What could be more fraught with hilarious peril than a scenario in which a man, with lofty dreams of owning his own restaurant, comes into a large inheritance with a stipulation that goes against, if not his own beliefs and ideals, then certainly those of the community around him. Alright, this may not sound so funny, but add some Bolshevik revolution into the equation, and trust me, it’s a knee slapper.
A truly bizarre Russian-Israeli comedy, Lenin in October is, for the most part, a typical comedy of errors with the added challenge of being an Israeli film focused on the Russian community within Israel. Like any foreign comedy, there’s always potential for the funnies to be lost in translation; but if you can get past some of the cultural references that may or may not make complete sense, the jabs this film takes at being a pinko commie supporter in modern society are quite hilarious..
The story unfolds as we meet Grisha, a passionate aspiring chef whose only dream is to own a restaurant where he can cook whatever his heart desires. By a stroke of luck, Grisha receives an unexpected inheritance from his uncle, Kiev (his father’s staunchly Communist brother), and can finally realize his dream. The catch? In order to receive the inheritance money, Grisha must name his restaurant “Red October” and create an entirely Leninist theme for the establishment. Worse yet, he must display a bust of Lenin in the center of the dining area. As you can guess, the difficulty of finding a sculpture of Vladimir Lenin in the small Israeli town of Ashdod, along with the strife caused within Grisha’s family as he is forced to feign allegiance to the Communist revolution, unravels into scene after scene of comic misfortune.
Having little intimate knowledge of the modern Russian-Israeli community living in Ashdod, I felt a little unsure how well this comical situation would translate for Americans watching this film. Yet regardless of one’s cultural background, the idea of a Leninist restaurant in the middle of a modern Israeli city would have to be pretty ridiculous. The writing was quite witty and truly, Lenin kept me laughing from scene to scene. Russian-Israeli director, Evgeny Ruman, also does a beautiful job of casting, bringing in some exceptionally talented Russian-Israeli actors with a real knack for comedic timing. I especially look forward to seeing more of Alexander Senderovich, who plays Grisha, as he showed great range in this role.
Within the Seattle Jewish Film Festival as a whole, this screening was a commendable choice amongst a pool of other fantastic, if not heavier films. While most Jewish and Israeli cinema does tend to deal with weightier topics, the need for comic relief is paramount. Highlighting the range of Jewish-Israeli film is something that this festival has accomplished, and Lenin in October was not only a quality addition to the festival, but well placed in the line-up.
The Seattle Jewish Film Festival runs through this Sunday, March 25, at venues throughout the city, please visit their website for full details.