Issue 68 (2020)

Il’ia Kulikov: Police Officer from Rublevka: New Year’s Mayhem (Politseiskii s Rublevki: Novogodnii bespredel 2018)

reviewed by Olga Mukhortova © 2020

rublevkaIl'ia Kulikov’s Police Officer from Rublevka: New Year Mayhem was released on 20 December 2018 by Karoprokat, and enjoyed box-office success (RUR 1,762,820,350 [$ 26,115,857]). For the entirety of 2019, the film remained among the top 5 Russian films and, as of February 2020, held the fourth most successful box-office total of all times among Russian films, out-grossed only by T-34, Going Vertical (Dvizhenie vverkh), and Serf (Kholop). What made this New Year’s story about a comical police officer from the most prestigious suburb of Moscow so financially successful?

A combination of several diverse cultural, cinematic, and business strategies was responsible for the film’s success. Among the most prominent ones, we can name the New Year’s movie genre, references to popular Soviet movies and the culture of the 1960s, citations of foreign (in particular, Quentin Tarantino’s) films, business models based on TV series, the additional nods to popular entertainment genres (such as the detective story, comedy, and romcom), and, of course, the different types of fool-like characters played by the most popular Russian actors of the last five years. This mixture of approaches gives us an example of big-budget post-Soviet Russian filmmaking.

rublevkaThe film depicts a group of police officers who serve in the most prestigious suburb of Moscow, Rublevskoe shosse (colloquially known as Rublevka). They have learned that their superiors are going to close one of the two branches of Rublevka on 1 January. To prevent their department’s shutdown and keep everyone employed, Grigorii Izmailov (played by Aleksandr Petrov, one the most popular actors of the last five years) tries to convince his colleagues to help him rob a bank, “investigate” the crime to find the “criminals,” and thereby get a reward from their boss. With this robbery, they hope to keep their police station open and hold onto their jobs. Parallel developments include a Christmas-like story about a baby being delivered on 31 December, as well as a love story concerning two young spouses who are reunited after a quarrel. Everything is spiced up with lowbrow humor containing frequently repeated obscenities. For this reason, the film is not for a family evening but rather for an evening in with friends or for couples.

rublevkaThe movie’s connection to the four-year-long TNT television series Police Officer from Rublevka is largely responsible for the financial success of the feature film. In an interview, Il’ia Kulikov, who simultaneously fulfills the roles of producer, director, and screenwriter, explains his strategy as not director-based but rather producer-led filmmaking: “There are plenty of directors in film production, but one showrunner. The director’s task is to understand the showrunner and to render his ideas, not to bring in his “self,” it’s not needed here. If you want to demonstrate your “self,” learn how to write scripts. […] In cinema, the director is the captain, in the television industry, the director is second-in-command” (Kulikov 2015). Applying his approach to the film, Kulikov released Police Officer from Rublevka: New Year Mayhem as if it were a New Year’s special, bringing his television audience into movie theaters. In turn, Kulikov’s TV fans brought their friends and families.

rublevkaTo improve the chances of his TV-series-inspired film’s success, Kulikov also exploits the genre of the New Year’s movie, probably the most popular one (see DeBlasio 2008). Following the example of Old Songs about The Main Things 1 and 2 (ORT 1995, 1996), he includes references to famous songs of the Soviet 1960s and 1970s, adding features of the musical genre to his film. However, his references not only include Russian songs but also songs in English and, in particular, musical themes that allude to Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992). This is possiblebecause the imagined post-Soviet Russian community’s culture today includes not only Leonid Gaidai’s comedies but also European and American cinema. Exploiting Reservoir Dogs’ plot, the director is keenly aware that his audience is familiar with this particular film culture and can enjoy and appreciate this type of cinematic reference. From this perspective, one head of the Russian eagle gazes into the Soviet past while the other closely observes neighboring cultures.

rublevkaWhile including Timur Bekmambetov’s New Year Trees film series, Kulikov also satirizes them, mocking the quality of the last two films. Nevertheless, Kulikov develops the trajectory started in Bekmambetov’s series. With his parallel montage of several plots, the director creates a multiplicity of different types of people, presenting the diversity of their lives. In contemporary Russia, every member of the film’s diverse audience can find a protagonist of their type and thus be included in the New Year’s “time of miracles.” Kulikov’s film offers timeframes that fully exploit the diversity of post-Soviet Russia. As far as we can observe, the similarities between apartments and streets are gone, society is not centered on members of the intelligentsia like Zhenia Lukashin (from El’dar Riazanov’s canonical 1975 New-Year’s film Irony of Fate] but rather offers the imperial diversity of various cultures. However, this diversity is based on the highly important profession of police officer. This obstacle clearly reflects the contemporary situation of Russian society, in which members of state security and law-enforcement institutions could be considered the most influential segment of Russian society.

Olga Mukhortova
University of Pittsburgh

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Works Cited

DeBlasio, Alyssa. 2008. “The New-Year Film as a Genre of Post-War Russian Cinema.” Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema 2 (1): 43-61.

Kulikov, Il’ia. 2015. Interview. “Ia ne delaiu serialov po sakazu…” Ekho (Baku) 4 April.

Police Officer from Rublevka: New Year Mayhem. Russia. 2018.
Color, 90 min.
Director: Il'ia Kulikov
Screenplay: Il'ia Kulikov
Producers: Il'ia Kulikov, Andrei Semenov, Valerii Fedorovich, Evgenii Nikishov, Alena Marakhovskii
Cinematography: Aleksei Perevalov
Music: Denis Dubovik
Cast: Aleksandr Petrov, Sergei Burunov, Aleksandra Bortich, Roman Popov, Sofia Kashtanova, Rina Grishina, Tatiana Babenkova
Production: TNT, LEGIO FELIX

Il’ia Kulikov: Police Officer from Rublevka: New Year’s Mayhem (Politseiskii s Rublevki: Novogodnii bespredel 2018)

reviewed by Olga Mukhortova © 2020

Updated: 2020