Russian filmmaker Sergey Solovyov, whose movies embodied the hopeful and rebellious spirit of perestroika, died on 13 December, 2021, at the age of 77.
The director left behind a rich filmography, ranging from adaptations of classic Russian authors like Pushkin, Chekhov, and Tolstoy, to crime films and teen dramas. For his One Hundred Days After Childhood (1975), a romantic story set at a pioneer summer camp, Solovyov received the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival.
Solovyov’s life and career were defined by his sincere compassion for young people, and a deep understanding of their problems. His films often centred on youth culture and issues, and he founded the international debut film festival Spirit of Fire in the Siberian city of Khanty-Mansiysk to support emerging movie talent. The festival showcases the work of novice directors, offers workshops for industry professionals, and offers a special programme for children.
Today, we are remembering Solovyov’s poetic perestroika trilogy, which provided the beautiful and fantastical stories of dreamers, lovers, and outsiders — all set to superb soundtracks of the Soviet underground rock scene.
An enchanting story of love and longing for freedom, Assa is Solovyov’s best-known film. Set in the snowy out-of-season landscapes of Yalta, Crimea, it is a heart-felt tale of romance: but it also features crime, inept KGB agents, and even a historical plot revolving around the murder of Russian Emperor Paul I. The film famously spotlighted prominent members of the underground art and rock scene, bringing them to the attention of the masses. A prime example is the iconic performance of Viktor Tsoi’s “We Want Change”, which closes the film’s final credits — and remains an anthem for Russian-speaking rebels and protesters to this day.
The second part of Solovyov’s trilogy, Black Rose Is an Emblem of Sorrow, Red Rose Is an Emblem of Love, shares a number of themes with its “prequel”. Once again, young people are forced to fight for love — and for a place in the cruel, often crazy, world of adults. The main narrative starts to unfold when a lonely teenager Mitya meets restless Aleksandra, and her older lover Vladimir. But just like in Assa, their troubled relationship is interrupted by cuts to seemingly unrelated historical events, including Stalin’s death. The drama’s complex plot is brought to life by the stellar cast comprising Tatyana Drubich, Aleksandr Abdulov, Aleksandr Bashirov, and Mikhail Rozanov. Meanwhile, the leader of legendary Soviet rock band Aquarium, Boris Grebenshchikov, and even Solovyov himself, make a surprise appearance when the film spirals into fantasy.
Just as the Soviet authorities began to lose their grip on reality, each film of Solovyov’s perestroika trilogy became more and more fantastical. House Under the Starry Sky is a fitting ending to this triptych, and features a villain worthy of Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. The mysterious Valentin Komposterov suddenly appears in the life of a well-to-do Soviet family. But although he is introduced as a party magician, the viewer soon realises that Komposterov has some real — and very dark — powers. But as he wreaks havoc on the family, daughter Nika seems to find real love in a dreamer and musician Timofey. Thus, the surreal action-packed narrative proves to be, first and foremost, a romance, and gives a great finale to this three-part ode to young lovers.