If there is a Soviet comedy actor par excellence, it’s Andrei Myagkov. One of the best-known faces in Soviet and Russian cinema has died in Moscow at the age of 82. To celebrate his life and work, we have compiled a list of must-watch films that have brought smiles to Russians for decades.
Born in 1938 in Leningrad (now St Petersburg), Myagkov graduated university as a chemical engineer and made his acting debut in the 1960s at the Sovremennik Theatre in Moscow. He made the jump to the big screen in 1965, starring as Sergey Chesnokov in Adventures of a Dentist directed by Elem Klimov, although he is best known for his roles in the comedies directed by Eldar Ryazanov, such as The Irony of Fate (1975) and A Cruel Romance (1984). Over his 40-year-long career, he had appeared in over 50 roles in film and television, performed on stage, took up painting and novel writing, worked as a professor at the Moscow Art Theatre School, and tried his hand at directing in the late 80s, leaving behind an extraordinary legacy of films that have gained cult status across the generations.
Myagkov’s role as the youngest Karamazov, Alyosha, in the film based on Dostoevsky’s novel, catapulted him to stardom across the Soviet Union. Directed by Kirill Lavrov, Ivan Pyryev, and Mikhail Ulyanov, the film was praised by critics in the USSR, where it broke box office records, making it the first Soviet film to receive a nomination at the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film.
The quintessential New Year film, The Irony of Fate is the first choice holiday classic in Russia and beyond. Released in 1975, Eldar Ryazanov’s rom-com follows the usual boy-meets-girl trope, but with a unique Brezhnev-era twist. When the newly-engaged Zhenya (played by Myagkov) wakes up in Leningrad instead of Moscow after a drunken blackout, he fails to realise he’s in a different city. Instead, he makes his way to a street with the same name as his Moscow address, and — thanks to the magic of Soviet-era urban planning — enters a flat identical to his. There, he meets Nadya, the apartment’s actual owner. The rest, as they say, is history. To this day, millions of Russians tune in to rewatch it every New Year’s Eve, and in 2007, audiences got to see their loveable protagonist on screen once again for the film’s sequel.
Watch on Russian Film Hub
It is 1976. Anatoly Novoseltsev, a single father of two sons, is working away at a local statistical bureau. He dreams of a promotion and a salary raise, but he is too shy to speak to his boss, a strict woman called Lyudmila Kalugina. In an unexpected turn of events, combining slapstick comedy, flashes of romance, and satirical critiques of Soviet bureaucracy, Novoseltsev and Kalugina overcome their aversion to love and start a family. After the success of the The Irony of Fate, Myagkov was once again cast by Eldar Ryazanov to play the role of the clumsy intellectual with thick-framed glasses — traits that would long characterise his acting career.
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It wouldn’t be a Ryazanov film without a satirical jab at the Soviet Union’s rigid societal structures. Here, Myagkov plays the lead role once more. When the members of a garage cooperative find out that a highway is going to be built through their land, chaos ensues. This amusing comedy takes the shape of a late night meeting between the collective members as they try a way to save their workplace — but clashing personalities and constant trickery means that nothing runs smoothly. Allegedly inspired by Ryazanov’s own experience of a meeting in the garage at Mosfilm, the Russian film studio that produced the film, The Garage is a humorous portrayal of the universal eccentricities of human nature encapsulated by four unlucky souls. One of them is Khvostov, a worker who can’t seem to talk after diving into ice cold water to save a seal, magnificently brought to life by Myagkov.
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