Issue 54 (2016)

Zhora Kryzhovnikov: Best Day Ever (Samyi luchshii den’, 2015)

reviewed by Rachel Stauffer© 2016

best day everTwerking, Indian-cinema-style choreography, and a cover of “I Will Survive” are some of the more unpredictable features in Zhora Kryzhovnikov’s latest film, Best Day Ever, a self-described “Karaoke-Comedy”. Released in Russia in December 2015, intentionally in time for New Year, the film subtly combines elements of Soviet New Year film (e.g., El’dar Riazanov’s Irony of Fate/Ironiia sud’by, 1975) with skillfully choreographed covers of Russian and Soviet pop songs. The performances of some of the songs are meant to evoke audience participation with karaoke-style highlighted lyrics, while others are performed more like music videos (or sometimes both, as in a - metakaraoke, perhaps?- scene of characters drinking and singing in a karaoke bar). The film borrows itsplot from Aleksandr Ostrovskii’s play, An Old Friend is Better Than Two New Ones (Staryi drug luchshe novykh dvukh, 1860), most notably  the names of the mother and daughter at the center of the plot, Tat’iana, and Ol’ga (played by Kryzhovnikov’s wife, Iuliia Aleksandrova).

best day everKryzhovnikov, director of Kiss them All! (Gor’ko! 2013) and its sequel Kiss them All! 2 (2014), presents Russian traditional culture (wedding ritual in Kiss them All! and funeral ritual in the sequel) through the lens of contemporary Russian life, highlighting generational divides and  subsequent differences in the practice of custom and ritual. In these films as well as in Best Day Ever,popular Soviet and Russian music serves as a mechanism to further illustrate conflict between Soviet-era parents and their late- and post-Soviet-minded progeny. In Best Day Ever, much like in musical theater, the selected songs suit the mood and plot at particular, often transitional, moments. Less like musical theater, the actors break the fourth wall during these sing-along moments, engaging the audience to join in. Also contributing to the informality that results from these moments, Kryzhovnikov often employs first-person perspective via mobile devices, a technique used in both Kiss them All!  films, but more pervasively in Best Day Ever, in which characters even take selfies while others are using phones to film. Many songs feature impressively choreographed dancing. The film’s first song, “Don’t Be Born Beautiful” [Ne rodis’ krasivoi], is sung by a giddy Ol’ga in headphones as she rides her bike to work, having just accepted an engagement ring from Petia Vasiutin, a local traffic policeman whom she meets at the film’s outset on New Year’s Eve. As she sings the lyrics “choose me” [vyberi menia], we see footage from Ol’ga’s perspective of brides and weddings taking place throughout the city.

best day everOne of the most impressively choreographed and most memorable scenes is Aleksandrova’s performance of “I Will Survive,” which appears to have been filmed in one take. Having learned that Petia has cheated on her with a famous pop star, the deliciously pouty Alina Shopot (played by singer-songwriter Ol’ga Seriabkina), Ol’ga shakes off her depression, jumps out of bed, looks directly at the camera and then turns it  to follow her as she walks out to the roof of her house, off of which she jumps into a boat strapped to the roof of an SUV. The SUV stops, she jumps down to the street and enters a public bus where a six-piece brass band accompanies her for the song’s chorus. The bus stops, dropping Ol’ga off on the street in the middle of a marching band, which she walks through, reaching a ladder on the back of a fire truck, which she climbs. Throughout all of this she continues to sing Gloria Gaynor’s disco anthem (in English). The fire truck stops and she walks into an old woman’s house, standing next to her for a moment before walking into the next room, which is on fire. A fireman carries her back out to the street, where an all-female group dance scene ensues, interrupted by a passing motorcyclist hit by a speeding car. The song stops, Ol’ga runs up to the motorcyclist asking “Are you OK?” in English, and finishes the song in the ambulance that picks up the motorcyclist.

best day everThere are several other memorable musical moments in Best Day Ever. A hauntingly beautiful remix of “Green-Eyed Taxi” [Zelenoglazoe taksi] in the style of a music video, is performed by Ol’ga Seriabkina as Alina Shopot, in which photographs of her come alive on walls and even on one bar patron’s t-shirt. Valentina Mazunina, who also had a prominent role in both Kiss them All! films, leads a gas station twerking scene. She is hilariously aloof towards her husband, Valia (Petia’s brother), who plays the requisite drunken fool, an archetype also prevalent in the Kiss them All! films. Valia comes to see her at Tatiana’s gas station and the gas station attendants, all women, rip off their coveralls to reveal leggings and leotards, and start dancing and twerking on vehicles parked at the pumps. Generational conflict rears its head between Alina and Petia’s mother, Liuba, when Petia’s entire family has gathered at Alina’s house to make the official proposal. Taking the gesture as a practical joke, Alina expresses how embarrassed she is for all of them, for herself, for her country, her rodina, to which Liuba harshly responds “What do you know about the rodina?” 

best day everAppropriately, the film’s grand finale starts with accordion accompaniment to the song “Thanks, Dear” [Spasibo, rodnaia] by Mikhail Boiarskii, who plays Petia’s father. All’s well that ends well, apparently and despite Petia’s drunken indiscretion with Alina, one year after they meet, on New Year’s, both Ol’ga’s and Petia’s families gather to make the official proposal, this time to Olga, and after some deliberation, she agrees. Boiarskii begins singing “Spasibo, rodnaia”, and the song is remixed into a South Asian-style, electronic rhythm that leads to the grand finale of both families dancing together in the gas station parking lot with choreography reminiscent of traditional and modern dance in Indian cinema.

Fans of the Kiss them All!  films will find familiarity in Best Day Ever. However, the karaoke element is  unique and while music is prominent throughout the film, it is not distracting or inorganic to the development of the plot. While this is truly a modern Russian film, it does evoke the Soviet cinematic past with New Year’s film elements, Soviet pop songs, (also theme music from Georgii Daneliia’s Afonia), and also alluding to the much earlier Ostrovskii play.

Rachel Stauffer
Ferrum College

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Best Day Ever, Russia, 2015
Color, 112 minutes
Rating: 16+
Director: Zhora Kryzhovnikov
Producers: Aleksei Kazakov, Zhora Kryzhovnikov, Timur Bekmambetov, Sergei Kornikhin, Mariia Zatulovskaia
Screenplay: Zhora Kryzhovnikov, Aleksei Kazakov
Production Design: El’dar Karkhalev
Cinematography: Maksim Shinkorenko, Ivan Lebedev
Choreography: Oleg Glushkov
Cast: Dmitrii Nagiev, Iuliia Aleksandrova, Ol’ga Seriabkina, Inna Churikova, Mikhail Boiarskii
Production: Bazelevs Studio

Zhora Kryzhovnikov: Best Day Ever (Samyi luchshii den’, 2015)

reviewed by Rachel Stauffer© 2016

Updated: 08 Oct 16