Eldar Ryazanov Soviet comedy film giant dies

Eldar Ryazanov - file pic Image copyright AFP
Image caption Eldar Ryazanov's comedies were hugely popular in Soviet times

One of Russia's best-loved Soviet-era film directors, Eldar Ryazanov, has died of heart failure aged 88.

He became an icon of popular culture through tragi-comedies that gently satirised daily life in the USSR.

A 1975 comedy, The Irony of Fate, is reckoned to be his most popular film - still televised on New Year's Eve in former Soviet countries.

Among his other hit films were Office Romance and Garage. Soviet censors banned one film, The Man from Nowhere.

Despite the ban the Communist authorities named him a People's Artist of the USSR in 1984.

An asteroid, 4258 Ryazanov, was also named after him.

His fame began with a musical comedy in 1956, Carnival Night, in the style of American musicals. More than 45 million people went to see it.

Image copyright Ria Novosti
Image caption Among Ryazanov's most popular films was the 1966 comedy crime-drama Beware of the Car

The Irony of Fate - a classic of Soviet cinema - tells the tale of a man who gets drunk with friends on New Year's Eve and ends up flying to Leningrad (today's St Petersburg), though he was supposed to be spending the evening in Moscow with his fiancee.

The comedy of errors becomes more entangled when he enters a flat identical to his Moscow home in a street of the same name and the young woman tenant returns later to find him there sleeping off a hangover.

The comedy is enriched by satire on the uniform drabness of Soviet apartment blocks in the Brezhnev era.

Ryazanov played a cameo role in that film and some of his others.

He was born in Samara, a city on the Volga river, and studied at Moscow's Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography (VGIK).

As a student he became acquainted with leading Soviet film directors Grigory Kozintsev and Sergei Eisenstein, who helped to develop his craft skills.

The lighter side of communism - BBC's Steve Rosenberg in Moscow:

"Every year, on 31st December, my friends and I go to the bath house."

Over the years I've heard so many Russians quote this line from the Ryazanov classic The Irony of Fate. Like so many other script lines from Ryazanov's films, it has become part of the fabric of the Russian language.

The Irony of Fate is one of my favourites. On New Year's Eve a Moscow man gets blind drunk in a bath house and, by mistake, ends up on a plane to Leningrad. Once there he staggers to what he thinks is his Moscow flat - the street name is the same (Third Builders' Street), the apartment block looks identical and the key fits - a comment on how communism was erasing individualism and making everything boringly similar.

Image copyright Ria Novosti
Image caption The Irony of Fate tells of a man who ends up in a flat in Leningrad rather than Moscow on New Year's Eve

You might think that life behind the Iron Curtain was cold and grey and humourless. But for the hundreds of millions of people who lived there, there was laughter too - and much of that was thanks to Eldar Ryazanov.

His films poked fun - ever so gently, ever so cheekily - at everyday life and everyday problems under socialism.

Related Topics

More on this story