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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Good News For Moscow's Film Lovers

The irritating tradition of voicing over foreign-language films in Russian is a relic of the Communist era, cinema professionals say. The public, made wary by the distortions that prevailed in the press in those days, would simply not trust a foreign-language film that had been dubbed - they needed to hear the original soundtrack beneath the voice-over to make sure they were not being tricked.


In addition, subtitles have never really been developed here, presumably because it costs too much. The result is that films ranging from the American-made "Tootsie" to Tengiz Abuladze's Georgian-language "Repentance", which made headlines in the early glasnost era, are ruined for viewers here by a monotone voice reading all the parts in Russian. The original soundtrack may come through, but it is largely inaudible. Viewers who have knowledge of a foreign language are deprived of the chance to hear it spoken. and even Russian speakers have a hard time telling who is saying what.


This is why it is so important for movie-lovers here that the Americom House of Cinema is launching a series of films in the original this weekend with the recently released "Much Ado About Nothing". For once, there will be no droning monologue interfering with Shakespeare's verse.


The screening is significant for another reason as well: The fact that an American producer has agreed to show a first-run film in Russia is the first sign that the boycott of the Russian market by American producers is beginning to end.


The boycott was prompted by rampant movie piracy in the former Soviet Union, and a lack of protection under the law. Because the Soviet Union had never signed the Bern Convention guaranteeing international copyright protection, pirated videos and films have been routinely shown and sold throughout the former Soviet Union.


Though the Russian parliament passed a copyright law earlier this year, the situation is still risky. The Samuel Goldwyn Company, which co-produced "Much Ado About Nothing" with the actor Kenneth Branagh, has taken special precaution to ensure that the film reels are never left unattended from the time they leave the United States to the time they leave Moscow.


Officials at the Americom Business Center say that so far only independent studios have agreed to participate. There is little doubt that Moscow's growing expatriate community, now numbering some 80, 000 people, as well as the growing number of Russians who can afford $10 for a ticket, will support the program.


As foreign movies in Russian finally begin to come of age, it is to be hoped that other producers will support it as well and be willing to take a risk on Russia.