Timur Bekmambetov: The Irony of Fate. The Continuation (Ironiia sud'by. Prodolzhenie, 2007)

reviewed by Arlene Forman © 2008

Timur and His Gang Strike Back

Released with considerable fanfare on 21 December 2007, The Irony of Fate. The Continuation quickly soared into the box-office stratosphere, grossing 9 million dollars in its first weekend and over 50 million dollars in its first month. Over nine million viewers in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia flocked to the theater to see the highly promoted sequel to El'dar Riazanov's beloved classic The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath! (Ironiia sud'by, ili S legkim parom, 1975). By 17 January 2008, Timur Bekmambetov's blockbuster became the highest-grossing film in Russia and the territory of the former Soviet Union, handily besting the former record-holder, Bekmambetov's own 2004 hit Night Watch (Nochnoi dozor, 2004). [1]

Originally the brainchild of Konstantin Ernst, the General Director of Channel One Television, plans for the sequel were announced in 2005, the 30th anniversary of the release of Riazanov's 1975 film. Komsomol'skaia pravda proclaimed “Zhenia's Son will Fall in Love with Ippolit's Daughter” and posited that Bekmambetov would direct the sequel, soon to be filmed by Channel One (Fuks).[2] His piece listed those members of the original cast who had agreed to reprise their roles: Andrei Miagkov would recreate Zhenia Lukashin, Barbara Brylska would return as Nadia, and both Aleksandr Shirvindt and Aleksandr Beliavskii would play Zhenia's pals Pasha and Sasha. Notably absent from the mix was Iurii Iakovlev, who had declined the invitation to play Ippolit when approached earlier in the year. Iakovlev would ultimately be persuaded to join the project, as would Valentina Talyzina, who once again did double duty, playing Nadia's friend Valia and giving the voice to Brylska's Nadia. El'dar Riazanov also repeated his cameo as the passenger flying with the young Lukashin. Only Liia Akhedzhakova did not return. [3]

When Bekmambetov signed on to the project, he brought along his creative team: cameraman Sergei Trofimov and composer Iurii Poteenko had worked on both of the Watch films and Anatolii Maksimov had served as the producer of Day Watch (Dnevnoi dozor, 2006). That Bekmambetov and his team would turn Riazanov's lyrical love story/comedy into a big budget, high-energy, unabashedly self-referential extravaganza should come as no surprise. Bekmambetov promised viewers more special effects than ever in this film and he surely delivered (“Bekmambetov”). Many hearken back to Night or Day Watch: the freeze frames, the animation, cast credits and other CGIs. From the opening, where snow falls on the famous Mosfil'm logo (Vera Mukhina's sculpture of the Worker and Collective Farmer), the film sets a holiday tone: to the tune of “Jingle Bells” veteran actors Mikhail Efremov and Evgeniia Dobrovol'skaia dash through the snow as Father Frost and the Snow Maiden. They are but the first of the film's cavalcade of stars. This festive mood continues in the Moscow baths, brightly decorated in red and white. Their glitter and abundance speak to the theme that runs throughout the film: the comparison of then and now. In the more than thirty years that have passed fashion, politics, technology and the pace of life have changed markedly .

What has remained (actually recreated in Prague) is Apartment 12 at 25 Third Builder's Street, where Zhenia Lukashin's son Kostia (Konstantin Khabenskii) meets Ippolit's daughter Nadiusha (Elizaveta Boiarskaia). Her fiancée Iraklii (Sergei Bezrukov) completes the contemporary love triangle of the young and the beautiful.[4] Iraklii, who works for Beeline Phone and owns a Toyota, motivates some of the film's extensive product placement. By and large critics have reacted negatively to the on-screen publicity for Nokia, Toshiba, Aeroflot and Russian Standard vodka, to name but a few.[5]

Advertising aside, the antics that ensue inside and outside of Apartment 12 clearly reference elements from Riazanov's original. Kostia, like his father, is a doctor and Nadiusha finds him drunk in her apartment. Kostia samples the infamous jellied salad (is it fish or is it chicken?) and Iraklii (à la Ippolit) has his share of car troubles. After more than forty different versions of the script, Bekmambetov retained the initial premise, but made one small, but highly significant, change. Viewers learn early on that Zhenia Lukashin and Nadezhda Sheveleva never married. Instead she returned to Leningrad, wed Ippolit and gave birth to his daughter Nadiusha. Though the Russian title Irony of Fate. The Continuation implies a sequel, Bekmambetov has shot a remake that is more than anything else a continuation of the Watch franchise, a point that has inspired the titles of several reviews (Kostylev, Korneev), this one included. When Father Frost cites Nikolai Nekrasov's 1863 poem “Red-Nose Frost” and proclaims, “Commander-Frost is on his watch,” the audience understands that the reference is as contemporary as it is classical.[6]

This slick big-screen fairy tale, a far cry from the aesthetics and values of Riazanov's small-screen fable, is noticeably short on fate. If Zhenia Lukashin was a befuddled, innocent victim of circumstance, his son Kostia turns out to be a very crafty manipulator who consciously decides to travel north to meet his father's lost love. Fate may lend a hand when he encounters her daughter instead, but throughout the film Kostia relies on trickery and personal appeal to woo her and achieve his goals. Unlike his father, the son proves a truly cunning—lukavyi—Lukashin. He displays none of the social concerns that characterized the older generation (in this respect Iraklii proves much more socially conscious). The younger Lukashin‘s freedom to do as he pleases, whatever the consequences, will find a succinct formulation in Bekmambetov's next picture, a project he prepared for while working on the sequel. Trailers for Wanted (2008), his first Hollywood film, exhort us all to follow Kostia‘s example and “Choose Your Destiny.“ In doing so, the cunning Kostia compromises the spirit of Mikael Tariverdiev's song “If You Don't Have an Aunt,” making his rendition of the tune rather ironic.[7]

