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Top 12 Soviet Films To Watch Before you Die

by Paloma Alvarez on

Ever since Stenka Razine in 1908 the Russian Film Industry, like a weird alternative teenager has gone through many changes and phases, It went from doing short biopics to propaganda films in 1913, and it went from a state tool to a fully realized industry that recreated epic stories from the points of view of moguls like Aleksandr Janzhónkov, Vladímir Gardin and Yákov Protazánov, and from there the rest is history… 

This industry has given us a lot of cult classics and truly remarkable beautiful pieces that have touched many.

Here´s a list of 12 movies to watch before you die. SOVIET EDITION.

(With no specific order)


The Battleship Potemkin - Sergei Eisenstein, 1925

Battleship potemkin scene, baby craddle, stairs scene
This silent film is the definition of a classic and no Russian movie list would be complete without it.
It is about the 1905 mutiny, when the crew of the Russian battleship Potemkin rebelled against its officers. It is brilliantly divided into 5 acts:
Act I: Men and Maggots
Act II: Drama on the Deck
Act III: A Dead Man Calls for Justice
Act IV: The Odessa Steps
Act V: One Against All
If you're a history junkie like me you probably know how the movie ends but the magic of this movie relies in the style, the sequences are simply magnificent and specifically the “Steps sequence”  is said to be one of the most influential sequences in cinematic history it has been homaged in several classics like The Godfather, The untouchables, Star Wars Ep III and Brazil. Also, it has even been referenced in Gossip Girl.
100% a recommended watch, even if you don't like silent movies.

Solaris- Steven Soderbergh, 1972

Solaris, tube scene, space oddyssey
The 70´s version, not the George Clooney one, don't do that to yourself. 
This space drama by Tarkovsky is a heart wrenching film with twist and turns in every direction you look,a deep look at the human psyche. There's not much I can say about the movie without spoilers, all you need to know is if you like space movies, star trek and Kubrick you will most likely enjoy this one.
Tarkovsky fighted the USSR to release this unedited version, its ranked 68 in Empire´s “100 Best Films of World Cinema” and its rated fresh 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, what more do you need to hear?

Mirror - Andréi Tarkovski, 1975

The mirror tarkovsky, scene, greenery, smoking
As you can tell at this point Tarkovski is kind of a big deal, and this film is no different, it is a weird slightly autobiographical coming of age, with an atypical structure, a point where the lines between poetry and cinema blur. 
It is set in the 70´s in the memories of a dying man, it drifts back all the way to World War II, post war Russia, and the 60’s, jumping in and out and going back to present day. The name is justified by this quote from the author “it should work like a mirror, in which one receives new reflexions each time you look. Past, present, future, memories, guilt, beauty, sadness, nostalgia, the mirror reflects that much more, if you pay enough attention.”
In my opinion, this movie is Tarkovski´s opera prima, the photography is absolutely breathtaking, if you don't believe me, it is classified as one of the most beautiful shots of all time by CineFix.
I could talk pages and pages about the composition, time, frames etc. But this is not the point, yet, all I need to say this is not a movie to watch while you're washing the dishes, this movie is needy, it demands attention and it forces you to think, it is definitely not for everyone and it takes a few rewatches to fully take it in, but if you have the time or the interest you'll understand why it is on this list.

Down House - Roman Kachanov, 2001

Down house roman kachanov, wedding
This is the youngest movie on this list and it is not soviet but I totally think it deserves a place here, because it is absolutely AMAZING. Down house is a spit in the face to Dostoevsky’s “The idiot” this is a comedy film and it is a absolutely hilarious, it is set in the 90’s in the time of hummers, gangsters, and hackers. It is the Russian “Fear and loathing in las vegas” and it is still super close to the spirit of Dostoevsky. This movies, unlike many others on the list, its light funny, irreverent, and a little vulgar, just what a 90’s movies should be. Think Monty Python on acid.

