9 February 2008 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
78 (Russian) revolutions per minute
The Russian comedy film 'New Moscow' is barely known even in Russia; apparently it incurred the wrath of the commissars during its original screening in 1938, and was suppressed afterward. I'm amazed that it survived at all.
Alyosha (played by Daniil Sagal, uncle of Peg Bundy!) is a Siberian farmboy who looks amazingly like the Bolshevik version of Li'l Abner. But Alyosha longs to be an architect and urban planner: accordingly, he has designed and built a model of a glorious utopian city which he calls 'Moscow Future': if only the commissars will listen to him, Moscow Future will become reality. (Among its other merits -- by communist standards -- this Moscow has no trace of Saint Basil's Cathedral nor any other church.)
Alyosha schleps his model all the way to the real Moscow, where urban renewal is in progress. This is a source of dismay for Fedia (Pavel Sukhanov), a cityscape painter who can't finish any of his paintings ... because the old buildings are torn down and new ones erected more quickly than he can paint them. While Alyosha prepares his presentation, he falls in love with little blonde Zoya (Nina Alisova), who looks like a somewhat more modest and chaste Russian version of Daisy Mae Scragg.
The high point of the film is when Alyosha activates his model city, and it almost magically seems to come to life. But this is a comedy, so the mechanism gets jammed in reverse. Alyosha is horrified as his midget Moscow actually begins to regress to its Czarist condition, with onion domes springing up and so forth.
I was very impressed with the production design of this film, as well as by the performances of several of the actors. Some of the comedy is still funny after all these five-year plans. Writer-director Alexander Medvedkin is clearly critical of Stalin's regime: I applaud him for having the guts to say so in 1938, and I'm astounded that this film was permitted to survive. I'll rate 'New Moscow' 9 out of 10.