Fashion Forward, Soviet! 


Directed by Valery Todorovsky

Hipsters, a very approximate translation of Stilyagi (implying both stylishness and vulgarity), is Russia’s late-aughts demonstration of how rhythmically in step it is with the rest of the world—not that the Motherland needs to prove anything to anybody. In this respect, the country’s first musical in half a century is a rollicking success—but for its story of repression and resurgent individuality, who’d guess that the last seven decades in Moscow went by any differently than they did in Moscow, Idaho? The song-and-dance numbers by Konstantin Meladze are impeccable, as are Alexander Osipov’s costumes. With its noxious green plaids, worsted-wool jumpers, and sumptuously crinkled taffeta, Hipsters fetishizes textiles more effectively than Grease or Footloose, its comparatively dowdy Western cousins. Skillful aerial pans endow nightmarish communal apartments with fairy-tale joy; think Anastasia rather than Russian Ark.

It’s 1955, Stalin’s gone from Kremlin to Mausoleum, and between patent-leather heels and equally shiny pompadours are individuals—young drop-outs who love jazz and cigarettes and dancing, baffling, frightening and offending their grayer and dourer comrades. Their nemeses, righteous communist youth, force haircuts and spit disapproval; one Mels (Anton Shagin), previously a model Soviet citizen, switches sides after a chance encounter with good-time-gal Polly. He gets dance lessons from the obligatory Jewish intellectual, buys a sax on the black market, and, self-taught, begins an underground musical career. Eventually, adulthood interferes—toward the end, as color slowly drains from Hipsters’ palette, the film becomes weirdly touching—but not so much that an abrupt, time-traveling musical number can’t finish off with major chords.

Let’s not lie—Hipsters is fun, and director Todorovsky isn’t fudging—there really was a small Muscovite subculture of kids with an eye to Western music and style, who really did ingeniously make records out of X-ray film—boogie-on-the-bones. But the movie runs as much on choreography as on the kind of nostalgia their existence, in a small way, made possible, though it’s hard not to hear just as much of the Young Communists’ choir—we’re all bound by the same chain, they drone—in its smiling insistence that we’re all special. Just look at what we’re wearing!

Opens February 24 at Cinema Village


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