Eldar Ryazanov: Film director whose light touch helped his comedies avoid attention from the Soviet censors

 Most of his films were centred on an improbable event that turns the boredom of daily life into a vortex of comic escapades

Shannon Baxter
Monday 30 November 2015 20:11
Eldar Ryazanov
Eldar Ryazanov

The film director Eldar Ryazanov satirised and romanticised the life of ordinary Russians in his popular comedies for almost six decades. He was a household name in Russia, and his films are arguably the most recognisable titles in Soviet popular culture. His films ridiculed Soviet bureaucracy and lifestyle, but the lightness of his satires helped him dodge censorship. Only one of his works was banned, the 1961 comedy A Man From Nowhere, about a noble savage from an imaginary primitive tribe who visits the Soviet Union and is amused and shocked by its people and customs.

Compared to Billy Wilder, Ryazanov directed nearly 30 films, spawning countless catchphrases and popular jokes. Most of his films were centred on an improbable event that turns the boredom of daily life into a vortex of comic escapades. He acknowledged that fear of the Soviet government had dominated his life. “Every time I worked, I had to force a slave out of myself and overcome my fear of Soviet authorities,” he said in 2008.

His most popular film, the 1975 comedy The Irony of Fate, mocked what ideologues hailed as the pinnacle of a planned economy – the identical apartment blocks on streets with identical names in cities around the country. It follows a drunk surgeon who gets on a plane on New Year's Eve to Leningrad and makes his way into an apartment whose address, locks and even furniture are identical to his new residence in Moscow. The real owner is a teacher who finds him on her sofa. The showing of the film on New Year's Eve has become as big a part of the celebrations as the champagne flutes and Russian salad on family tables.

Eldar Alexandrovich Ryazanov, film director: born Samara, Soviet Union 18 November 1927; died 30 November 2015.

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