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Total Balalaika Show
Finland - 1994
Directed by Aki Kaurismäki

A review by Damian Cannon.
Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 1997


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


Guest Comments

From:  "Will"

"I thought that it was great and have seen it many times on TV in Australia (it has almost become a new year's eve tradition on SBS TV here). Do you have any idea where I can purchase it on video, CD or tape?"

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