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5 Good Russian Movies with English Subtitles

Updated on December 8, 2011
A scene from 'Brother'.
A scene from 'Brother'. | Source

This is my second hub on Russian movies available to international viewers. If my first hub deals with Russian movies dubbed in English (what a treat, I know!), this one is more conventional, as I present five good Russian movies subtitled in English. So it happened that most of the movies here are based on Russian literature classics, which always has been the biggest strength of Russian cinema, together with its traditional acting school.

The lady and her little dog.
The lady and her little dog.

The Lady with the Dog // Дама с собачкой (1959)

The 1900s Yalta is the typical sea-resort scene: men flirt with women, women with men—for a week or two before they go back home to their duties of fathers, mothers, businessmen and civil servants. So happened the romance between one lady, who was always seen with her little dog by her side, and Dmitry Gurov, a young married banker from Moscow. The eternal question: is such a tense feeling doomed or destined to be something bigger and life-changing? The black and white film accentuates the excellent photography, bringing us to a time long gone; it won a Special Prize at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival. Based on a short story of the same title by Anton Chekhov.

Oblomov receives a guest.
Oblomov receives a guest.

Oblomov // Несколько дней из жизни Обломова (1980)

A several moments in the life of a man who slept his life away on the couch. Doesn't sound thrilling, I know, and yet it is the quintessential tragic Russian character. Oblomov is a landowner who lives off his serfs's labor at his estate, while he resides in St. Petersburg, a thousand miles away. His servant Grigory is his master's shadow: likewise lazy, weakling, and opposed to anything new. Most of the time Oblomov dreams and eats, destroying his health and wealth. His childhood friend Stolz, a German enterpreneur, tries to revive Oblomov by inviting him to parties and finally introducing him to a young lady, with whom Oblomov eventually falls in love. Out of his dusty dark apartment he moves to the fresh green country: a perfect chance to start anew, to revive the ideals of his college youth...

You see the tragedy of a man who is a true hostage of his upbringing, his habits and his poor will, and who, while realizing all that, cannot do anything about it; even the mighty Stolz fails to get him out of that lethargy. Set in the 1850s, the movie made by Nikita Mikhalkov is based on Ivan Goncharov's novel of the same title.

A scene from "Unfinished Piece for the Player Piano"
A scene from "Unfinished Piece for the Player Piano" | Source

Unfinished Piece for the Player Piano // Неоконченная пьеса для механического пианино (1977)

Another Nikita Mikhalkov's movie, this time based on Anton Chekhov's play with the latter's typical setting - a fin-de-siecle country estate on the decline. It is a drama of intervowen love triangles and suppressed feelings.

The local gentry gathers for a midsummer party. The main character, Platonov, sees among the invited guests his former sweetheart, whom he has not seen for many years. They are both married by now, but what's more important is that they are light years away from the ideals they both used to share. Looking at her as a mirror of his past, he suddenly realises that by the age of 35 he has achieved practically nothing, despite the great aspirations of his youth. Ashamed that he had allowed life to betray his ideals, he gets bitter towards himself, his wife, his friends and the entire world... This soul torture notwithstanding, the movie is pretty lively and full of little comic scenes.

A DVD cover
A DVD cover

Brother // Брат (1997)

After Pulp Fiction, Europe experienced a series of similar groundbreaking crime-flavored films (Trainspotting; Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; Run, Lola, Run). Alexei Balabanov's Brother followed the trend. Demobee Danila, played by Sergei Bodrov, arrives in St. Petersburg, hoping that his older brother would help him with his new post-army life. Danila's brother happens to be a gangster and he offers Danila a killer's job. Danila takes it and his brother's rival gang is now after them both.

Quite novel was the moral charge of the movie: what Danila does is bad, yet strangely we do not feel compelled to condemn him. After almost a decade of decline, Russian cinema found a new language and new themes with his film, which became immensely popular and has become a cult classic, a perfect portrait of the troublesome '90s Russia.


