Issue 74 (2021)

Mikhail Lokshin: Silver Skates (Serebrianye kon'ki, 2020)

reviewed by Ellina Sattarova © 2021

silver skatesMikhail Lokshin’s holiday romcom Silver Skates premiered in Russian movie theaters in December 2020 and proved to be—if only by pandemic-era standards—a modest box office success. Purchased by Netflix shortly after its domestic release, Lokshin’s directorial debut was written by Roman Kantor, known for his work on another Russian-language Netflix original, the series Epidemic (Epidemiia, released on Netflix under the title To the Lake). Starring Sonia Priss and Fedor Fedotov as its leads, Silver Skates also features—in a supporting but delightfully memorable role—Iura Borisov, who made a splash with his appearances in two of this year’s Cannes festival competitors, Juho Kuosmanen’s Compartment No. 6 (Hytti No 6) and Kirill Serebrennikov’s Petrov’s Flu (Petrovy v grippe). A lavish period piece—Lokshin’s film is set in a snow-clad St. Petersburg on the eve of the 20th century—Silver Skates is 137 minutes worth of sumptuous costumes, predictable narrative developments, and bizarrely conflicted politics.

The story is fairly simple. In hopes to make enough money to send his ailing father to Baden Baden for treatment, 18-year-old Matvei falls in with a group of self-proclaimed Marxists who rob the rich and thus redistribute the wealth to the poor. Matvei proves unable to save his father, but the money will eventually come in handy: he uses it to elope with his unlikely sweetheart Alisa, the daughter of an abhorrently wealthy minister. A free-spirited Alisa feels imprisoned in the opulent home of her controlling father, who has no appreciation for his daughter’s desire to study chemistry and pursue higher education and who has all of her books burned after he catches her reading Marx. Silver Skates, which aspires to be the Russian Titanic (see Dolin 2020), briefly toys with the idea of ending the needlessly long “will-they-won’t they” ordeal with a “they-won’t,” but inevitably opts for a “happily ever after” as the two star-crossed lovers first escape to Paris and later, after Alisa receives her chemistry degree there, return to St. Petersburg to raise their son.

silver skatesWhile Alisa’s desire to study chemistry is the key driving force behind the film’s plot, her escape would not have been possible without Matvei. He emerges as the prodigy of motion and speed already in the film’s opening sequence. Tasked with making an urgent delivery as the fastest of all the delivery boys, he runs out of the building, hops onto the back of a moving carriage, puts on his skates and then swiftly skates all the way to… a halt. The road has been blockaded to allow an unhindered procession of the minister’s (i.e., Alisa’s father’s) carriage. As the procession reaches its destination, the camera briefly lingers on the closing gates, then cuts to a shot of Alisa, “imprisoned” inside the house, framed within a small patch of clear glass of an otherwise snow-covered window. Once inside, the camera captures Alisa’s stern governess hard at work, teaching her unenthusiastic student how to become a “hostess with the mostest.”

While authority restricts the mobility of both central characters, Matvei is better-equipped to set things in motion. In this skating-focused film, Alisa, quite tellingly is not a good skater: in an early scene Matvei catches her and stops her from falling; in a later episode, he teaches her how to become a better and faster skater. Silver Skates may be the first Russian mainstream film centered around a female protagonist’s liberation from patriarchy (Dolin 2020), but it cannot resist the temptation to assign a key role in this emancipation project to its male lead.

silver skatesJumbled politics permeates Lokshin’s debut feature, yet for a film featuring Nikita Mikhalkov as one of the producers, Silver Skates, at least initially, makes a few bold moves. Members of the security department led by Alisa’s father discuss whether to use truncheons or sabers to disperse protests. In response to an announcement about an upcoming evening “a la Russe,” Alisa sarcastically remarks “Oh, is patriotism back in fashion?” Equally topical is Alisa’s retort to a suitor who claims he supports women’s rights to vote: “But we don’t have elections.” Much of the film reads as a light critique of inequality-breeding capitalism and consumerist culture: only the rich can afford the pies that Matvei and the other delivery boys (reminiscent of Yandex Eats couriers) schlep across St. Petersburg. The Marx-reading gang, however, is precisely that: a gang, thieving and rowdy, by no means a worthwhile alternative to the thieves already in power. Notably, it is due to this group’s bad influence that Matvei loses touch with his beloved father, a poor lamplighter who has been an exemplary father but who dies alone while his offspring is engaged in debauchery. While the left-leaning swindlers on skates are not entirely unlikeable (mainly due to the charm of their leader Aleks, performed by Iura Borisov), the role they play in Matvei’s neglect of his father makes them irredeemable within Lokshin’s cinematic world.

silver skatesSilver Skates is all but obsessed with father figures. Both Matvei and Alisa have lost their mothers and are defined by their relationships with their fathers. Matvei’s father continues to protect his son even after death: when Alisa’s upset fiancé (chosen for her by her father) shoots Matvei in an attempt to prevent Alisa from eloping, the bullet is intercepted by the skate blades in Matvei’s inner pocket, the ones that his father gave him. While Alisa’s relationship with her overbearing father is difficult at first, he eventually makes amends: he secures a teaching position for her at the university in St. Petersburg so that she can return home with her new family. In the film’s final sequence, Matvei is teaching his son to skate—just as his father had taught him when he was little. Paternity, the film concludes, is all we have.

In one of the film’s most memorable lines, Alisa’s fiancé declares “You might find it hard to believe, but I am a liberal.” This rare but witty moment of self-reflexivity on the part of the film is all the more funny, because it is true: that is indeed hard to believe.

Ellina Sattarova
Dalhousie University

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Works Cited

Dolin, Anton. 2020. “Serebrianye kon'ki” – rossiiskii skazochnyi romkom s liberal'nymi ideiami ot stsenarista “Epidemii.” Meduza10 December.

Silver Skates, Russia, 2020
Color, 137 minutes
Director: Mikhail Lokshin
Script: Roman Kantor
Cinematography: Igor' Griniakin
Production Design: Aleksandr Zagoskin
Costumes: Tat'iana Patrakhal'tseva, Galia Solodovnikova
Music: Guy Farley
Cast: Fedor Fedotov, Sonia Priss, Aleksei Gus'kov, Severija Janusauskaite, Kirill Zaitsev, Iura Borisov, Iurii Kolokolnikov, Aleksandra Revenko, Denis Lavant, Cathie Belton, Timofei Tribuntsev, Sergei Koltakov
Producers: Petr Anurov, Leonid Vereshchagin, Anton Zlatopol'skii, Rafael Minasbekian, Nikita Mikhalkov
Production Central Partnership, GPM KIT Group, Kinoslovo, TRITE Studio of Nikita Mikhalkov, with the assistance of Russia 1 TV channel, with support of the Film Fund
Rights Film Studio Slovo, Studio TRITE of Nikita Mikhalkov, GPM Keith, Central Partnership, TV Company

Mikhail Lokshin: Silver Skates (Serebrianye kon'ki, 2020)

reviewed by Ellina Sattarova © 2021

Updated: 2021