Issue 40 (2013)

Vera Storozheva: My Boyfriend’s an Angel (Moi paren’—angel, 2011)

reviewed by Arlene Forman © 2013

Walking (and Skiing and Dancing) in a Winter Wonderland

paren-angelJudging from the past few Decembers, the New Year’s movie is more than alive and well in Russia, it has started to breed. Timur Bekmambetov has practically turned it into a cottage industry, producing the sequel Irony of Fate. The Continuation (Ironiia sud’by. Prodolzhenie, 2007), followed more recently by the comedies Six Degrees of Celebration (Elki, 2010) and Six Degrees of Celebration 2 (Elki 2, 2011), with Six Degrees of Celebration 3 (Elki 3) scheduled for release in December 2013. Dmitrii Diachenko set his sequel What Else Men Talk About (O chem eshche govoriat muzhchiny, 2011) in the holiday season, as did the multiple directors of the compilation Happy New Year, Mama (S novym godom, mama, 2012) (five of the eight original contributors to the video-almanac Mama, released earlier in the year). While Oksana Bairak has added melodrama to the mix in Winter Dream (Zimnii son, 2011) and Viktor Shamirov explodes the feel-good conventions of the genre in the drama What’s Happening with Me Now (So mnoiu vot chto proiskhodit, 2012), light, frothy fantasies still dominate the screen. With My Boyfriend’s an Angel, Vera Storozheva enters into the fray, offering viewers her version of a holiday romp.

paren-angelThe film relies on a well-worn formula: an angel comes to earth to serve humanity. Landing in Moscow on New Year’s Eve, greeted by a sparkling metropolis in its best holiday garb, the angel (Artur Smol’ianinov) is surprised to learn that he is in Russia.  The glamour of the capital serves as the setting for his encounter with the college student Sasha (Anna Starshenbaum). Sasha leads a life that befits this urban fairy tale: residing in bright, well-appointed digs, she possesses enough disposable income to frequent cafes, shop for glad rags and ride around town in cabs. In this role Starshenbaum radically departs from the young prostitute she played in Leonid Rybakov’s gritty Say Leo (Skazhi Leo, 2008). That teen’s dreams of higher education and a brighter future are realized in the figure of the well-heeled and self-satisfied Sasha.

Through her encounters with Seraphim, Sasha becomes less self-absorbed and less judgmental. She starts to think about others, not only about herself. In this respect her spiritual development recalls Storozheva’s less privileged and more mature heroines. Like Natalia in Traveling With Pets (Puteshestvie s domashnymi zhivotnymi, 2007) and Mother Catherine in Spring Will Soon Be Here (Skoro vesna, 2009),Sasha does learn to “soften her heart.” Given the guidance of her guardian angel, such change is hardly unexpected and highly predictable.

paren-angelStorozheva has inserted a twist or two into the story of a bourgeoning romance between a human and an angel. By choosing Artur Smol’ianinov to play Seraphim, she departs from conventional visions of angelic beauty, a point she underscores by casting a few classically striking male actors in minor roles. While Smol’ianinov handles the role of the naïf convincingly, he cannot overcome the limitations of the screenplay, which reduce his unworldly misperceptions to the most basic of sight gags and lame clichés. 

Some viewers have enjoyed the film’s predictability, taking pleasure in its familiar elements. Some find these self-same elements less entertaining, for in Sasha’s sense of entitlement one can discern the shadow of the pampered Aleksandra in Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears (Moskva slezam ne verit, 1979). As for Seraphim, he bears a striking resemblance to John Travolta’s warrior angel in Nora Ephron’s 1996 film Michael (albeit a younger and fitter version). Perhaps conceived as homage to the late director, the results are largely derivative.

paren-angelStarting from Mark Aren’s story “Christmas Angel,” screenwriter Natal’ia Nazarova, moved the action from New York to Moscow and fashioned an inventive siuzhet that adds interest to the unfolding events. This is the second time that Storozheva has worked with the prolific Nazarova, who also wrote the screenplay for the drama Compensation (Kompensatsiia, 2010). The director also brought to this project actors from her previous films. While Sergei Puskepalis, who plays Sasha’s father, is relegated to a minor role, Ol’ga Popova, as Sasha’s best friend Varia, steals every scene in which she appears. Her vivacity and vitality simply lights up the screen, making Starshenbaum’s performance pale by comparison. To her credit, Starshenbaum did her own stunt work, executing a fall from a third floor window to land upon Smol’ianinov, thereby beginning their encounter.

paren-angelStorozheva introduces some sober elements of contemporary life into her fairy tale, resolving such problems as misogyny and racial hatred through broad, situational humor. Ultimately, her overall portrayal of effete Moscow males suggests that true love can best be found with more rugged, manly specimens who hail from climes way outside the capital.

Cameos by Irina Khakamada, Gosha Kutsenko, Andrei Leonov and Ivan Okhlobystin lend further gaiety to the festivities, contributing additional color to the director’s and cinematographer Oleg Lukichev’s visual peon to Moscow. Throughout the film viewers are treated to beautiful shots of the city, be it on Mokhovaia or Volhonka, inside the Bauman Institute or within a glittering fashion mall. While Storozheva hoped to create a contemporary film possessed of the charm of El’dar Riazanov’s Irony of Fate (Ironiia sud’by, 1975), with My Boyfriend’s an Angel, she, sadly, falls rather far from the mark. 

Arlene Forman
Oberlin College

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My Boyfriend’s an Angel,Russia, 2011
Color, 97 minutes
Director: Vera Storozheva
Screenplay: Natal’ia Nazarova
Cinematography: Oleg Lukichev
Production design: Sergei Tyrin
Music: Gari Miller
Cast: Artur Smol’ianinov, Anna Starshenbaum, Sergei Puskepalis, Ekaterina Vulichenko, Ivan Okhlobystin, Gosha Kutsenko, Nikita Efremov, Ivan Makarevich, Andrei Leonov, Vasilii Stepanov, Ol’ga Popova
Producers: Gevorg Nersisian, Armen Manasarian
Production: “Paradise” Production Center and SV-Aurus

Vera Storozheva: My Boyfriend’s an Angel (Moi paren’—angel, 2011)

reviewed by Arlene Forman © 2013

Updated: 12 Apr 13