Far Away from St. Petersburg: Chaotic, Messy Farce of Russian History

Latvian Farce Color

Far Away from St. Petersburg is a chaotic, messy farce that at once evokes and mocks Russian history of the last century.

Despite inventive premise and breezy pace, it isn’t easy to watch, let alone enjoy, this Latvian curio item, whose showing at the AFI/LA film fest might well be its last destination.

Born in St. Petersburg, Florida, Iwan Rabczynski, the hero of Alexander Hahn’s movie, writes Russian epics under the pen name of John F. Romanoff. His new novel, which is meant to be autobiographical, begins with his Russian great grandfather in St. Petersburg in 1882 and follows three generations as they survive the country’s political upheavals.

Made in a free form, as a pastiche with absurdist undertones, the adventure is narrated in a semi-humorous way by the author. As Russian history of the last hundred years could fill many lengthy volumes, the movie jams as many hilarious–and tragic–events as possible. Bodies pile up as family members die from incurable diseases, revolutions, wars, and accidents. Many cliches about Russian culture and soul, familiar to Western viewers from classic novels and plays, are on display.

Historical tale is intercut with the contemporary story of the author, who is flying to Moscow to get “inspiration” for a new saga and manages to irritate all the passengers with his incessant chat. Unfortunately, the modern scenes, which draw parallels between past and present, not only fail to invigorate the film, but also halt the little flow it has.

The tone of amorphous saga, which seldom runs out of local Russian color, shifts radically from scene to scene, though chief problem is pic’s disastrous execution: The production is badly photographed, clumsily edited, and amateurishly acted. The only distinction of Far Away From St. Petersburg is that it’s Latvian, and not many Latvian films are made–or seen–now a days.
In English and Russian with English subtitles
A Latvian Independent Film Studio production. Directed by Alexander Hahn. Screenplay, Sascha Zhukowski. Camera (color), Henrik Pilipson; editor, Jutta Brante; music, Edward Artemiew; sound, Leb Korotejeew. Reviewed at Laemmle’s Sunset 5, West Hollywood, June 18, l993 (In AFI/L.A. FilmFest). Running time: 79 min.
With Dzintars Belogrudovs, Igor Klass, Zhenja Krjukowa, Larisa Tatunowa.