Actors depicting Bob and Betsy during production break
|Directed by||Valery Todorovsky|
|Produced by||Vadim Goryainov
|Written by||Yuriy Korotkov
|Music by||Konstantin Meladze|
|Edited by||Aleksey Bobrov|
|Distributed by||Red Arrow|
|Running time||120 minutes|
|Language||Russian (English subtitles)|
Stilyagi (Russian: Стиляги, literally "obsessed with fashion") is a 2008 Russian musical dramedy cult film, named Hipsters for its American release. The film represents a fictional transposition of an American subculture of jazz and "hipsters" into a predominantly repressed and Stalinist portrayal of Soviet society in the 1950s. The main theme of the movie depicts an invented and fictionalized Soviet youth subculture "stilyagi" which is fancifully depicted in the late 1950s, along with their ways of self-expression within the prevailing socialist regime.
Hipsters has been featured at the Toronto International Film Festival, Nashville Film Festival, and the Cleveland International Film Festival, where it has been an audience favorite. It won the Audience Choice Award at the Anchorage International Film Festival in 2009 and several Golden Eagle Awards and prestigious Nika Awards, including Best Film in both.
In 1955, a group of young Muscovite komsomol students led by Katerina intercepts illegal stilyagi gatherings in Gorky Park. Perceived as "enemies of society", the stilyagi are forced to flee, with many of them getting caught and their clothing, ties or hair cut by the komsomol for demonstrative purposes. Mels, a twenty-year-old paragon athletic student and member of the komsomol gang, is ordered by Katia to chase one of the escapists, another young girl. However, the girl soon tricks him into believing that she broke her ankle, and then abruptly pushes Mels into a pond, at the same time inviting him to "come spend some time with Polly on the Broadway".
The next day, Mels visits Gorkovskaya street and runs into the same group of stilyagi, with Polly among them. Before being aggressively seized by Dryn, another member, he has a short talk with Polly during which she gives him a kiss on the cheek, all while asking Mels if he has gotten sick. Fred, the leader of the gang then interferes, calling Mels an "urban nobody", and they all leave the scene in his car. Determined to being in love with Polly, Mels decides to change himself for someone she would appreciate: a stilyaga.
Upon visiting local cloth retailers, Mels finds out that all the clothes sold there are alike, with no stark differences. He then gets called into an alley by an imported goods dealer, who sends Mels to a former textile factory operator, now retired and making on demand clothes for "different" people. Soon, Mels gets his new outfit prepared, smuggles a pair of regular shoes and turns them into high-platforms, creates a compound to make his hair stay up, etc. When he comes out of his room dressed like a stilyaga, his father, whom he lives with, joyfully approves of the change as a phase of self-expression. However, Mels' younger brother, as well as all of the neighbours inside their dwelling, spurn upon it, with many remaining speechless. Mels gets people shoving him and throwing things at him on the street, but continues on to find another member of the stilyagi, Bob.
Mels intercepts Bob near his house and starts questioning him about learning to dance like them, with Bob mainly refusing to teach. Mels insists and finally the two visit Bob's apartment, where they have fun at dancing the boogie to bootlegged songs. Their party crashes when Bob's parents get home and Mels is obliged to leave. Now having a reliable connection to the gang, Mels finds Bob and the rest of stilyagi near a local theater, trying to get in. First hesitant, Polly and the others finally accept Mels amongst them, just as Fred arrives and provides everyone VIP entry. Mels assists a show of rock-n-roll songs, one of them performed by Fred, and has fun dancing with the others. On their way back, the stilyagi promptly meet with the komsomol and as two gangs clash, Katerina sees Mels amongst her enemies. Still confused by his actions, she then watches Polly take Mel's hand on purpose, and ends up publicly denigrating him.
At Fred's party, Mels still sees that Polly remains mainly indifferent to him. He asks Fred for help, but ends up hearing a bad advice, much to the amusement of the rest of the gang. As he remains alone with her in a room, she tricks him again by excusing her to go to the bathroom, with the gang then busting him naked as he thought that the two would have sex. Despite it, Mels still remains changed in spirit, and gets Fred's appreciation for this. Later Fred suggests that Mels learns to perform in order to impress girls, as he himself does. The remark leaves Mels determined to find a saxophone and learn to play it.
Several days later Mels meets the clothes dealer again and insists on obtaining a saxophone. The dealer leads him to an upbeat traveling musician whom the Soviet society left moneyless after spurning his musical career. The musician proposes to do a favor of selling his own saxophone, if Mels learns how to play it first. Mels then spends several nights listening to pirate radio from New York City trying to improvise the sound on the saxophone, but ends up faking it multiple times, until he is visited by the spirit of Charlie Parker who seemingly teaches him to play properly. This soon has Mels performing in front of his friends at a theater, to which he is reluctant at first, yet finally finds the vibe to much applause from the gang. At the end, Polly comes and gives Mels his first real kiss.
Soon after, Fred reveals to the gang that his father has granted him a possibility to work in the United States, and he now must leave the country, with the catch being that he marries an American woman. Since Fred has the most authority in terms of leader, he grants future leadership to Mels, creating a situation of disdain in other members and eventually arising tensions. Katerina, somewhat aware of these events, decides to try to lure Mels away from Polly by dressing better than her. As the two meet, she soon feels that Mels doesn't fall for her, and as she corners him, he spurns her, explaining that she has not changed at all. Furious, Katerina slaps him and runs away. The next day, Mels comes to class realizing that a meeting is being organized with the purpose of excluding him from the komsomol. He silently gives away his badge, sealing his choice of remaining a stilyaga.
Although Mels gets great popular attention with his performances during the following months, he doesn't see that around him, the former stilyagi start to pace down their lives as their lifestyle gets them nowhere. One night Polly meets drunk Mels at the bar and announces to him that she is pregnant with a child of exchange African medical worker who was much older than her. Mels remains optimistic to raising the child anyway, but does not tell the others about its origins. As he settles down to become a father, the popularity of the stilyagi slowly turns into collective friend gatherings instead. The next year, Polly gives birth to an African child boy, John, but Mels' family and neighbors end up accepting him as their own, despite the differences.
Months later, Fred returns from the United States to visit Mels. He witnesses a family living by Soviet standards with Mels still dressing as a stilyaga, and raising a black-skinned toddler. Mels then tells Fred that most of the other members of their former gang moved on with their lives, with Bob accused of buying illegal records from a smuggler, Dryn getting into the army, etc. In response to this, Fred reveals to Mels that there are no "stilyagi" in the United States, and that he has never met there anyone living the same lifestyle, as there is simply no point of rejecting mainstream society for a purpose. With everything that Mels stood for now shattered, he scolds Fred and explains to the viewer, through a song, that the ideals of his (or any other) culture are not set in time and remain as long as one believes in them.
The film currently holds a 7.2/10 rating on IMDb and a 67/100 rating on Metascore.
The soundtrack for the film includes hits from well-known Soviet rock bands such as Kino, Mashina Vremeni, Nautilius Pompilius and many others. In many cases, the songs represent well-known tracks from the '70s and '80s with revised lyrics.