roused and sent on his way before Nadya’s bf Ippolit shows up. Ippolit is probably less thrilled to see a new, drunk man sleeping in Nadya’s bed. Again, I’m kind of on #TeamIppolit here, fully seeing his perspective in this complex misunderstanding. Ippolit says deuces. Nadya is pissed. Eventually she wakes Zhenya’s drunk ass up, and they decide to debate facts in a classic “I live here/No you don’t” back and forth.
***Update: My wife is insisting that Zhenya is in fact awake when Ippolit shows up. Fine. But I believe he was still drunk/disoriented enough to be completely useless in a conflict. But maybe not technically still sleeping. WHATEVER.***
Zhenya spends most of the rest of the movie trying to get back to Moscow, but those pesky fates keep sending him back to Nadya’s place. Zhenya tries to call Galya in Moscow, but long distance calling in Soviet Russia is ass. It’s a whole thing, and by the time he gets her on the phone Galya ain’t having it. Ippolit tries to call Nadya, but Zhenya answers the phone. Again, man, that looks pretty damn bad from Ippolit’s POV.
Eventually Zhenya and Nadya decide to spend New Year’s Eve together, slowing coming to the realization that holy shit, they could totally just dump their bf’s and gf’s and start banging for real.
Zhenya realizes that Nadya makes him feel alive in a way his marginally less attractive gf ever did. He is done with Galya, and he is done with wearing glasses. Forever. Maybe he stops cutting his hair with a machete? Perhaps. Anything is possible now that he has a smokey eyed blonde lady.
I call bullshit. Vodka made him feel more alive than Galya. Galya might be willing to just give him more vodka if he agreed to stop chasing down strange. It’s Russia, my man. You can score vodka whenever you want. Nadya also decides that Ippolit is kind of a dick. To be honest, we don’t actually have a lot of evidence. He does seem surly, but let’s be real, who wouldn’t be under these circumstances. Are you going to be super chill when you see a drunk stranger from not around here, kicking it with your girl? You’re not going to have even a little bite in your tone? You live in Soviet Russia. Under ideal circumstances, things are pretty meh. You are probably having a bad night. Half a star, would not recommend to a friend.
Zhenya and Nadya get down. Everybody can feel that it’s about to happen. Galya can sense it, and she’s all the way down in Moscow.
That’s her calling for Zhenya and getting Nadya. She lets her know that she knows exactly what’s going down and that she is not cool with it at all. Again, this woman is supposed to be…the villain? An inconvenient reality? I don’t know, but that is her, dressed for a proposal and coming to terms with the fact that her man is about to plow some other girl. I’ll tell you what, the movie told from her perspective sucks.
The next morning Nadya realizes, hey wait a tick. Maybe we shouldn’t have? (You probably shouldn’t have, you goddamn sewer rat). Ippolit actually shows up and seems like a changed man (drunk?). Tellingly, he seems happy. Well, Russian happy.
Maybe he’s fine with losing Nadya. Maybe he’s cracking up. But he gives his blessing and moves on. Then Zhenya goes home. But then Nadya says “But maybe it is love.” And she flies down to Moscow, presumably to live with Zhenya for ever and ever, until somebody is inevitably fingered as a dissident and sent to a goddamn gulag. Of course there is the matter of impressing Zhenya’s mother, who lives in the same building (Apartment? I can’t remember off hand). Zhenya’s mom quickly realizes that Nadya is in fact, hotter than Galya. That’s about all that she needs. She’s in. Zhenya’s mom is not much of a hurdle. My own in laws were relatively easy to please, but they didn’t just let me into their family after a three minute conversation. I had to prove myself at least a little. This woman wanted her son to marry that nice girl Galya, found out that wasn’t happening, and moved right on to this new girl, who she knows nothing about instantly. Why is this woman a character to begin with? What tension does she bring to the movie? Is she simply there to vouch for their decision, so that we the audience don’t look at these people like irresponsible dopes? Because I think that’s all that she does.
So what is the big takeaway here? I don’t know. The heart wants what it wants? Look, I’m no stranger to the traditional Rom Com, and this is not the first story about people leaving their significant others for something new. But there are rules, goddamn it. In the movie world, the dumped have to give you, you know, an actual reason to move on. Because the audience needs to identify with the decisions made by the protagonists. Otherwise, your decision just looks kind of selfish (even if that is the way these things actually play out). What this movie posits is, what if you don’t play by the rules? What if you just make selfish people make selfish decisions. Here’s the weirdest part: None of these people are real. You could paint Galya as any type of person, so why would you make her somebody who seems nice if a little dull, when you could make her some manipulative bitch. Maybe she doesn’t make his crab salad. Maybe she tells him the truth about his hair. Maybe she tells him that he can’t hang out with his friends, that his mother’s cooking sucks, and that she wishes she were with some American man instead of his pretentious Russian ass. Because then I would at least understand Zhenya’s goals. There would be something for me to root for. I could watch two strangers slowly hook up without thinking, “Yeah, but what the fuck, man. You seemed pretty damn happy before. What are you doing with your life? You are using the nuclear option to solve something that wasn’t even clearly defined as a problem earlier in the movie.” It’s just a weird choice. This movie is very strange, but not in a “Everything is shot crazy, and there are wild twists and turns.” It’s strange in a “Really? That’s the fucking moral of the story? I root for these people? But why?”
Anyway, this movie is a classic in Russia. My wife’s family looked at me as if I was insane for continuing to bring up Galya. She could have been eaten by a bear for as much as they cared about her character. And yet, if I’d stepped out on their daughter, the story wouldn’t have been so cute. I love them, but Russians are strange.
Happy New Year’s
***Editors note: Again, this was intended for January 1st. But as you know, it’s the 2nd, so we can stop saying Happy New Years. If you don’t stop now, it might become a thing and then who knows how long you’ll keep doing it. We don’t want to be nerds.***