Ivan Vassilyevich Changes Occupation (Иван Васильевич меняет профессию)
Ivan Vassilyevich Changes Occupation (Иван Васильевич меняет профессию) Made in: Former Soviet Union Language: Russian Director: Leonid Gaidai Starring: Yuri Yakovlev, Aleksandr Demyanenko, Leonid Kuravlev, Saveliy Kramarov, Natalia Selezneva, Natalia Krachkovskaya, Vladimir Etush Year: 1973
Synopsis: Shurik (Aleksandr Demyanenko) is a brilliant, absent-minded scientist who has built an amazingly goofy-looking time machine in his Moscow apartment. While conducting tests, he's blown the fuses in the entire building, much to the chagrin of the uptight, bureacratic superintendent, Ivan Vassilyevich Bunsha (Yuri Yakovlev).
Ignoring Bunsha's routine warnings, and barely reacting when his cheating wife Zina (Natalia Selezneva) decides to leave him, Shurik eventually gets his amazing invention to work. As a result, he accidentally transports Bunsha and a small-time thief, George Miloslavsky (Leonid Kuravlev), back in time several hundred years.
Walking through a time rift, Bunsha and George find themselves inside the private chamber of Ivan the Terrible (also played by Yuri Yakovlev). The historic Tsar, terrified at the arrival of the two, inadvertently runs through the rift into modern day Moscow.
Forced to disguise themselves, Bunsha dresses up as Ivan IV (to whom he coincidentally bears an odd resemblance) while Miloslavsky passes himself off as a prince (who incidentally has the same name as an historical figure who was executed by the Tsar).
Meanwhile, the real Ivan the Terrible must temporarily adjust to modern life in Moscow while Shurik frantically works to get his time machine working again after it is nearly destroyed by a badly aimed battle axe.
The Good: Although incredibly cheesy, Ivan Vassilyevich Changes Occupation is a very good natured, well-acted, and well-directed film. The actors are superb, the characters are all distinct and meaningful, and director Leonid Gaidai makes use of some pretty impressive camera work. The story is utterly ridiculous, but it's very well focused and develops at a good pace.
Yuri Yakovlev does a very convincing job of playing two roles and is a lot of fun to watch. And Aleksandr Demyanenko is very likable as the absent-minded Shurik. The music is hilariously catchy, there's a lot of intelligent humor despite the underlying silliness, and there's a boldness to the whole production that makes the movie fun.
The look of the film is more 60's than 70s, and if I didn't know better, this could have passed as a retro-looking comedy made in the modern age (in an Austin Powers sort of way). I wouldn't be surprised if Ivan Vassilyevich Changes Occupation becomes a cult favorite among movie fans (if it hasn't already).
The comedy works so well because, first and foremost, the story is coherent. There isn't any silliness just for silliness sake. Every sight gag, joke, and scene serves a specific purpose. And what makes the film so funny is that none of the characters find their situation laughable (even if the viewer does).
The Bad: The ending was satisfying, but I thought it could have been a little better. I won't give it away, but it came close to being an "oh, it was just a dream" cop-out.
Who would like this movie: Ivan Vassilyevich Changes Occupation is for you if you like foreign films, cheesy stuff from the 60s and 70s, and Russian cinema. Many of the jokes are based off of Russian history (particularly the time or Ivan the Terrible), so it'll be helpful to do a little studying so you'll get them. A good number of jokes are also language-based, so those who don't know Russian might not laugh as hard as those who do.
And of course, some of the songs are great (in an incredibly cheesy way that could have only existed in the 60s and 70s).
It's too bad I never saw this back while I was in film school. Neither my undergraduate nor graduate programs ever explored this side of Russian cinema, and looking back, it's kind of a disappointment. Introducing films like this to students will help dispel a lot of stereotypes about Russian filmmaking.
Instead of forcing undergrads to sit through Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin several times a semester, it might be useful to let them know that, like anyone else, the Russians have a pretty good sense of humor too.