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    • kikibruce profile image

      kikibruce 4 years ago from New York

      I would at the 2007 Movie Груз 200 "Gruz 200" or"Cargo 200" .This film depicts a negative view of the late Soviet society. The action is set during culmination of the Soviet war in Afghanistan in 1984 and the movie's title refers to the zinc coffins in which dead Soviet soldiers were shipped home. Excellent film, very disturbing.

    • moncrieff profile image

      moncrieff 5 years ago from New York, NY

      Katie, thank you! Can we say that Russians have a tendency to gloom? )) You mentioned PiterFM, I'm sure foreign viewers would enjoy it if it had English subtitles. Lovely words about Saint Petersburg, by the way.

    • profile image

      Katie 5 years ago

      Hi! I discovered your blog today after hearing on the TV something about that Russians-don't-smile thing (btw, the most smiling city I know is St-Petersburg! There are a lot of cheerful young guys and girls there. And the province is much gloomier).

      I just wanted to add - I think that the movie "Piter FM" (2006) is a total must-see and one of the best movies of 2000's in Russia! It's very fresh, light and optimistic, has a great soundtrack and all the charm of SPb White Nights :)

    • profile image

      Ann 5 years ago

      Add We are from the Future, Kotovskiy, Dream of the Vicontess Prizorova and may add Paypal to the page :-)

    • moncrieff profile image

      moncrieff 6 years ago from New York, NY

      @icountthetimes, I finished watching the movie. Apparently I was confusing it with something else, so actually I really had never heard of it. Anyway, it is very heavy, not without Tarkovsky's influence.

      @MartieCoetser, yes, the troublesome Russian history that seeemed to produce great writers and musicians. Rasputin... the czar's heart was calling for a savior, instead his call mysteriously evoked a dark demon from the very hell. My great-grandfather and his mother had a chance to see Rasputin, which was intimidating. Thanks for stopping by!

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 6 years ago from South Africa

      Oh, what do I know about Russia – Some history of Russian dynasty, Rasputin, The Revolution, Marxism, Communism, Lenin, Stalin....

      Movie: Doctor Zhivago

      Music: Korsakov (The Flight of the Bumblebee) and the awesome Tchaikovsky....

      Writers: Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky..... love their work!

      I will certainly enjoy all these movies you’ve introduced in here. Thanks!

    • profile image

      icountthetimes 6 years ago

      moncrieff - It's certainly harrowing in places, but it's one of those movies that is a one off and well worth watching. I've never seen a war movie like it.

    • moncrieff profile image

      moncrieff 6 years ago from New York, NY

      @Patty Inglish, MS, you read bits of Oblomov in Russian?? That's interesting. Everytime I see a copy of Oblomov, I am amazed how easily and quickly I read that tome back in the 1980s. I think you will enjoy the movie, it's subtitled finely.

      @icountthetimes, I've heard of that movie but I have never seen it, probably because of the subject but now I want to see it. Thank you for bringing this one up!

      @drbj, thank you for reading! I hope 'Brother' with its autumnal cold St. Petersburg scenes would perfectly fit the current season.

      @Rooskaya, both classics, although of completely opposite genres. Thank you for stopping by!

    • Rooskaya profile image

      Rooskaya 6 years ago from Russia

      Thank you so much for your hub. Some Russian movies are quite outstanding. I have watched Brother and Oblomov // ????????? ???? ?? ????? ???????? (1980) from the collection. I hope to watch all of them. Thumbs up to you.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 6 years ago from south Florida

      Thanks for these fascinating synopses of Russian films, moncrieff. "Brother" is one movie I plan to view.

    • profile image

      icountthetimes 6 years ago

      A great idea for a hub. I used to mostly watch Hollywood type movies, but began to get into foreign films a few years ago. Pan's Labyrinth, Time Crimes and so on. Several really.

      One Russian film that I enjoyed which isn't on your list is the soviet war movie, Come and See. I found it to be relentlessly disorienting and compelling. One of the best war movies I've ever seen. I really did get a sense that it captured the toll that such situations can have on you mentally.

      More here:

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 6 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Oblomov! - That is the one I must see. I have read the novel in English and many parts in Russian and enjoyed it very much. Thank you for your reviews. We have A Russian Club here that is a community center actually, and I hope they have DVDs of these films.