The Irony of Fate
|Irony of Fate|
Theatrical release poster.
|Written by||Emil Braginsky
|Directed by||Eldar Ryazanov|
|Theme music composer||Mikael Tariverdiev|
|Country of origin||Soviet Union|
|No. of episodes||2|
|Running time||184 minutes|
|Original network||Programme One|
|Original release||1 January 1976|
|Followed by||The Irony of Fate 2|
The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath! (Russian: Ирония судьбы, или С лёгким паром!, literally: The Irony of Fate, or With Light Steam; trans. Ironiya sudby, ili S lyogkim parom!) is a 1976 Soviet romantic comedy television film directed by Eldar Ryazanov. The screenplay was written by Emil Braginsky and Ryazanov, loosely based on the director's 1971 play Once on New Year's Eve (Russian: Однажды в новогоднюю ночь). The film was filmed in 1975 at the Mosfilm Studios. Simultaneously a screwball comedy and a love story tinged with sadness, it is one of the most successful Soviet television productions ever and remains highly popular in modern Russia.
The key subplot is the drab uniformity of Brezhnev era public architecture. This is made explicit in a humorous animated prologue, in which architects are overruled by politicians and red tape. This results in the entire country being polluted with identical, unimaginative multistory apartment buildings of the sort that can, in fact, be found in every city, town, and suburb across the former Soviet Union. These buildings are uniform right down to the door key of each apartment. The rest of the film is live-action.
Following their annual tradition, a group of friends meet at a banya (a traditional public bath) in Moscow to celebrate New Year's Eve. The friends all get very drunk toasting the upcoming marriage of the central male character, Zhenya Lukashin (Andrei Myagkov) to Galya (Olga Naumenko). After the bath, one of the friends, Pavlik (Aleksandr Shirvindt), has to catch a plane to Leningrad; Zhenya, on the other hand, is supposed to go home to celebrate New Year's Eve with his fiancée. Both Zhenya and Pavlik pass out. The others cannot remember which of their unconscious friends is supposed to be catching the plane; eventually they mistakenly decide that it is Zhenya and put him on a plane instead of Pavlik. On the plane, he collapses onto the shoulder of his annoyed seatmate, played by the director himself (Ryazanov) in a brief comedic cameo appearance. The seatmate helps Zhenya get off the plane in Leningrad. He wakes up in Leningrad airport, believing he is still in Moscow. He stumbles into a taxi and, still quite drunk, gives the driver his address. It turns out that in Leningrad there is a street with the same name (3rd Builders' street), with a building at his address which looks exactly like Zhenya's. The key fits in the door of the apartment with the same number (as alluded to in the introductory narration, "...building standard apartments with standard locks"). Inside, even the furniture is nearly identical to that of Zhenya's apartment. Zhenya is too drunk to notice the differences, and goes to sleep.
Later, the real tenant, Nadya Shevelyova (Barbara Brylska), arrives home to find a strange man sleeping in her bed. To make matters worse, Nadya’s fiancé, Ippolit (Yuri Yakovlev), arrives before Nadya can convince Zhenya to get up and leave. Ippolit becomes furious, refuses to believe Zhenya and Nadya's explanations, and storms out. Zhenya leaves to get back to Moscow but circumstances make him return repeatedly. Nadya wants to get rid of him as soon as possible, but there are no flights to Moscow until the next morning. Additionally, Zhenya tries repeatedly to call Moscow and explain to Galya what has happened. Eventually he does contact her, but she is furious over what he has done and hangs up on his call. Ippolit also calls to Nadya's apartment and when he hears Zhenya answer, who is trying to be available to receive the call from Moscow, Ippolit also refuses to accept the truth of the situation. It seems more and more clear that the only two people who understand the circumstances are then Zhenya and Nadya. Thus the two are compelled to spend New Year's Eve together. At first they continue to treat each other with animosity, but gradually their behavior softens and the two fall in love. Comedic moments punctuated by unexpected guests, the repeated returns of the jealous Ippolit, the buzzing of the doorbell, and the ringing of the phone are interwoven with the slowly developing love story; melancholic songs illustrate key moments. In the morning, they feel that everything that has happened to them was a delusion, and they make the difficult decision to part. With a heavy heart, Zhenya returns to Moscow. Meanwhile, Nadya reconsiders everything and, deciding that she might have let her chance at happiness slip away, takes a plane to Moscow following Zhenya, easily finding him in Moscow, since their addresses are the same.
- Andrey Myagkov as Zhenya
- Sergey Nikitin as Zhenya (singing voice)
- Barbara Brylska as Nadya
- Valentina Talyzina as Nadya (voice)/Valya
- Alla Pugacheva as Nadya (singing voice)
- Yuri Yakovlev as Ippolit
- Aleksandr Shirvindt as Pavlik
- Georgi Burkov as Misha
- Liya Akhedzhakova as Tanya
- Aleksandr Belyavskiy as Sasha
- Lyubov Dobrzhanskaya as Zhenya's mother
- Olga Naumenko as Galya
- Gottlib Roninson as man at the airport
- Eldar Ryazanov as Zhenya's fellow passenger in the plane
- Lyubov Sokolova as Nadya's mother
The two consecutive episodes of The Irony of Fate were originally broadcast by the Soviet central television channel, Programme One, on 1 January 1976, at 18:00. The film was a resounding success with audiences: author Fedor Razzakov recalled that "virtually the entire country watched the show"; the number of viewers was estimated to have been about 100 million. In response to popular demand, the feature had a first re-run on 7 February. By 1978, after several further broadcasts of the picture, the accumulated number of viewers for all of the showings including the first was estimated at some 250 million. A shortened 155 minutes version was released to cinemas on 16 August 1976; it sold some 7 million tickets. The readers of Sovetskii Ekran, the official publication of the State Committee for Cinematography, voted The Irony of Fate as the best film of 1976, and chose Andrey Myagkov as the best actor of the year. In 1977, Ryazanov, Braginsky, cinematographer Vladimir Nakhabtsev, composer Mikael Tariverdiev and actors Barbara Brylska and Myagkov were all awarded the USSR State Prize in recognition of their participation in making the film.
George Faraday commented that while it was basically a happy end romantic comedy, The Irony of Fate had a "socially critical undertone": it could be interpreted as an "explicit commentary... On the soulless uniformity of the Soviet urban landscape". Simultaneously, however, critics accused the director of creating an escapist film which allowed the Soviet audience to turn away from the "unattractive features" of their country's reality. Ryazanov responded that "to reassure, to encourage the viewer – it is not such a sin." He rejected the claims his pictures were meant to please state authorities, stating their optimistic nature was "spontaneous" rather than "forced".
The film is traditionally broadcast in Russia and the former Soviet republics every New Year's Eve, and is widely regarded as a classic piece of Russian popular culture: Andrew Horton and Michael Brashinsky likened its status to that held by Frank Capra's 1946 It's a Wonderful Life in the United States as a holiday staple. A sequel, The Irony of Fate 2, was released in December 2007, becoming a box office hit and grossing over $55 million to a production budget of $5 million.
- Frederick Edwin Ian Hamilton, Kaliopa Dimitrovska Andrews, Nataša Pichler-Milanović Transformation Of Cities In Central And Eastern Europe 2005 Page 159 "... industry started and by the early 1960s new housing districts built in five-storey blocks of modern industrialized panel construction had been established all around the socialist countries (e.g. in Moscow, popularly known as "Kruschevki")."
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