Sylvia Hölzl
Translated by Carolyn Kelly and Damian Harrison

The title of the film almanac Moscow, I Love You! promises a declaration of love to the Russian capital. And, without wishing to pre-empt the outcome, the 18 shorts fail to entirely fulfill this promise. Unlike its predecessors, Paris, je t'aime and New York, I Love You, the Russian film lacks charm and interest. However, if we ignore for the moment the lack of internal coherence that marks this series of micro-subjects and instead resign ourselves to the largely conventional narrative form of these episodes, it is certainly interesting to raise the question of the vision of Moscow depicted in the almanac.

The individual episodes of Moscow, I Love You! are each five minutes long and bring to the screen a panoply of minidramas, amorous entanglements and grotesque sketches. The scope of atmospheric coloring ranges from lively comedy to meaningful allegory. The artistic form of the narrative miniature is not achieved by all of the directors, and moments when a piece of "authentic" Moscow life shines through are rare.

So what kind of Moscow are we confronted with? The opening credits show a spinning roulette wheel, with Moscow at its center. The ball does not land on a number, but rather on a point on the map, which determines the location of the action where the camera zooms. These locations are always in the inner circle of the city rather than on the periphery. Two associations are made here: that of the randomness of the episodes (whereby the lack of connections between the individual "Moscow stories" is disguised); and that of the chance of the game. In one scene the question is raised directly: "To Moscow? For the sake of happiness?". The protagonists may find their personal luck in Moscow, like the young woman from the provinces in search of the fairy-tale prince in the capital in "Line Disconnected"; the two lovers who find a way back to each other in "He and She"; the job applicant in a foreign company in "Job". There's the quiet happiness of the woman who works in a nighttime cleaning crew in the Moscow metro and sketches watercolors of the city in empty metro stations in "A Study in Light Hues"; the familial joy of the bank employee Anton from "Nikitsky Gates", who replies in a telephone conversation to his mother's request that he move away from Moscow with the argument that he loves the city, his job, and his wife. Moscow is presented here as a series of tacky postcard views and panning shots of the Moscow sky, but ironic snippets of dialogue also abound, including such gems as "We absorb private capital and grind it down. In our own way, in the Moscow way" or "Moscow is a large bed: everyone sleeps with everyone else and everyone lies." Here, in particular, the spotlight is on the contemporary spirit of the city and its inhabitants. It is hardly surprising that the episodes are rarely concerned with friendship, but rather with individual happiness and individuals seeking to make their way in/to Moscow, or who have already made it.

The selection principle of the episodes is readily explained by a headline from the newspaper Izvestiya: "17 friends of Yegor Konchalovsky declare their love for Moscow and the Muscovites". The creative producer Yegor Kochalovsky has assembled a posse of Russian directors, mostly of his own generation and including the offspring of the Mikhalkovs, Konchalovskys, Paradjanovs, Ibragimbekovs, and Bondarchouks. One may view this with indifference, but one may also wonder why other directors were not involved. In addition to these, a few younger colleagues also had a chance, and were joined by veterans such as Gheorghy Natanson, now over eighty years old. The fact that many of them know each other is apparent not only from the overlaps in the list of names in various co-operations. Yegor Konchalovsky appeared for a few seconds in "The Taxi Driver" by Aleksei Golubev, for example. On the other hand, Yekaterina Dvigubskaya's episode "In the Middle of the GUM by the Fountain" seems almost like a family reunion. As well as directing, Dvigubskaya also plays the main role of the ice-cream seller and had invited her mother, Natalya Arinbasarova, to appear in the episode – the ice-cream seller asks her for an autograph. Dvigubskaya's half-brother Yegor Konchalovsky also makes a guest appearance as a Kazakh tourist who thanks the coquettish ice-cream seller in his native language for the privilege of photographing her. The carousel continues with Konchalovsky's wife and daughter, Liubov Tolkanina and Masha Mikhalkova, cousin Artyom Mikhalkov and his wife Darya Mikhalkova, and even Dvigubskaya's husband Aleksandr Gotlib. The round is completed by the familiar faces of heartthrob Dmitry Diuzhev, a smattering of showbiz starlets and old stars Albert Filozov and Natalya Fateyeva. This pulp leaves a hollow aftertaste.

Are they the Muscovites? But the episodes also confront us with other inhabitants of the Russian metropolis, with the Stalinist skyscrapers forming a conspicuous backdrop. A Russian reviewer even joked that the entire film is set in the district that is notionally limited by the "Seven Sisters" (see Shakina). The love story between the Russian student and the Italian footballer, entitled "Mosca ti amo" is set in the student hostel of Moscow State University. Following a tryst, the Italian is forced to flee from the immigration police onto the windowsill. The apartment building on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment and the apartment building on Kudrinskaya Square are, respectively, the scenes of the story "Real Life", in which a young man receives moral guidance from his grandfather, and "Highrise" (a businessman, played by Fyodor Bondarchouk, wants to take his own life, but is saved by a neighbour who has observed his preparations through a telescope).

All in all, most of the episodes have a happy end, and nothing bad happens to anyone in this Moscow. Even the killer in "The Violinist" proves to have a good heart. In his ironic episode "Muscovites", Yegor Konchalovsky addresses, in a comedic manner, the question of what is an "old-established Muscovite" (korennoi moskvich) and plays off two leaders of rival criminal gangs against each other. In the end, both protagonists end up in the back of a police van, chained to each other, while the 1947 Dunaevsky song My dear Muscovites (Dorogiye moee moskvichi) plays on the radio.

Of all these episodes, only Murad Ibragimbekov's "Object No. 1" manages to convince. This short film was already shown in 2009 at the Venice International Film Festival in the Shorts Section. In a reference to Sots-Art, the film reflects on the treatment of Soviet symbols. It is the story of an apprentice and his master who are responsible for the maintenance of Moscow's monuments, including the statue to Gagarin, the sculpture of the Worker and Farmer by Vera Mukhina, and Tzereteli's statue of Peter the Great. Scenes shot in the studio were later edited on the computer in high-resolution black-and-white, the only other color used being red. At the episode's conclusion, the apprentice is finally allowed to enter Object No. 1 – the red Kremlin star. The ironic interplay of the acts of conquering, occupying and polishing these symbols of power is achieved here with a dizzying simplicity.

Moscow, I Love You! opened the 2010 Kinotavr Russian Film Festival. Following the almanac Crush of the previous year, this was the second time in a row that a compilation of short films was chosen as opening film. But in contrast to Crush, there were no young directors at work here. In Moscow, I Love You! one recognizes not so much the tradition of the kinoalmanakh at work, as characterized by Joshua First in his review of Crush, but rather the economically-minded marketing of a city backdrop. It is an open secret that Russian producers wanted to match the stunning success of their French predecessor at the Russian box office. In addition to the festival version, comprising 18 episodes, an edited version, shortened by three episodes, was created for distribution, with 221 copies for release. Due to the high number of copies and an extensive advertising campaign, Moscow, I Love You! achieved its commercial aims. But the film itself will soon share the same fate as so many other almanacs and slip into oblivion.