Issue 25 (2009)

Evgenii Bedarev: New-Year Tariff (Tarif novogodnii, 2008)

reviewed by Erin Alpert © 2009

tarifEvgenii Bedarev’s New-Year Tariff combines a romantic comedy plot with a cell phone commercial and a New-Year fairy tale. In his interview with the news portal, actor Maksim Matveev, who plays the lead role of Andrei, describes the story as “good, romantic, beautiful and full of New Year spirit” (D’iachkova). The film’s major sponsor, Russia’s largest mobile phone operator MTS, is hardly troubled by some reviewers’ critical responses to the picture, a film that turned out to be “too happy” even for a romantic fairy tale (Denezhka).

After returning from abroad, Andrei stops to buy a cell phone on the way to meet his friends to celebrate the New Year on the Red Square. There they call strangers to wish them a happy New Year and Andrei accidentally calls Alena (Valeriia Lanskaia), who is in tears after a breakup that occurred earlier in the evening. After several phone calls and failed attempts to meet in person, the two discover that they are living in different years: Andrei in 2009 and Alena in 2008. Their situation is further complicated when Andrei decides to meet the 2009 Alena, only to discover that she was killed in a bus accident a few days earlier, on New Year’s Eve. The rest of the film follows Andrei, Alena and their eclectic group of friends as they come up with, and execute, a complex plan to save Alena. As they ring in 2009, for the second time, at the film’s end nearly everyone has found happiness in love: Alena and Andrei are alive and together, Alena’s spunky friend Rita and Andrei’s equally quirky friend are brought together through this endeavor, and even the driver of the bus that was saved in the course of the film finds romance with an unusually tall passenger.

tarifLike Bedarev’s previous film Waiting for a Miracle (V ozhidanii chuda, 2007), New-Year Tariff targets younger audiences. Not surprisingly, the film’s soundtrack earned a nomination for best soundtrack in MTV Russia’s Movie Awards. It is likely, however, that Bedarev was not aiming to follow in the footsteps of his previous film, but rather those of the top-grossing film of 2008 – Timur Bekmambetov’s Irony of Fate: The Continuation (Ironiia sud’by: Prodol’zhenie, 2007) – also a New Year romance with impossible-to-miss product placement. One reviewer even calls Bedarev’s film MTS Phone Company’s response to the Beeline Phone Company’s prominence in Irony of Fate: The Continuation (Denezhka).

tarifAs in the case of Bekmambetov’s sequel to El’dar Riazanov’s Irony of Fate (Ironiia sud’by, 1975), New-Year Tariff  is more than just a romantic comedy; it is also an extended cell phone advertisement. The script was written by MTS Phone Company, and the release of the film was connected with an actual promotion offered at the time (Matveev). Bedarev’s film demonstrates that with the help of an MTS cell phone, people can not only achieve such pedestrian goals as falling in love and changing history, but also fulfill advanced mobile communication functions such as text messaging and sending photographs, videos, and data. Through cell-phone videos Andrei and Alena realize they are not in the same year. Alena also convinces Andrei’s friends from 2008 to help them prevent the 2009 disaster by showing them a video from Andrei in which they appear. Near the end of the film, Rita celebrates the victory-through-MTS-technology by tossing her phone into the air for a final close-up.

tarifNew-Year Tariff shares generic features and narrative turns with popular romantic comedies from both Russia and abroad. Several reviews point out the film’s similarities to The Lake House (dir. A. Agresti, 2006), starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. A review in calls Alena an improvement on Bullock, a violinist with a better last name, while a review from calls it “New Year’s Lake House” (“Novogodnii dom u ozera”) but with a simpler, less melodramatic plot (Denezhka, Matveev). New-YearTariff also features a Piter FM-esque love story, with missed meetings between the lovers, cell phones in leading roles and a stroll along the river that results in (nearly) dropping the phone into the water.

tarifBedarev’s comedy revolves not only around MTS cell phones, but also around the holiday of New Year. In her article about the Soviet New Year film, Alyssa DeBlasio argues that this genre includes such conventions as releases and screenings coinciding with calendar New Year, on-screen representation of the New Year, images of threshold spaces and transitional time periods, fairy-tale motifs, preference of the small over the big screen, and privileging of private over public space (49-50). New-Year Tariff adheres strongly to the first four conventions. The film was released on 4 December 2008. Despite its slightly early release date, the film was still in the top ten by the end of December (Fardo). There is not one New Year’s Eve depicted in the film, but three distinct ones: Alena’s 2008, Andrei’s 2009 and the new 2009 where the two finally meet. These three celebrations allow for the depiction of specific New Year’s rituals including celebrating in Red Square, drinking, giving presents, a romantic dinner at home and, most importantly for the plot of this film, Andrei and his friends’ tradition of calling random people to wish them a happy New Year.  

tarifAs with a New Year’s film, or any other film that focuses on the importance of time, clocks and other images of time-measuring devices dominate the screen space in Bedarev’s film, from the Kremlin clock on New Year’s Eve to the giant clock featured in Andrei’s friend Vadim’s laboratory. New-Year Tariff features not only clocks, but also calendars. A calendar montage shows how Alena, Andrei and their friends work from October on these elaborate projects to try to stop the accident. They end up on 31 December in Vadim’s laboratory. 

Vadim claims that time has a spiral rather than linear nature and can be compressed and manipulated in order to prevent the accident and save Alena.  After Vadim describes how time is similar to a spiral, images of spirals start appearing as frequently as clocks and calendars. They are featured on the wall of Andrei’s office, in twisty straws and other decorations at a birthday celebration and even in Alena’s various hairstyles.

tarifThe fairy tale quality of New-Year Tariff goes far beyond the romantic aspect of this film and the fairy godmother cell phone saleswoman. The screen is filled with fairy tale characters, from Santa Claus to Little Red Riding Hood. Magic is also played out in the visualizations of the various plans for stopping the bus accident, many of which evoke scenes from an action thriller or a computer game.

In the end, viewers are left with a perfect fairy tale ending that also neatly ties in with the cell phone campaign: the MTS fairy godmother sets back her clock and gives another cell phone to a new woman, hopefully inspiring movie-going romantics everywhere to rush from the cinema to the nearest MTS retailer.

Erin Alpert
University of Pittsburgh

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Works Cited

DeBlasio, Alyssa. “The New-Year film as a genre of post-war Russian cinema.” Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema 2:1 (2008): 43-61.

Denezhka, Oleg. “Vtoraia minuta schast'ia besplatno.” (7 December 2008).

D'iachkova, Natal'ia. “Liricheskii “Zvonok.”” (4 April 2008).

Fardo, Faina. “Itogi kassovykh sborov za uikend c 18 do 21 dekabria” (24 December 2008).

Matveev, Daniil. “Tarif Novogodnii.” (7 December 2008). 

New-Year Tariff, Russia, 2008
Color, 83 minutes
Director: Evgenii Bedarev
Screenplay: Anastasiia Volkova, Elena Laskareva
Cinematography: Maksim Shinkorenko
Music: Andrei Zuev
Cast: Valeriia Lanskaia, Maksim Matveev, Ekaterina Malikova, Evgenii Slavskii, Mariia Aronova, Dmitrii Diuzhev, Miroslava Karpovich, Mikhail Porechenkov, Roman Polianskii, Valerii Meladze and others.
Producers: Elena Glikman, Igor' Tolstunov
Production: PROFIT Film Company

Evgenii Bedarev: New-Year Tariff (Tarif novogodnii, 2008)

reviewed by Erin Alpert © 2009

Updated: 11 Jul 09