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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

A cinema tour of Moscow – tips for true film buffs  

The beautiful, eclectic and colourful city of Moscow, witness to so many historical epochs, is always taking part in movie shoots – its streets, squares and buildings in a range of architectural styes are being used as settings for Russian and international films. In April, a film crew led by director Venkat Prabhu was at work on Moscow’s streets: scenes from the Russian capital will be used in his action film “The Greatest of All Time”. Moscow has also attracted the attention of other Indian producers looking for a film set: following several business missions to the city held by Moscow Agency of Creative Industries, Indian filmmakers are planning their first shoots in the city. Below, we describe some of the Moscow sights which will soon be seen by Indian viewers and the most interesting locations in the city for committed cinephiles. 

Cult film locations 

The Russian capital very recently became the setting of the Indian action film “The Greatest of All Time” by director Venkat Prabhu: it was shot on Manezhnaya Square, the chase and gun-fight scenes were filmed in Lyalin, Barashevsky and Maly Kazenny Lanes, on Patriarch Bridge and in other Moscow streets. A spy thriller starring Vijay in the role of an Indian secret agent, it will be the first foreign film produced via the Moscow digital film platform, a new service for filmmakers. Foreign directors can use it to select filming locations, equipment and props online. In the words of Venkat Prabhu, working with Moscow colleagues is an absolute delight. “Here in Moscow, they have a really good team”, he said.  “They are brilliant. For example, we were filming a motorcycle chase here and it worked out really well: watch out for it in the movie, you’ll love it”. The film crew of “The Greatest of All Time” spent around two weeks in Moscow. In the film, a retired secret agent returns to Moscow to complete an unfinished mission from the past. “To be honest, few Indian films have been shot in Moscow, and I wanted to give our viewers this experience”, said Prabhu, explaining his choice of location for the main action. “We all studied Russian culture and history at school, and it is so nice to be here now and to show this city to our viewers. Moscow plays a very important role in our film”. 

Moscow has repeatedly been chosen as a film set by foreign directors who prefer real locations to studio mockups. For example, part of “The Bourne Supremacy” – the sequel to the thriller “The Bourne Identity” – was filmed in Kiev railway station, and the stunning car chase was filmed around the Moscow Youth Palace near the Frunzenskaya metro station. The villains in the film race through Ivanovskaya Hill, Rozhdestvensky Boulevard, Trubnaya Square and along the Raushkaya and Taras Shevchenko Embankments. 

In the late 1980s, on Red Square, Arnold Schwarzenegger played an incorruptible policeman in Walter Hill’s movie “Red Heat”. It was still quite difficult to get filming permission at that time, and a result the scene was shot from handheld cameras in a bit of a rush. But the two main heroes, Red Square and the great Arnie, went down in history together. 

By 1994, it was easier for Alan Metter to get the Moscow government’s approval to film the final episode “Police Academy” in the city. While the “good cops” together with the Russian police track down a villain, the viewers can enjoy views of Red Square and the Mausoleum, the Bolshoi Theatre, Novodevichi Monastery, Gorky Park and other famous Moscow landmarks. 

In 2014, Paul Anderson went further – quite literally: his film crew was not only given five hours of creative access to Red Square but was also permitted to film in the Moscow Metro. His film “Resident Evil: Retribution” features shots of the Arbatskaya station. Some film critics to this day believe that Andersen owed his good luck to Milla Jovovich and her Russan roots. 

Film art masterpieces from around the world in their original languages 

 Moscow plays host to one of the oldest international film shows – the Moscow International Film Festival, which has been held since 1935. The first chairman of the Festival jury was the great director Sergey Eisenstein, and since then it has featured Richard Geer, Luc Besson, Robert de Niro, Theo Angelopoulos, Kim Ki-duk, Alan Parker, Emir Kusturica and other global cinema stars. MFF’s red carpet has been graced by Michelangelo Atonioni, Sophia Loren and Elisabeth Taylor. Since 1999, the festival has been held annually, and this year presented its 46th international film show programme. This year, India was represented by the Tamil melodrama “Seven Seas Seven Hills” from producer Ram, and by film critic Indu Shrikent, who was a member of the festival jury. One of the awards made by the jury was went to “Need to Shoot Movies About Love”, a film which was shot in India and got a special mention “For reflecting gentleness in the waters of the River Ganges”. True connoisseurs of festival cinema strive to attend the Moscow International Film Festival year after year, and often time their visits to Moscow to coincide with famous film shows. In recent years, MIFF has been held every April, but it is best to keep an eye on the festival announcements. The films are traditionally shown in their original language with subtitles, so that foreign visitors can enjoy watching moves in their own language. 

