Recently we’ve featured films by Sergei Eisenstein, a pioneer of cinema as we know it, and Andrei Tarkovsky, one of the most respected auteurs in the history of the art form. They’re all free to watch on Youtube, as is Sergei Bondarchuk’s epic adaptation of War and Peace from the late nineteen-sixties and Karen Shakhnazarov’s eight-part Anna Karenina, which came out just a few years ago. For all this we have Mosfilm to thank. Once the national film studio of the Soviet Union — equipped with the kind of resources that made it more or less the Hollywood of the U.S.S.R. — Mosfilm remains in operation as a production company, as well as a Youtube channel.
Mosfilm’s playlist of Soviet movies now offers more than 70 English-subtitled features, each one labeled by genre. The dozen comedies currently free to watch include Leonid Gaidai’s massively successful crime-and-society comedy The Diamond Arm (1969) and Eldar Ryazanov’s satirical Carnival Night (1956).
The versatile Ryazanov also directed pictures of other types for Mosfilm, including the musical Hussar Ballad (1962) and the melodrama Railway Station for Two (1982). A variety of genres and subgenres: Abram Room’s “love movie” Bed and Sofa (1927), Karen Shakhnazarov’s “mystic drama” Assassination of the Tsar (1991), Vladimir Motyl’s “Eastern” (as opposed to Western) White Sun of the Desert (1970), and Georgiy Daneliya’s “distopia movie” Kin-dza-dza! (1986).
Of course, one need not search far and wide to see the Soviet Union itself described as a dystopia. Few today could deny the fatal flaws of Soviet political and economic systems, but then, those flaws were hardly unknown to Soviet citizens themselves, even those in positions of cultural prominence. Viewers today may be surprised at just how keenly some of these movies (Georgiy Daneliya’s “tragic comedy” Autumn Marathon from 1979 being one classic example) observe the nature of life behind the Iron Curtain. In this and other ways, Soviet film has a greater variety of sensibilities and textures than one might expect. And given that Mosfilm produced more than 3,000 pictures during the existence of the U.S.S.R. — including Akira Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala, from 1975 — there remain many more to discover, at least if the uploading continues apace. View the entire playlist of Soviet films with English subtitles here.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.