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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Spiritual Popcorn

Could the Titanic survive a collision with the battleship Potemkin? The two legendary ships may have never met, but the on-screen struggle is a pretty close fight. Supporters of what Russians call "intellectual cinema" believe they know the winner.

While the city's major money-making cinemas bring in mindless American blockbusters with little variation in plot f witness "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact" f a handful of cinemas continue to show classic, arty or experimental films. And hardcore movie buffs continue to pack the houses.

The Cinema Museum is the main mecca for Moscow's film lovers. On Wednesday, the 6:30 p.m. showing of "Casablanca" was more than sold out, with several people sitting on the stairs in the aisles in the 120-seat hall.

In addition to exhibits containing movie-related items like scripts and posters, the Cinema Museum has seven halls f each named in honor of a prominent actor or director, such as Charlie Chaplin or Sergei Eisenstein f that show films by well-known Russian directors, as well as foreign classics and contemporary films. One of the museum's most interesting exhibits features Eisenstein's sketches for some of his movies.

"Our aim is to show people a variety of movies. When we opened [in 1992], we were visited by a very small number of people, but now word is spreading fast," said Naum Kleiman, the museum's director.

A standard ticket at the Cinema Museum usually costs 15 rubles, and special programs often feature free showings. A ticket for 10 movies can be purchased at the museum's box office on the first Saturday of every month for 120 rubles f a discount of 20 percent. Only a limited number are available.

"To keep our audience, we keep prices artificially low," Kleiman said.

The state-run museum has a minuscule budget, and most of the Russian films it shows are given to the museum free of charge. English-language movies shown in their original language are provided for free by the British and U.S. embassies as part of the museum's "English From the Screen" program.

Kleiman said he is amazed at how many Muscovites are serious movie buffs. "We thought that during the crisis, nobody would come here, and everyone would stay near their televisions, but they are coming in droves," Kleiman said.

Besides its regular showings, the museum also serves as a clubhouse for the Cine Fantom group.

"Once a week, we show experimental films, which you can't see on the movie screen or even TV," said Gleb Aleinikov, director of the club. The club was first started in 1985 as a samizdat magazine.

Aleinikov, himself a professional filmmaker, says all are welcome at the club's showings, which cost the same as regular museum showings and include films by well-known independent moviemakers, as well as the work of local film students.

Recent works the club has shown include "Zen Boxing," which Aleinikov co-produced with Alexander Dulerain, and the independently produced "The Trial of Bruner," which tells the true story of the controversial Russian artist Alexander Brener (the film took some minor poetic license with the spelling of his last name), who was imprisoned in the Netherlands for painting a dollar sign on a Malevich painting in a museum.

"These kinds of movies are not made for a mass audience. They are for intellectuals who are not satisfied with blockbusters," Aleinikov said.

The Cinema Museum is not the only venue for the classics. The Illuzion f which this week showed "La Traviata," starring celebrity tenor Placido Domingo and "Camille," starring Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor f is another such gem.

"Classic movies today get more attention than 'Titanic.' People like classics and good opera, which today is not shown even in the opera houses," Illuzion manager Vladimir Solovyov said. "Those who come here are students, young intellectuals and older people who haven't given up the cinema and aren't used to television."

Illuzion, which has access to the treasure trove of the former Soviet film archive, shows all kinds of old films, many of them in English and French. Prices range from 5 rubles to 10 rubles a ticket, and often movies are shown for free. "Every Thursday, we show old Soviet movies for pensioners [for free]. They are lonely people; some don't even own a television," Solovyov said.

Dom Khanzhonkova, also known as the Moskva Movie Theater, shows a large selection of modern films from the former Soviet Union, as well as some films from abroad.

"We like movies that are worth thinking about. People want spiritual food," said Maria Vorobyova, who is in charge of the theater's repertoire.

Such films include "Robbers: Chapter VII," by the prominent Georgian filmmaker Otar Josseliany and "Miss No One" ("Panna Nikt") by Andrzej Wajda. Those prominent names attract a stable audience of "students and intellectuals over 40," Vorobyova said.

At Dom Khanzhonkova, the price for a ticket to an old movie is just 5 rubles, while a new film can be seen for 30 rubles. Students get a 50 percent discount.

But even that's not a bargain compared with the Polish Institute, which shows new and old films by prominent Polish filmmakers such as Krzysztof Zanussi and Wajda. Films are shown with live Russian translation, and have a strong following.

"I never expected that I would meet people here who know Polish cinema better then Polish people," said Wlodzimiers Jakubas, director of the Polish Institute, which is run by the Polish Embassy.

In Soviet times, Polish movies were worshiped by educated Russians for their "laughter through tears" style.

"Polish movies are like that. If you see them once, you will fall in love with them for your whole life," Jakubas said.

The passion for Polish cinema apparently is still alive. "When we started the new film season, we thought that the hall would be half-empty, but it was full," Jakubas said. "Today American cinema is conquering the world, but among people who are not looking merely for entertainment, Polish cinema will always provide something interesting."

The Polish Institute shows Polish movies with live Russian translation. Call 254-4576 for the schedule. Located at the Polish Embassy, 1 Bolshoi Tishinsky Pereulok. Metro: Belorusskaya. Free admission.

The Cinema Museum will feature "Chuzhiye Pisma" ("Another's Letters," 1975) by Ilya Averbakh on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Hall 6. Showing in English is Michael Powell's "A Canterbury Tale" and "The Red Shoes." Call 255-9057 for a complete schedule. The museum is located at 15 Druzhinnikovskaya Ulitsa. Metro: Barrikadnaya.

Dom Khanzhonkova (Moskva Movie Theater) will show "Robbers: Chapter VII" by Otar Ioseliany on Friday and Sunday at 3 and 8:40 p.m. For a complete schedule, call 251-5860. 1 Triumfalnaya Ploshchad. Metro: Mayakovskaya.

Illuzion is located at 1/15 Kotelnicheskaya Naberezhnaya. Metro: Taganskaya. For the schedule, call 915-4354/39.