An alternative to guided tours – Moscow’s cinemas 

Tourists rarely visit Moscow’s cinemas, which is such a shame, because many of them have retained their historic appeal, unique décor and atmosphere. Furthermore, many of them show films in foreign languages, so you could well spend a cold, rainy day in a cozy cinema hall like a real Muscovite. Amongst the cinema must-sees are Moskino Fakel (Shosse Entuziastov 15/16) – one of the oldest cinemas in the city, which is reviving and maintaining the arthouse cinema tradition. It was originally opened on the ground floor of a residential Stalin-era skyscraper, and since being refurbished it has retained its charm as an urban haunt for fans of arthouse films.

Another strategic meeting place for Moscow cinephiles is the Illusion cinema, located inside one of the Stalin-era towers (Kotelnicheskaya Naberezhnaya 1/15). Here, in historical interiors amongst stucco moldings and bar-reliefs, you can watch unique archive films from the State Cinema Fund, international classics and contemporary indie and festival films in their original languages. The building is stylized as a Soviet cinema and decorated with copies of old posters and photographs from famous movies. 

GUM – the Main Department Store – is a wonderful place for guided tours and shopping, but film lovers know it and love it for its vintage cinema in the heart of Moscow (Red Square 3). The cinema was created by special order of GUM’s architects, applying the very highest acoustic standards and refined theatre decoration. And there is plenty to admire while you wait for your film to start: early 20th century stucco moldings and the famous crystal chandeliers, which have been treated with a special chemical to stop them reverberating in tune with high- or low-frequency sounds. During film showings, the cinema’s enormous windows are covered by stately velvet curtains, and instead of the usual seats, visitors recline in soft velvet chairs or spacious velvet sofas. In one hall, there in a bar where they serve Soviet-style cakes, sandwiches, champagne and lemonade in place of the usual fast-food snacks. 

Moscow’s legendary Khudozhestvenny cinema (Arbatskaya Square 14) can be regarded as an architectural landmark, a place for guided tours, and as a unique and memorable place to watch a film during a visit to the city. Tickets can cost as much as $100, because here you are not only watching an ordinary film while you fiddle with your popcorn – you are in a place visited by Lev Tolstoy and Sergey Yesenin, and were Sergey Eisenstein’s film “Battleship Potemkin” was first shown. Several years ago, the building was thoroughly renovated using the blueprints from architect Franz Shechtel. Inside the cinema, they run specially designed tours, and visitors are thrilled to get their photos taken against the backdrop of the famous undulating staircase and the cinema’s trademark bright-scarlet chairs. 

Moscow’s film sets – complete immersion in the world of cinema 

For a true movie buff, no trip to Moscow could be complete without a visit to Mosfilm (Ulitsa Mosfilmovskaya 1) – the huge film company spread across an area of 30 hectares, where wonderful Soviet films were shot and which continues to make Russian movies today. The grounds of Mosfilm are like a fantasy town with streets and squares from different historical epochs, its own piece of old-world Saint Petersburg and old Moscow, provincial Russian towns and even Paris. Mosfilm’s museum contains some genuine rarities, including a collection of retro cars, vintage carriages, movies props, costumers and bits of scenery, stands with rare camera equipment and even the original Worker and Kolkhoz Woman sculpture by Vera Mukhina, familiar to all fans of Soviet film. This duo of Soviet heroes became the film studio’s emblem and features in the intro sequence to every film it has made. 

You can now complete your fascinating film tour in Moscow’s recently created Moskino cinema park (Krasnaya Pakhra, Quarter 107). The outdoor film set area is still under construction, but once complete it will extend across approximately 320 hectares and become the biggest cinema complex in Europe. The first phase is already open to filmmakers and tourists, however.  Here you can take a walk around the streets of a 1940s town on the outskirts of Moscow, imagine yourself as a peasant in a little Russan village or a fisherman in a fishing port, or else as a resident of Wild West cowboy town. The Reichstag still stands on one cinema street, along with the still-intact wall dividing East and West Germany, and “bits” of European cities indistinguishable from the originals. In the near future, a 12th-century Kremlin will be added, along with medieval structures and pavilions representing a railway station and an airport.


Film buffs cannot leave Moscow without taking a look at the reconstruction of film director Sergey Eisenstein’s office in the Cinema Museum at the National Economic Achievements #exhibition (Prospekt Mira 119, Pavilion 36, Dziga Vertov cinema hall). The museum space itself is a real journey through the history of Russian cinema, from the fairground era via avant-garde experiments to the Stalinist period and wartime cinema, followed by the thaw years, indie cinema and the perestroika cinema boom of the 1980s. You will be guided along the way by manuscripts, posters, commemorative items and drawings, and vintage cinema equipment. Eisenstein’s office occupies a separate room in the museum. The historic building where the director lived in Moscow has not survived, but his room has been recreated using household items and personal effects from his Moscow home, along with the classical engravings and books amongst which he grew up. The eclectic furniture, coloured walls and interior design have all been faithfully reproduced to convey the vivid artistic atmosphere that Eisenstein created in his office. 

Come to Moscow, study its cinema life and make your own film here about your trip around Russia’s surprising and diverse capital city! 

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