Movies about St. Petersburg/Leningrad
St. Petersburg is a living city: it moves and breathes; it experiences joy and sorrow; it develops and declines. It can even feel as alive as a movie character, and over the years there have been plenty of movies filmed both in and about St. Petersburg.
All of the brief synopses of the movies presented in this article have been selected to convey the characteristic ambience of the city: its streets and quays, where unique individuals live, meet, fall in love, cheat, break up and experience all of the other exciting moments of their lives…
The selected films are very different in genre and plot comprising of historical chronicles, romantic comedies, dramas and even action movies. They tell all manner of stories about the events that have occurred in St. Petersburg through the successive centuries of its three-hundred year history.
Peter the Great
Genre: Historical drama. Produced in the USSR, 1937.
You can study a short course in the history of St. Petersburg by watching this movie frame by frame. By the end you will have learned all about how the city was founded and by whom, how much effort it took to build, and how many obstacles Russia had to overcome on the way to being recognized as a maritime power. You will also find out how difficult it was for Tsar Peter to westernize those wild Russian Boyars with waist length beards! The main character in the movie is a man of resolute will: the strong-minded reformer Tsar Peter, and it tells the story of his destiny, his love for and faith in Great Russia.
It’s a terrific movie: a true masterpiece of Soviet cinematography, and on the subject of masterpieces, it also happens to be a screen adaptation of the eponymous book written by the Russian novelist, Aleksey Tolstoy. The distinguished acting of the stars of the day transports the viewer back into the late 17th and early 18th century, when the future capital of the Russian Empire was still in its infancy on the banks of the Neva River.
This movie has it all: expensive battle scenes, sea views and military displays without any hint of computer graphics. The film was awarded the Stalin Prize and also won the Major Prize of the International Exhibition in Paris.
Poor, Poor Pavel
Genre: Historical drama. Produced in Russia, 2003.
The story reveals the events of the early 19th Century, when the eccentric Tsar Pavel I ascended the Russian throne. The film brings to light the emotional and sometimes inexplicable actions of this particular Russian ruler. It also shows the processes involved in creating the most outstanding urban constructions of the Pavlovian era, such as the Mikhailovsky Castle, the Kazan Cathedral and the palace complexes of Gatchina and Pavlovsk. Pavel, who was also the Master of the Order of Malta, had been ruling Russia for five years when he was killed in his own castle by a group of conspirators. Tragically, he had only been living there for forty days before he was murdered. The movie has both extraordinary historical costumes and interiors. It is the story of the glory days of St. Petersburg and is enacted by Russian film stars.
Genre: Detective. Produced in Russia, 2007.
The characters depicted in this movie are the future geniuses of Russia, namely the great Russian poet; Pushkin; his contemporary Delvig; the future chancellor, Gorchakov; and the Decembrist, Kiichelbecker. The eldest of these characters had barely turned eighteen in 1814, but the film is not about the fate of these free-thinking teenagers, rather the plot takes a highly unconventional direction: There is a maniacal killer on the loose in Tsarskoye Selo, a suburb of St. Petersburg, where the protagonists are studying in high school. Local young women become victims to this maniac, and the murders are committed with animalistic cruelty, and with a very unusual weapon. The horror and hysteria surrounding these events cause a major disturbance in the lives of the inhabitants of Tsarskoye Selo.
The film was shot using authentic interior locations in Tsarskoye Selo and the Lyceum. The parquet, the marble, the corridors, the columns and the classes with the lectern you see in the movie accurately depict those of the days of Alexander Pushkin in 1814.
Crime and Punishment
Genre: Drama. Produced in England, 2002.
It is not the most famous film about St. Petersburg and its inhabitants, and it doesn’t appear to be a very popular film adaptation of the famous novel, yet it is this particular movie which truly captures the atmosphere of grime and disarray in the fallen St. Petersburg of Dostoevsky. This intense work of Russian classical literature acquires an uneasy mood in the BBC interpretation, recalling the agony of conscience, the inevitability of punishment and the need for repentance. The bloody drama surrounding Rodion Raskolnikov’s love, mental suffering and poverty were filmed in the historical interiors of the Russian capital.
Genre: War drama. Produced in Russia, 2009.
It is impossible to relate to St. Petersburg without knowing about the tragedy people experienced during the Second World War: the 900-day siege of the city, the hunger, the cold and the death that followed. The mini-series, “Leningrad” tells the story of two women, Nina Tsvetkova and Kate Davis, who fought for their lives in Nazi-occupied Leningrad (the shortened version of the film is called “The attack on Leningrad”). The UK Journalist, Kate, arrives in the Soviet Union in January 1941 and has no chance of returning home. The Soviet police Officer, Nina Tsvetkova takes care of the journalist, risking her own freedom and life at the same time. In a twist of fate, it transpires that the daughter of the commander of the Red Army is helping the daughter of an officer of the White Guard’s, as the journalist is revealed to be a Russian noblewoman by birth. So –which will win out: class hatred or the bond of female friendship? In the end it is neither, because death claims the final victory, and the names of the two friends remain forever in the annals of Leningrad citizens buried in Piskaryovskoe cemetery.
