Issue 50 (2015) : Special Feature KiKu-50

Leonid Gaidai: There's Good Weather on Deribasovskaya, It’s Raining Again in Brighton Beach (Na Deribasovskoi khoroshaia pogoda, ili Na Braiton bich opiat’ idut dozhdi, 1992)

reviewed by Alexander Prokhorov© 2015

Leonid Gaidai’s debut as a filmmaker in new post-Soviet Russiais often overlooked or dismissed as a rather helpless attempt of an ageing master of comedy to come to terms with the nation’s new realities. No matter how one evaluates his last film, There's Good Weather on Deribasovskaya, It’s Raining Again in Brighton Beach deserves attention as a bridge text, linking Soviet and post-Soviet genres of laughter.  

Na DeribasovskoiGaidai started making his There's Good Weather in the USSR and completed it in post-Soviet Russia. Coincidentally, the production at Mosfilm Studio began at the turning point of Russian history, during the anti-Gorbachev coup in August 1991. When the coup leaders moved their tanks to Moscow, Gaidai started shooting one of the concluding scenes of the film, in which villains in a tank chase the protagonists in their last desperate attempt to destroy them. If most of Gaidai’s comedies relied on established Soviet myths and genres, his only post-Soviet release examines defunct ideological clichés and icons, tries to figure out what constitutes Russian film comedy beyond Soviet-era modes of laughter, and what can be recycled from Soviet film genres in new Russian cinema. In this respect, There's Good Weather is, if not an experimental film, an exploratory video project about the future of Russian comedy.

Similar to the plots of Gaidai’s earlier comedies, the narrative premise of There's Good Weather makes little sense, but in retrospect seems to be quite insightful and even prophetic. The film is about the KGB fighting the Russian mafia who, for some unknown reason, tries to prevent a summit between the US and Soviet presidents. In the course of their struggle with the mafia, the KGB agents become so good at mimicking mafia methods that, by the film’s end, they become indistinguishable from the mobsters. Only KGB general Stepan (Iurii Volyntsev) can tell the real mobster from a KGB officer impersonating a mobster. There is no difference whatsoever as far as how the agents and mobsters rob their compatriots and American tourists, including the CIA chief.

For a reviewer watching the film in 2015 and armed with the knowledge of two decades of Russia’s conflicting efforts to reform and restore its empire, many references to political events of the perestroika era come across as almost touching in their naive euphoria about the end of the Cold War and re-established contacts with the West. In Gaidai’s film, the KGB and CIA join their efforts in fighting the new enemy: Russian organized crime. The allied security agencies send their top agents, Fedor Sokolov (Dmitrii Kharatian) and Mary Star (Kelly McGrill), to destroy the mafia boss, “Artist” (Andrei Miagkov). “Artist” resides in Brighton Beach, a Brooklyn neighborhood inhabited by former Soviet citizens. In the course of the film, the top agents become not only a deadly task force but also a romantic couple. One of the film’s scriptwriters, Arkadii Inin, recollects that he and Gaidai co-wrote the script inspired by the news that the head of Russia’s security services, Vadim Bakatin, shared with the US ambassador Robert Strauss information about the system of covert listening devices installed in the building intended for the US embassy in Moscow. In the film, the honeymoon between two secret services and the two nations is eternal and the struggle with Russian organized crime only solidifies the union.

Against today’s numerous film and television productions celebrating Russia’s security services and their supposedly morally impeccable Soviet predecessors, such as the KGB and NKVD, Gaidai’s depiction of KGB operatives as Soviet descendants of Keystone Kops reminds the viewer that Russian film comedy knew better times and has a tradition of carnivalizing even the most oppressive social institutions, including the KGB. Like Keystone Kops, Gaidai’s KGB officers move as a group and are extremely active, with very little result to show for the cause of law enforcement. Instead of fighting crime, they invest all their energy into entertaining their CIA colleagues in a bathhouse with bikini-clad dancers, at a ballet performance in the Bolshoi Theater, and at a souvenir market on Arbat Street in downtown Moscow.

Na DeribasovskoiIn his films from the 1960s Gaidai was the first Soviet comedy filmmaker to mock the collective as the Soviet ideological standard of values, and celebrated an individual trickster hero who could outsmart the mighty adversary. The collective in Gaidai’s films is usually a criminal gang, most famously the ensemble of the Soviet three stooges ViNiMor, played by Georgii Vitsyn, Iurii Nikulin, and Evgenii Morgunov. Like in his earlier films, in There's Good Weather Gaidai has one major collective hero, the mafia. The protagonist’s struggle with the criminal organization is the source of numerous chases and gags. The ethnic composition of the criminal organization and its leadership leaves few doubts about the model it tries to emulate. The foot soldiers represent the nations of the former Soviet Union, while the leader constantly changes his disguises, impersonating major communist leaders: Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev.

