Click here to watch YourScreen’s Chris Baker in conversation with The Humorist director Michael Idov.
A middle-aged man steps out in front of an applauding crowd. “Hey Lady! How about a photo?” The opening line of comedian Boris Arkadiev’s winning if timeworn routine, the one that has brought him affluence, hordes of adoring fans and, most importantly for a Jew in the Soviet Russia of 1984, the approval of the authorities. Trouble is, Boris is sick to the back teeth of it. Once a serious writer with a published novel under his belt, he now has to trot out his routine ‘The Mellow Season’ time after time after time, at public events, at parties thrown by army generals, anytime the KGB goons demand his services. Introduced to American ‘insult humour’ by a friend recently returned from LA, Boris decides it’s time to work up some new, edgier material, and chooses the most inappropriate setting imaginable for its first airing.
Shot with a palette of sickly greens and faded browns, this delicious satire summons up its time and place, and Boris’ muted affluence, to great effect. As Boris, Aleksey Agranovich delivers an acting masterclass in which his droll delivery of perfectly timed lines and his careworn facial expressions (think Lenny Bruce meets Rowan Atkinson) precisely characterise the cynicism and trapped despair which drive the brilliant but jaded comedian to risk all. Although set in Chernenko-era Soviet Russia, the film - director Michael Idov’s debut feature - is hugely topical as it asks the same basic, intriguing question that many are now asking in the West - what are the limits to what one can say in public? Needless to say, it’s also very funny.
The Humorist won the White Elephant for Best Actor (Aleksey Agranovich), Russian Guild of Film Critics 2020, and the Blue Angel for Best Male Performance (Aleksey Agranovich) at the 2019 Art Film Festival.
“Screenwriter Michael Idov makes an impressive directing debut with the super-smart, confidently lensed The Humorist.” - Jay Weissberg, Variety.
”…an at times surreal and always inventive peek into the ludicrousnesses of a state-run life… The Humorist is a confronting, literate and occasionally biting satire” - Graeme Tuckett, stuff.co.nz
“This distinctive tendency to mix the weariness and the absurdities of life in the USSR makes The Humorist highly watchable. Agranovich’s performance is outstanding: his body language is subtle, but the actor has a magnetic way of sparking disillusionment or defiance in a simple look. ” - Phuong Le, The Guardian.
YourScreen audience comments:
“very entertaining. Agranovich - most impressive performance.”
“I especially liked the soundtrack which was always spot on!”
“Impressive film. Not so much a comedy as a tragi-comedy (with very funny bits) about identity in a system where humour is going to hurt you if it doesn’t hurt someone else.”
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Aleksey Agranovich, Alisa Khazanova, Yuri Kolokolnikov, Pavel Ilyin, Semyon Steinberg, Polina Aug, Vilma Kutaviciute