Rock Docs

film 3 of 5

Total Balalaika Show

Film Review by Dean Duncan Apr 17, 2014

This is not a film, really. They’ve merely, very plainly/functionally, recorded a musical event. That event is pretty fun. The Russians (The Red Army Choir and Ballet) are very good, and very good sports, too. They don’t appear to be confused classical types, and these Finns don’t appear to be making fun of them. So that’s good.

The rock ‘n roll side of this equation, Kaurismaki’s Leningrad Cowboys, are actually quite capable, at least musically. But there’s really not much going on here, either theatrically, or in the cinematic presentation/ transformation of the performance. And in the end the band, though capable, is kind of boring. Their visually defining shoes/hair joke, which is a bit funny, still isn’t that funny.

Back to the Russians. Do they tire of endlessly performing these same old over-familiar numbers—the Volga boatmen, Kalinka, dark eyes—all removed from and rooted out of their context and history? The songs are definitely okay, as are the performances thereof. And it’s just what the tourists eat up. But isn’t there more to Russia, even to these songs, than this? In the end, altogether, this is pretty middling.