'Hipsters" practically vibrates with zeal and joy. According to the press notes it's the first Russian musical in 50 years, and it is a hip-shaking, bounce-in-your-seat boogie-woogie lollapalooza.
The story is a Khrushchev-era "Footloose." It pits adolescent cool cats who dance like maniacs to hot U.S. jive against young Komsomol squares who raid their underground parties. It carries its historical baggage lightly, reducing Cold War Soviet censorship to drab-dressing spoilsports hassling flashy free spirits. If that's simplistic, so be it. This is a movie about finger-snapping bliss. You want scholarship, read a book.
The focus of things is Mels (Anton Shagin), a shy member of the Communist Party's youth corps. He labors diligently under gorgeous, somber brigade leader Katya (Evgeniya Brik) to eliminate all things fun. On a dance party raid he encounters Polly (Oksana Akinshina, "Lilya 4 Ever"), a red-hot individualist, and his dour solidarity with the faceless masses melts like Siberian icicles. He learns to smile, to dress like a hepcat, comb his hair into a pompadour the size of a jitterbug and wail subversive jazz on a black-market sax. (True fact: In 1949, Moscow authorities confiscated all "anti-Soviet" saxophones.)
The actors are stupendous singers and dancers, and when they cut loose in breakaway musical numbers, the screen erupts with Baz Luhrmann exuberance. From the hipsters' peacock-colorful fashion eccentricities to the kinetic thrill of the choreography, the movie is an orgy for the senses.
The story line becomes a romantic tug-of-war with several surprising detours on its way to an exultant finale linking 1955-style dissidents with the hipsters of today. The film isn't entirely superficial. It shows that hepcats can be co-opted, and that the upbeat "individualists" are all individual in the same way.
Most of its pleasures, though, are instantly accessible. When Sergey Garmash, who plays Mels' uptempo father, bangs out a driving accordion anthem about how rotten Russian life is, there's no denying the power of music to bring light to darkness. It's easy to see why the film was a massive hit in Russia, and nothing is lost in translation.