In her 1993 review of the film in Iskusstvo kino, Natal’ia Sirivlia noted that despite comic distancing from Soviet ideology, in his last film Gaidai is nostalgic for Soviet cinema, its narrative models, visual and sound common places (Sirivlia 1993: 71). No doubt Gaidai pays homage to Soviet cinema even when he mocks it. The humorous subtitle for the film is “A Historico-Revolutionary Film for Children of Young, Middle, and Advanced Age.” In his depictions of Soviet leaders and their military and security services, he parodies genre conventions of Soviet war, spy, and biographical films, as well as the famous television mini-series Seventeen Moments of Spring (Semnadtsat’ mgnovenii vesny, dir. Tat’iana Lioznova, 1973). Finally, Gaidai cites gags from his own earlier films. While knowledge of Soviet cinematic tropes and genres provides a solid foundation for Gaidai’s visual gags and verbal jokes, in his last film the filmmaker also tries to link this to Russia’s present. He tries to comprehend how the familiar and coherent visual universe of Soviet cinema will coexist with the disorienting economic and cultural realities of the new Russia at a moment when the ideology articulated in Soviet films ceased to function as the dominant discourse of power.

Two episodes are of key importance in the film: in the first, KGB agent Fedor Sokolov receives an assignment from his commanding officer at KGB headquarters to go the US to fight the Russian mafia; in the second, Fedor finally encounters America, notably Brighton Beach. In one editorial cut Fedor moves from his KGB boss’s office, a mise-en-scene familiar to any viewer of Soviet spy or war films, to Brighton Beach where many street signs are in Russian but street life consists of a strange mixture of residual traces of the locals’ Soviet and Russian past and contemporary American life. Any post-Soviet viewer could identify with the protagonist’s experience of sudden and traumatic displacement from a familiar Soviet culture to the new, exciting but completely disorienting world of capitalism. Gaidai’s film gave post-Soviet viewers a cultural hero who relied on sheer luck and Soviet experience drawn from communist-era films, and somehow succeeds in battling the new world, which is multilingual, without national borders, and is driven by communication technologies that even Soviet or US leaders cannot control.

Na DeribasovskoiThe disconnect between the realities of contemporary life and characters from the USSR following habits learned from Soviet films and TV shows, constitutes most of the comic situations in the film. Perhaps the most successful use of cinematic tropes from Soviet-era films is the scene parodying conventions of the Soviet war film. Gaidai specifically evokes the subgenre about Soviet special forces fighting the Nazis behind enemy lines under the guidance of wise commanders in Moscow and communicating with headquarters through the help of heroic radio operators. When Sokolov arrives in the US, he communicates with Moscow not by phone but with the help of a radio operator who wears a Soviet WW2-era uniform and uses a huge war-era radio transmitter-receiver. While his family lives in a standard middle-class house, the radio operator resides in a WW2-era tent, eats field rations, uses war-era maps for orientation in space and gets most of his wisdom by communicating with Stalin’s portrait hanging above him in his tent.

So can we get any wisdom from reviewing this farewell message of the master of Russo-Soviet slapstick in 2015? Gaidai’s last work fuses the comedy and crime film, a model that he successfully used in his best comedies from the 1960s and passed on to future Russian filmmakers in his only post-Soviet picture. This generic model became especially productive in post-Soviet television crime serials with endless episodes of Streets of Broken Lights (Ulitsy razbitykh fonarei) combining criminal plots with drinking jokes and slapstick humor. Gaidai’s last film puts identity politics and his comic characters’ confusion about post-Soviet ethnic, religious and gender boundaries at the center of his narrative—a subject matter which would become indispensable for Russian film and television genres of laughter for the next two decades. It seems that Gaidai decided to go the easy way when he chose to make a comedy about the KGB, an easy target during the short period of “free for all.” However, with hindsight, making the all-powerful security agency the cultural hero of new Russia was beyond insightful.

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Works Cited

Sirivlia, Natal’ia. 1993. “Pes Barbos i russkaia mafiia.” Iskusstvo kino 8: 69-71.

There's Good Weather on Deribasovskaya, It’s Raining Again in Brighton Beach, Russia/USA, 1992
Color, 96 minutes
Director: Leonid Gaidai
Screenplay: Leonid Gaidai, Arkadii Inin, Mikhail Volovich
Cinematography: Vadim Alisov
Cast: Dmitrii Kharat’ian, Kelly McGrill, Andrei Miagkov, Mikhail Kokshenov, Iurii Volyntsev, Immanuil Vitorgan, Armen Dzhigarkhanian
Production: Mosfilm, Studio Soiuz, MMO Ingeokom, RSM Trading Corporation

Leonid Gaidai: There's Good Weather on Deribasovskaya, It’s Raining Again in Brighton Beach (Na Deribasovskoi khoroshaia pogoda, ili Na Braiton bich opiat’ idut dozhdi, 1992)

reviewed by Alexander Prokhorov© 2015

Updated: 08 Oct 15