Two Comrades Were Serving - Evgeny Karelov, 1968

two comrades were serving movie scene
This is a historical comedy, like any truly soviet movie it is about war, specifically set on the last days of the civil war that followed the Russian Revolution, in the Crimean Peninsula.
The first story line of the movie follows two Red Army soldiers: unlikely friends Nekrasov and Karyakin. The second story line is about a White Guard officer Brusentsov who is devoted to Russia and his cause but sees it being destroyed day by day.
Recorded in black and white this is a thrilling war comedy with a tint of drama, a definitive must watch.

White Sun of the Desert - Vladimir Motyl, 1970

white sun of the desert movie
I gotta admit this film has a very special place in my heart, it is the first soviet movie I watched with my S/O, and I loved it, it is a very emotional movie, and funny as well it deals with matters like war, women and an ideal of what the Soviet Union is. It tells the story of Red Army soldier Sukhov, he fought on the Bolshevik Revolution against Tsarist forces, and he is trying to return home. On the way back, he gets into all kinds of trouble with the plight of several local men and women whom he must save and incorporate into an ideal Soviet Union. Interesting movie, definitely a must watch.

Ballad of a Soldier - Grigory Chukhray, 1959

Ballad of a soldier movie romance
This movie was nominated for an Academy Award, it is a bitter romance, disguised as a war movie, this tale takes you through 4 tales about different types of love, romantic, committed love, and motherly love, it is an endearing tale and you will definitely be moved by it. Watch this whenever you feel nostalgic about something.

Stalker - Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979

Solaris Tarkovski, sand dunes 
Another trippy movie from Tarkovsky… Shocker, but seriously this movie is an amazing thriller, it is about a group of people that are looking for a mystical room that can grant people's deepest wishes, the expedition is lead by a person called “The Stalker”. It is filled with alien references and an uneasy feeling throughout the film, the film is also really introspective, the expedition crew get into really deep conversations and you find yourself wondering what would you do in their position, very fun to watch with friends.

Come and See - Elem's Klimov, 1985

Come and See alexei
This is considered amongst the best war films in history, The film focuses upon the Nazi German occupation of Belarus, through the eyes of a Belarusian partisan teenager named Flyora, who joins the Belarusian resistance movement, and thereafter depicts the Nazi atrocities and human suffering.
The story had to wait EIGHT YEARS to be released by the Soviet Union and it was totally worth it. The title is inviting you to see the atrocities of war from the perspective of the young, I think this is one of the movies you only watch once, it is heart-wrenching and sad, but so beautiful at the same time, it is on my list with movies like “Life is Beautiful” and “Shindler´s List”. A must watch but not a must watch over and over again.

Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears - Vladimir Menshov, 1980

Moscow does not believe in tears
This movie is about 3 women that live together, and they eventually become friends, this movie reminds me of Pedro Almodovar´s work, satirical and funny but deep at the same time. So Deep Dive into the lives of these 3 women and look deeper into what it meant to be a woman in the 60´s

Assa - Sergei Solovyov, 1987

Assa film
This movie is amazing, specially if you are music fanatic, this movie is the responsible that people know the band Aquarium. The soundtrack is absolutely amazing and the plotlines are entrancing, this is a fun and light moment, 145 minutes of music and light jokes with some twists and turns I am not willing to spoil right now. Just watch the movie.

Brother - Alexei Balabanov, 1997

Brat brother movie
This is a really cool cult movie ALSO not soviet, BUT this is amongst my favorites in the list, it is THE gangster movie to dip your toes into Russian cinema, is funny, dark, and interesting, you wont want to turn your head from the screen. Danila is a returning veteran from the First Chechen War, he goes to St Petersburg to meet his brother who is a famous hitman named the Tatar, his brother ends up passing a task to him and everything goes sideways, in a really fun way. Just 4 things, 90´s RUSSIAN GANGSTER MOVIE.
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