Only a handful of Soviet films have achieved cult classic status among the younger generation in Russia today. One such film is ASSA (1987), which has come to define the vitality and excitement in the years before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Directed by Sergei Solovyov for state-run Mosfilm studio, ASSA was shot entirely in the Crimean resort of Yalta, in a period of relative peace for the disputed peninsula. Set in the winter of 1980, at the height of Leonid Brezhnev’s era of stagnation, ASSA encapsulates a clash between the old and the new, epitomised respectively by Krymov, the domineering head of a criminal group who is having an affair with his much younger nurse Alika, and Bananan, a free-spirited underground rock musician.
Bananan, played by artist Sergei “Afrika” Bugaev, embodies the ideals of an underground, counterculture that emerged in St Petersburg in the early 1980s. The leader of this pioneering art scene was Timur Novikov who oversaw the arrival of two movements — the New Artists and the New Academy. Several members of the New Artists contributed to ASSA. Bananan’s two dream sequences, for example, were created by Yevgeny “Debil” Kondratiev, who together with other members such as Oleg Kotelnikov, Inal Savchenkov, Vadim Ovchinnikov, employed a raft of innovative cinematic techniques such as scratch animation.
ASSA’s most iconic scenes feature Viktor Tsoi, the superstar singer of rock band KINO, who died in a road accident in 1990 at the age of 28. At the end of the film, Tsoi attends a job interview for a position as entertainer at a Yalta restaurant. Defying strict instructions to remain on stage and to wear approved uniform, Tsoi instead breaks out into I Want Changes, the song that not only catapulted him to fame but also spoke to a generation of young people who wanted radical change in the Soviet system.
Club of Friends: Timur Novikov's New Artists and the New Academy runs at Calvert 22 Gallery in London until 25 May.