Both Russian and American movie stars are featured in the film.
Unbelievable Adventures of Italians in Russia
Genre: Comedy. Produced in the USSR, 1974.
A Russian immigrant who had settled in Rome tells her granddaughter shortly before her death about hidden treasure in the Soviet Union. Unfortunately this revelation comes to the attention of untrustworthy Italian citizens, who then follow her to Leningrad in pursuit of the treasure. They know only that the treasure has been buried under some kind of a lion, but it turns out that there are a lot of lions in Leningrad both scupltures and real ones. Not only that, but digging for buried treasure in USSR is almost impossible without involving the KGB.
It’s a pity there is hardly any chance to see the beauty of the St. Petersburg of the Soviet era, the one without traffic jams and advertising signs, in the present day. Thankfully, this movie provides plenty of nostalgia. It has preserved the atmosphere of Leningrad as it was then: the city of the scientific and technological intelligentsia.
Genre: Romantic comedy. Produced in Russia, 2003.
The love story of the 21st Century, shot in the stylish surroundings of St. Petersburg. It involves the classic love triangle: two boys and a girl, who stroll around St. Petersburg as it bustles with tourists in the summertime. The blossoming heroine shows off her extraordinary imagination by inventing incredible stories about her life on the spot, whilst accompanied by two devoted male friends, as they explore the city on the Neva together. The boys compete, quarrel, fight with each other, and make up again, as a result of them both falling in love with the young lady, but which one of the two friends will she choose? There is no way to predict! The film is filled with action, romance and passion, because during the “White Nights” in St. Petersburg, you can’t help but fall in love with a beautiful stranger.
Genre: Romantic comedy. Produced in Russia, 2006.
Maybe this is most evocative Petersburg-movie filmed in recent times, in terms of its mood, plot and footage. This is a simple tale about how fate intervenes in our lives at the eleventh hour. On the one hand, this saves us from mistakes, but on the other, it forces us to do stupid things, yet life without these moments would be dull indeed. Masha, the main character of the movie, works for a radio station. She is soon to be married, but accidentally loses her mobile phone in the street. Who would have thought that the man who finds her cell phone, Maxim, an architect, would give up his career in Germany for Masha? Or if not for Masha, then simply because he cannot imagine his life without the streets, roofs, bridges and unique inhabitants of St. Petersburg. The film features incredibly beautiful film sequences of the northern capital of Russia, together with a soundtrack which evokes a mood of “white nights”!
Waiting For The Miracle
Genre: Romantic comedy. Produced in Russia, 2007.
This is a marvelous tale about a wonderful girl who is waiting for her “Prince Charming”. Is it a clichéd story? Well yes, actually, it is, but the events of the movie take place in St. Petersburg at the beginning of the 21st Century in a house built in the 19th Century. The main character has just inherited an apartment in the house, and in this magical sort of dwelling, where the windows and the roof offer breath-taking views of St.Pete, you can’t help but believe in miracles: they do happen; surely the Prince will emerge, or a good fairy will come to the aid of Cinderella in the end. However in this case, a third variety of magical aid is manifested in the form of a fairy-tale-like handsome man, who teaches the main character how to change from a girl into a woman. It is a sweet, kind, slightly naive movie that makes you believe both in miracles and princes.
Genre: Action. Produced in Russia, 2008.
This Russian movie bears an uncanny resemblance to the American movie, “The Fast and the Furious”. It is a modern post-teenage movie about street racing, which came out in Russia shortly after the release of the first installment of the aforementioned US car racing epic. Here, street racers drive real military tanks around Russia, and the cars of the RPS (Road Patrol Service: Russian traffic police) pursue them across the roadways of St. Petersburg. The racing takes place in narrow backstreets, Palace Embankments and the motorway that crosses the Karelian Isthmus. Feauturing sports cars and pretty girls, this is a beautiful, action-packed love story with excessive speed.. It reveals the modern St. Petersburg: its youth culture, the sandy beaches of the Gulf of Finland, the seagulls and the rain which all form a backdrop to the racing of sport cars along the raised bridges, and the criminal masterminds behind it all. Authentic St. Petersburg street racers participated in this movie.
Translation by Evgenya Gavrilova
Edited by Kit Darling