Bekmambetov's revisionist remake denies the possibility that intimacy, love and personal fulfillment could have existed in the Soviet era. His happy endings occur in the best of all possible worlds, the here-and-now. Even Putin is enlisted to convey the optimism of this Brave New Russia of abundance, vigor and youth.[8] While the Soviet film focused on the young, it treated Zhenya's “world-class mother“ ( Liubov Dobrzhanskaia ) with respect. The sequel boasts a host of sexagenarians, but they are portrayed as ineffective bunglers. Ippolit receives the worst treatment of all, his elder incarnation retains only the pomposity of the original, but none of his humor or humanity. Sadly, Iurii Iakovlev would have done better to trust his first impressions.

Some Bekmambetov fans, disheartened by the prospect of a Twilight Watch (Sumerechnyi dozor, pre-production) shot in English, have come to view The Irony of Fate. The Continuation as the true conclusion to the Watch trilogy. In that light the sequel reveals what happens when the Chalk of Fate is not used correctly. Rather than using it to erase grave personal errors, Bekmambetov employs it to rewrite the past.

Arlene Forman
Oberlin College

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Notes

1] Both Bekmambetov films out-earned Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean (both At the World's End and Dead Man's Chest) and 9th Company (Deviataia rota, 2005) . The film's official website, details the profits and sheds light on the film's publicity and promotions, including the opportunity for viewers to win a new Toyota and a new apartment in Petersburg.

2] Bogomolov explores the scope of Ernst's marketing campaign, the elaborate soft-sell approach designed to attract young and older viewers alike. In addition to catchy slogans and different movie trailers, Ernst placed the stars of the film on popular TV shows to promote the premiere.

3] Iakovlev saw no need for a sequel, for him the original had said it all. Akhedzhakova's character, Tania, was easily integrated into the new script by explaining her absence with her emigration to Israel.

4] Attempts to cast Milla Jovovich in the role of Nadiusha proved unsuccessful. Bekmambetov's young trio continues to play against each other in Andrei Kravchuk‘s Admiral (2008) where Khabenskii is cast as Admiral Kol‘chak, Boiarskaia as Anna Timireva and Bezrukov as General Kappel).

5] Iampolskaia suggests that the first half of the film is little more than a prolonged commercial for the cellphone company. Ultimately she concludes that Bekmambetov's labors have yielded hothouse produce, the tomatoes and strawberries may look shiny and pretty, but they possess neither nourishment nor taste.

6] While most critics have not been quick to praise the film, the conversations on blogs and chats review that many younger viewers enjoyed the film for its pace, polish, comedy and general entertainment value.

7] This is the only one of Tariverdiev's “author songs” performed in the film. His music, which featured lyrics by Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetaeva, Bella Akhmadulina, Bulat Okudzhava and other poets, helped develop the relationship between Nadia and Zhenia as they grew to know and love each other. The sequel has no such development. Kolia's attraction to the beautiful Nadiusha is instantaneous and she is so underdeveloped a character that her interest is simply inexplicable. The sequel features Konstantin Meladze's song, “Another Snowstorm” (“Opiat' metel'”), which boasts lyrics by Putin's speechwriter Dzhakhan Pollyeva. Performed by Alla Pugacheva (who had served as Brylska's singing voice) and Kristina Orbakaite, the mother-daughter duet that closes the film fits the sequel's dual-generational focus.

8] Bekmambetov was not interested in providing the kind of social criticism that Riazanov was able to integrate into his film. Here capitalism has no down side and ridiculing non-Russians is perfectly acceptable. Putin's appearance, created with stock TV footage, is but of the many cameos in this “feel good” movie where Viktor Verzhbitskii plays a homeless man, Anna Semenovich a young mother, Ville Haapasalo a drunken Finn and Inga Oboldina a taxi driver.

 


Works Cited

“Bekmambetov: Prodolzhenie fil'ma ‘Ironiia sud'by' prevzoidet ‘Dozory' po kolichetsvu spetseffektov,” Gazeta 14 December 2007,

Bogomolov, Iurii. “Ironiia sud'by Konstantina Ernsta,” Novaia gazeta 28 January 2008

Fuks, Sasha. “Syn Zheni Lukashina vliubitsia v doch' Ippolita” Komsomol'skaia pravda 18 April 2005 .

Iampolskaia, Elena. “'Ironiia sud'by. Prodolzhenie': S Novym brendom”, Izvestiia 24 January 2007.

Kostylev, Anton. “Ironiia vyshla iz sumraka,” Film.ru.

Korneev, Roman. “Napilsia Gorodetskii,” Kinokadr.ru 23 Dec. 2007

 


The Irony of Fate. The Continuation, Russia, 2007
Color, 113 minutes
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Screenplay: Aleksei Slapovskii
Cinematography: Sergei Trofimov
Cast: Andrei Miagkov, Iurii Iakovlev, Barbara Brylska, Sergei Bezrukov, Konstantin Khabenskii, Elizaveta Boiarskaia
Producer: Konstantin Ernst, Andrei Maksimov
Production: Bazelevs Production
Website www.ironiasudby.ru

Timur Bekmambetov: The Irony of Fate. The Continuation (Ironiia sud'by. Prodolzhenie, 2007)

reviewed by Arlene Forman © 2008

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