Issue 34 (2011)

Sarik Andreasian: Office Romance. Our Time (Sluzhebnyi roman. Nashe vremia, 2011)

reviewed by Otto Boele © 2011

office romanceSuppose Russian departments offered courses like “The Putin Experience” or “Everyday Life in Russia Under Putin and Medvedev”; would Office Romance. Our Time be considered for inclusion in the program? Unless professors want their students to believe that single fathers in Moscow drive their children to school in ladybird-patterned sidecar machines and effective leadership seminars are attended only by gorgeous women in their mid-twenties, the answer is probably “no.” Although Sarik Andreasian’s remake of El’dar Riazanov’s 1977 classic is partly situated in Moscow and we see characters frantically chatting on the social network Moi mir, it is hard to understand what bearing the film has on contemporary Russia, or even on that tiny part of society–Moscow’s financial world—whose life and customs it claims to depict. Would it make more sense to view the film as a modern example of lakirovka, that is, as an embellished rendition of reality that is blatantly presented as actual reality? If that is the case, Office Romance. Our Time might make it to the lecture room.

The DVD cover gratefully acknowledges its source of inspiration (“Based on a real masterpiece”) and the subtitle “Our Time” indicates that the film purports to offer the modern equivalent of Riazanov’s screwball comedy with its plotlines and character configurations respectfully preserved. Part of the thrill then, one expects, is to savor the felicities and self-ironic twists with which the makers have attempted to “update” the film and turn it into a modern comedy of manners. Indeed, what is the post-Soviet equivalent of the Institute for Statistics where staff member Anatolii Novosel’tsev and his icy, workaholic boss Liudmila Kalugina fell in love some thirty years ago? With what sort of presents and gadgets does playboy and cosmopolitan Iurii Samokhvalov, the unwitting engineer of the office romance, seek to impress his female admirers in 2011?

office romanceTo begin with the first question, the decision to move the action from a state-run institution to a credit rating agency seems legitimate enough, even if the size of today’s Russian bureaucracy would have made for an equally appropriate setting. But bureaucracy is not glamorous and it is glamour of the most obnoxious kind that constitutes the film’s entire raison d’être. In the original, Novosel’tsev makes his overtures to Kalugina in her office and at a party organized by the recently appointed Samokhvalov who, having spent a few years in Switzerland, is able to treat his guests to a variety of Western goodies (Johnny Walker whisky, Marlboro cigarettes). Hospitality on this scale won’t get you very far in modern Russia, of course, when even Moscow itself proves too modest a stage for the smashing parties that post-Soviet Samokhvalovs like to throw. Not a Moscow apartment, but an expensive resort in Turkey provides the backdrop for the budding romance of Novosel’tsev (Vladimir Zelenskii) and Kalugina (Svetlana Khodchenkova), although backdrop is probably not the right term considering the many lingering shots of the hotel’s lavish interior and the whole idea of an office romance is equally flawed. Novosel’tsev’s drunken and loutish antics at a pool party are sufficient to trigger Kalugina’s curiosity, and before the weekend at the resort is over, their relationship is a fait accompli.

office romanceIf the love story of the main characters is rendered with such nonchalance, then what can we expect of the film’s subplots? In the original, the story of Novosel’tsev’s colleague and fellow commuter Ol’ga Ryzhova adds a touch of wistfulness to the film showing us the fate of a skillful, but aging flirt. Unlike the “manly” Kalugina, who abandons all hope of finding  Mr. Right after her intended fiancé marries her best friend, Ol’ga has had a slightly more rewarding love life, but her hopes of renewing her relationship with Samokhvalov (still the man of her dreams) prove unfounded. Rejected and even publicly ridiculed by her former lover (who later apologizes to her during a brief spell of what seems to be genuine remorse), she realizes what she has become in his eyes: a lonely (if married), middle-aged woman.

office romanceApart from a short-lived crisis in Novosel’tsev and Kalugina’s relationship, there is no room for broken hearts in Andreasian’s remake. A much younger looking Ol’ga (Anastasiia Zavorotniuk) succeeds in luring Samokhalov (Marat Basharov) to bed and then starts talking of marriage, but when it transpires that Samokhvalov has been hired by another company to sabotage Kalugina’s bid for a lucrative contract, we never see how this news affects Ol’ga’s feelings for him. In the end, she proves loyal to the Kalugina camp that, thanks to Novosel’tsev’s resourcefulness, beats the rivaling company, but her romance with Samokhalov remains completely unresolved. If, in the original, Ol’ga’s love story evoked a genuine slice-of-life impression, in the remake it is little more than an excuse to parade Zavorotniuk in seductive poses and revealing outfits.

office romanceAdding to the superficial gloss and implausibility of the film is the clumsy way in which it references the recurring shots of slowly moving traffic that determined the whole feel of the original. Although Moscow today is far more crowded and bustling than in 1977, in Office Romance. Our Time the city looks astonishingly empty. The absence of crowds of commuters arriving by train (as in the original) seems justified because the main characters are wealthy enough to drive their own cars and motorcycles (in fact, the plane that takes Kalugina and her staff to Turkey is the only form of public transport we see in the whole film). But this makes the long shots of exclusively western cars driving smoothly on Moscow’s impeccably paved roads even more unreal, as though we are looking at a promo of the city’s master plan for fighting road congestion. Even during rush hour, we see Novosel’tsev happily speeding along against the Kremlin skyline.

office romanceIs there anything positive to be said about Office Romance. Our Time? Dialogue is crucial in a film like this, so inevitably, at least some lines work quite well, as for example, when in the famous “break-down” scene a crying Kalugina admits she is “thirty years old, well, thirty-two at the most.”  Arguably, the makers’ luckiest strike is the decision to transform Kalugina’s secretary, Verochka, into a male fop, Vadik (played with great gusto by Pavel Volia), who in the final scene, surprisingly (and reassuringly?) enough, turns out to be heterosexual after all. Other than that, the film is mainly about showing–without even a hint of irony—the good life of Russia’s bold and beautiful who are, one is tempted to conclude, “also capable of having feelings.”

Perhaps because their involvement in Irony of Fate. The Continuation proved a sobering experience, Andrei Miagkov (the original Novosel’tsev) and director Riazanov were highly outspoken in their refusal to watch the remake or comment on it (Riazanov maintains that he was forced to sell the rights in 1994 and, therefore, had nothing to do with the remake). Without having watched the film, Liia Akhedzhakova (Verochka) and Svetlana Nemoliaeva (Ol’ga) have expressed themselves in equally condescending terms (Al’perina 2011). Is this the “typical” reaction of the older generation refusing to accept that times have changed? Possibly, but on this occasion, they are absolutely right. Office Romance. Our Time is a waste of time.

Otto Boele
University of Leiden

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Works Cited

Al’perina, Susanna, “Ves’ skukozhilsia, skorezhilsia…” Rossiiskaia gazeta. Nedelia, 17 March 2011.

 


Office Romance. Our Time, Russia, 2011
Color, 90 minutes
Director: Sarik Andreasian
Screenplay: Nikolai Kovbas, Vladimir Zelenskii, Sarik Andreasian, Sergei Shefir, Andrei Kureichik,
Producers: Georgii Malkov, Sergei Livnev, Vladimir Zelenskii
Cast: Vladimir Zelenskii, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Anastasiia Zavorotniuk, Marat Basharov, Pavel Volia, Ivan Okhlobystin
Production: Leopolis

Sarik Andreasian: Office Romance. Our Time (Sluzhebnyi roman. Nashe vremia, 2011)

reviewed by Otto Boele © 2011

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