Prepare yourself, for the Total Balalaika Show is like no other concert film
ever made. This memorable show, immortalised on celluloid by Aki Kaurismäki, is a
collaboration between the Leningrad Cowboys and the Red Army Chorus and Dance Ensemble.
What initially portends to be the bastard-child coupling of rock and classical music turns
out, in fact, to be a hugely entertaining experience -- as witnessed by 30,000 fans.
The background to the strange partnership is this: the Leningrad Cowboys were a
rocker-boy group created by Kaurismäki in an earlier film, while the Red Army Ensemble
was formed to prevent extinction of the Russian folk-music heritage. When these two
entities are first glimpsed on stage the contrast seems unbridgeable; rows of musicians in
full military uniform at the back with the Cowboys (flaunting winkle-picker shoes and
enormous quiffs) at the front. However, as soon as they launch into the first song we see
and hear just how well they are suited. Mixing rock songs (Delilah, Gimme All Your Lovin,
Those Were the Days etc) with classical pieces (Kalinka, The Volga Boat Man) works
perfectly (the huge audience certainly seem to think so!).
It's true that seeing Red Army soldiers sing about laying down their weapons,
or strumming balalaikas to the tune of ZZ Top, seems faintly bizarre but they really add
depth to these popular songs. Unfortunately the Cowboys can't contribute much to the
classical music, other than to dance around, but this isn't too important. A more removed
viewpoint shows that this concert mirrors some of the changes happening in Russia at the
time (1993), such as decreasing respect for the past and the greater influence of
capitalistic values. These are intriguing points to consider while watching the film but
the most important fact is this; the concert is great fun and well worth catching.
Runtime: 55 minutes