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  • Benjamin May

The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath (1976) Review

It is New Year's Eve in Moscow and Zhenya is about to get married. To celebrate his upcoming nuptials and to ring in the new year, he and his friends get drunk at the local bathhouse. Calamity ensues after Zhenya accidentally flies to Leningrad, a city he cannot distinguish from his own in his intoxicated state. By chance, his address matches an apartment identical to his own, and his key fits in the door. There, fate introduces Zhenya to the owner of the apartment, Nadya, as well as her uptight fiancé Ippolit. Will love bloom in Nadya's standard Soviet apartment, or does fate have other plans in store for Zhenya?

Directed by Eldar Ryazanov and written alongside Emil Braginsky, 'The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath' is a warmly entertaining romantic-comedy that also serves as a sharp satire on the soulless uniformity of the Soviet urban landscape. Much like Ryazanov's later 'Office Romance,' the film paints a stark depiction of Moscow and Leningrad during the so-called "Era of Stagnation", and like the latter film; mines the socio-economic and architectural maladies of the period for comedic gold.

Beginning with a humorous cartoon detailing the burgeoning homogenisation of the Soviet terrain, and continuing to satirize various aspects of 70's era Soviet life- from the furniture to the locks- Ryazanov's film is a criticism of drab architecture, identical apartments and cold cityscapes that people from any nation can identify with. Vladimir Nakhabtsev's naturalistic cinematography emphasises the sameness of the locales, which the production design and I. Fyodorov's set decoration only bolsters. Despite this satirical strength, though, the film is also- and perhaps primarily- a most unlikely and well-acted love story that should warm the cockles of even the iciest heart.

'The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath' finds Andrey Mayakov starring as Zhenya, alongside Barbara Brylska as Nadya and Yury Yakovlev as Ippolit. Mayakov delivers a delightfully impassioned performance, remaining charmingly convincing whether comically drunk or serenading the audience on the guitar. He and Brylska share a warm, seemingly genuine chemistry that makes watching them together a real treat.

Throughout the film, the Polish-born Brylska is terrific, remaining both beguiling and sympathetic. Voiced by Valentina Talyzina- who appears in the film herself as one of Nadya's friends- the character of Nadya has to deal with a strange situation to say the least, and Brylska keeps things from getting too farcical with her down-to-earth performance and easy charm. Whether singing the great Mikael Tariverdiev songs- through the voice of Alla Pugacheva- or attempting to juggle two suitors at the same time; she enthrals. For his part, the great Yury Yakovlev never sets a foot wrong in the role of Ippolit, bringing his uptight mannerisms to life perfectly, whilst remaining humorous and empathetic.

Regardless of one's agreement with Ryazanov's critique of the 70's era Soviet landscape as a soulless one, or one's belief in fate; 'The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath' is a funny and thoroughly entertaining experience. Well-written, strongly acted and featuring striking visuals from Vladimir Nakhabtsev- as well as a stirring score from Mikael Tariverdiev- Eldar Ryazanov's 'The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath' is one of the finest gems in Mosfilm's crown.


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