The idea behind Hipsters couldn’t be more pertinent, as the hipsters of 1950s Russia look strikingly similar to the hipsters of today. The boys sport skinny jeans, ironic ties and pompadour haircuts while the girls wear colorful scarves and skirts and high-heeled sandals with big, glitzy hair. It sets up a great opportunity to study hipster culture, paralleling the past and present. But, while its vibrant style keeps it afloat, Hipsters fails to fully tap into its potential pertinence.
The first Russian musical in 50 years, Hipsters follows Mels (Anton Shagin), a young Communist who, motivated by love of Polza (Oksana Akinshina), defies the party to become a “hipster.” This leads him into a whole new world of colorful fashion, loud music and late night dancing, where he falls in love with more than just a girl.
It’s this hipster world, with all its colors and eccentricities, that makes the film at all effective. From the underground clubs to the crazy dance numbers to the hipsters’ flamboyant attire (a marked contrast to the grays of normative society), the vivid visuals give Hipsters a surreal, dreamy energy.
The music itself enhances this energy. A mishmash of swing, boogie-woogie and jazz, the original songs prove innovative and delightful, and director Valeriy Todorovskiy succeeds at matching them with the tone and pace of the story in a way that feels uncontrived.
A pensive dream sequence in which Mels plays saxophone with Charlie Parker on top of a high-rise at night showcases Todorovskiy’s colorful style. It’s a mesmerizing moment of sight and sound.
Another sequence where Mels gets expelled in a large lecture hall plays just as effectively. All the students in the room, while slamming their desks and swaying back and forth, chant aggressively, “All bound by the same chain. All tied with the same aim.” Tightly choreographed with epic proportions, it comes to the screen with vigor and force.
The eye and ear candy of such moments helps sustain Hipsters and, to an extent, mask its superficiality. But viewed as a type of cinematic kindling, the color and flamboyance of Hipsters creates plenty of smoke, but there’s never enough substance to start a fire.
Instead of using love as a mere vehicle for Mels’ hipster transformation, Todorovskiy, in an attempt to keep the audience emotionally involved, continually refocuses the story on his relationship with Polza. At first it works, as Mels tries to win her over in some charming and comical scenes. But it ultimately goes nowhere even as it goes everywhere, from strange sex scenes to an unplanned pregnancy.
Their relationship connects to the hipster concept only to the extent of love and sex equaling freedom—a fairly shallow idea. Ultimately, though, it just distracts from the fact that their dalliance provides no real insight into the subculture.
The characters, unfortunately, don’t help elevate the story above this superficiality. Though they all look good and pretty and draw a little life from the talented cast, these colorful hipsters lack depth and motivation—even Mels, on whom the films centers. Love carries him into the hipster life, but we never know what makes him embrace it—what makes him go from card-carrying commie to grease-headed hipster overnight.
Todorovskiy never gets to the bottom of his subject—not through the characters, not through the story, not through the heart of the film. When the triumphant finale—featuring a mix of hipsters and “squares” from an array of generations—reaches its climax, so many questions remain unanswered.
What was a hipster then? What is a hipster now? What is the difference? Is there a difference? Are hipsters just people who like to dress a certain way? Or are they trying to make a bigger statement?
Maybe that’s the point. Maybe hipsters are just regular people who want to live life and fall in love—people without any clear motivations for why they dress the way they dress or why they act the way they act. If that’s the point Todorovsky is trying to make—and that seems unlikely— then why make a movie about it in the first place?
Director: Valery Todorovskiy
Writer: Valery Todorovskiy (screenplay), Yuriy Korotkov (screenplay)
Starring: Anton Shagin, Oksana Akinshina, Evgeniya Khirivskaya, Maksim Matveev, Igor Voynarovskiy, Ekaterina Vilkova
Release Date: October 2011