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Vanished Empire, The (DVD Review)

2 Jan, 2010 By: Billy Gil

Vanished Empire

Prebook 1/5/10; Street 2/2/10
Box Office $0.01 million
$29.95 DVD
Not rated.
In Russian with English subtitles.
Stars Alexander Lyapin, Lidia Milyuzina.

This artfully shot film from Russia takes place during the 1970s and the easing of tensions between the U.S.S.R. and the United States, but what viewers will hold onto in The Vanished Empire is a universal coming-of-age story.

Sergei (Alexander Lyapin, who is a bit like a Russian James Franco) and pals Kostya and Styopa trade in illegal contraband while studying and chasing girls, using movie tickets to win dates in a heavily regulated society. Things change when Sergei meets beautiful and naïve Lyuda, on whom Sergei focuses his attentions until other girls and distractions get in the way. Meanwhile, at home, his single mother tries to maintain control, seizing his illegal earnings.

The boys’ cavorting through Moscow, snagging booze and seeing a friend’s band cover U.S. hits, is full of humor and feeling, reminiscent of Wes Anderson films, with roguish, engaging characters who seize any opportunity for a quick buck or new record. It’s subtly shocking how difficult it is for Sergei to acquire a new Rolling Stones record to impress Lyuda — he gets ripped off, nabbing a Tchaikovsky one instead.

Sergei’s struggles to come to terms with love, authority and family are remarkable, all the more so for the way in which they effortlessly play off the political landscape of the times while still feeling as entertaining and lighthearted as a teen film such as Adventureland.

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