Director:  Grigoriy Aleksandrov
Year:  1947
Rating: 8.0

Country: Russia

Aka - Becha

Aka - Springtime

Sometimes you have to throw away your conceptions about what a national cinema is like. I always thought of Soviet films, especially those made during Stalin's reign, as serious and overtly nationalistic. And there was plenty of that but in between the films by Eisenstein, Vertov, Pudovkin and others were directors who pumped out fairy tales, comedies and musicals. The director of this film, Grigoriy Aleksandrov, spanned both these worlds. Early on he co-directed with Eisenstein on October (Ten Days that Shook the World), Old and New and Que Viva Mexico! - but then he met the female lead of this film, a musical comedienne, married her and directed what are considered some classic Russian comedies. If this film is to go by, I would say thank goodness for the actress. There are already enough serious Russian directors but not that many I would bet back then that had a flair for light fluffy charming comedy.

This has plenty of that in this romantic musical comedy of mistaken identities and film itself. It is much closer to Ninotchka than it is to Battleship Potemkin. It throws in the necessary propaganda moments - a song proclaiming love for the Motherland and a country free from poverty or the wreckage of WW II. At one point a character reads from Gogol and says "we need fairy tales in life" and this is a modern dream like fairy tale of posh apartments, wide beautiful boulevards and fine fashions. This was produced by the legendary Mosfilm studio and was the first one with their iconic image at the beginning. But it was in fact filmed in a Czechoslovakian studio as the Mosfilm studio was still under construction. Most of it is shot in large spacious interior sets, but there is a wonderful musical number that gets the film going that is shot in a busy street with a slew of marching girls, seemingly saying this is Russian womanhood, proud, upright and strong. And surprisingly attractive.

The director Arkadi is planning a film about a famous female scientist, Nikitina who is developing solar energy. This is to be a straight serious film of Soviet pride - the kind that were knocked out by the boatload at the time (and which this film pokes fun at). He looks for an actress to play the scientist and discovers Shatrova, a dancer and singer in an operetta currently on the stage. The director just keeps telling her look more serious, this is a scientist who only knows and is dedicated to her work. In a series of missteps that can only happen in the movies the two women end up taking each other's place without any one knowing it. Romance blooms for both, songs spring forth and a sweet ending is in the cards (with a clever take on the fourth wall of cinema). There are a couple great scenes - that musical number upfront, a test of the solar energy machine that is right out of a sci-fi film and a wonderful walk by the director and Nikitina (though he thinks she is Shatrova) through the huge film studio as different films are in the process of being made.

After I watched the film, I looked up who the actors are and saw that three of them are legends. The director is portrayed by Nikolay Cherkasov, who was the lead in Alexander Nevsky, Ivan the Terrible and portrayed Gorky and Franklin Roosevelt! The actress who plays both Nikitina and Shatrova is great in this - jumping back and forth between stern and gay - is Lyubov Orlova, an enormously popular actress at the time. Her story is a Russian novel. Her father owned three villas and lost them all at cards and she had to go into show business to help her family. A dancer - she does a little tap dancing and ballet here - a bright singing voice and a light touch in comedy. She was a favorite of Stalin's but when he died she said thank God the scum is dead. And the third actor of note is Faina Ranevskaya, who is the dotty housekeeper and was a loved character actor in those days.

It might seem a bit slow initially but picks up speed in the second half as the two women change places. It is light, pleasing and delightful and a kick in the head to what I thought of Russian films in that era. This feels like pure Hollywood. It is up on YouTube with subs as are a few of the directors other films.