They wear horn-rimmed glasses, smoke cigarettes, listen to vinyl and develop their x-rays in a dark room, but they are not your average hipsters. These colorfu rebels in post-war Russia refuse to conform to strict societal rules. So if you go into Hipsters thinking you’re about to watch a montage of edgy teenagers with pretentious attitudes and unusually hip attire, you will be very pleasantly surprised.
Directed by Valery Todorovsky, this film is the definition of living off the beaten track as it celebrates teenagers who refuse to accept the culture that the Soviets are trying to force upon them. In this fictional portrayal of Cold War Russia, hipster youth are illegal because their hairstyles, clothing and musical tastes are drawn from American culture. In fact, “Kowtowing to Western Ideology” is a crime punishable by up to 10 years. Yet this group of 20-year-old misfits is obsessed with American culture. They become consumed by the fantastical idea that the U.S. is an eccentric society rife with free artistic expression.
Cinematically, this film is striking. The bold colors of the hipsters’ clothing and makeup are beautifully exaggerated against the grayness of acceptable Russian attire, and the use of different camera angles adds attractive perspectives. The experimental cinematography is most apparent during the musical scenes. Did I mention that the film is a musical? Well, it is. Most songs are at least partially relevant to the current scene and all are extremely bizarre. The tunes are catchy and the full, throaty sounds of the Russian accent creates comical yet enjoyable scenarios. I will admit that a few songs were too odd even for my taste, with strangely mechanical choreography or confusing gestures.
So what is the plot? I’ve watched this movie all the way through and I am still wondering the same thing. There is no question that the main character is Mels, a heartbreakingly handsome young man who abandons his duties as a communist youth officer for a life of excitement. He gels his hair, throws on a checkered green suit, Americanizes his name and takes up the sax in order to get in with the hipsters, whose lives are enticingly bizarre. He is drawn to the beautiful and complicated Polly, and much of the film is then centered on their relationship. However, this relationship emerges from nothing, as little interaction between the two subjects is shown before Mels thinks he is in love. To further convolute the plot, the film goes off on tangents centered around other hipsters, with no influence on the storyline and no clear reason for being shown at all. These random interjections merely make you forget about Mels and Polly until they are reintroduced at the rapidly progressing stages in their romance.
Though the plot is convoluted, just enjoy the catchy tunes and touching romance, and don’t try too hard to understand what’s going on. Forget the movie’s attempts to confuse you. The hipsters’ clothing will make you want a makeover, their jazz-fueled nightlife will make you want to get out and do something crazy and the police raids will make you want to do something rebellious. So embrace the weirdness, because feeling uncomfortable sometimes is good and the romance and friendships are comical and touching.
Beneath the film’s eccentric facade lies an unexpected message that the hipsters eventually learn for themselves and that audiences will appreciate. They are attempting to embody a culture that they have only ever heard stories about by freely expressing themselves and intentionally rebelling against society’s rules. These characters embody adolescent desires in a society that does its best to suppress such wants and will, in the end, make you want to laugh along and join them on their impulse-driven mission to be who they want.
Hipsters is playing at Cornell Cinema today and Sunday.