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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Get Me to Prison, but Make Sure It's Dutch




"Tip-top, tip-top, ochen khorosho," murmurs Semyon Lyamkin as he relishes his tasty lunch in a Dutch prison where he is hiding from the Russian police. His fellow prisoners drum out a beat with their spoons and sing along with Semyon in English: "Tip-top, tip-top, very well."


"Khochu v Tyurmu!" or "Get Me to Jail," a new comedy by Alla Surikova, may not be at the tip of the top of world cinema, but it's certainly very well done.


Created with respect for the essentials of a good comedy, the film features a well-told, exciting story with many opportunities for hilarious gags and slapstick absurdities, and it has characters viewers can relate to. Best of all, "Khochu v Tyurmu!" happily fills the niche for unpretentious, quality movies, which gapes wide between the two overpowering tendencies in contemporary Russian cinema f experimental low-budget productions and films in retro style that exploit Soviet nostalgia.


Surikova is the only Russian female director who produces exclusively comedies, coming up with a different kind each time. Her resume lists a lyrical comedy, a hilarious western and a tragic farce. She describes her most recent film as a "patriotic comedy."


The film's "message" that a Russian is homesick even in the most comfortable and friendly foreign country is suggested subtly enough to make the overworked idea fresh and attractive once again.


"I'm persuaded that it's much more important to laugh than to cry ... even though it's not very funny when you don't have enough money for bread," Surikova says. "Laughter neutralizes aggression; people who laugh over the same thing feel united."


The hero of "Khochu v Tyurmu!" Semyon Lyamkin, a genius inventor, gets implicated in a robbery but chooses to avoid a prison term in his home country by getting himself into jail in Holland, the country of "victorious socialism." This near-fantastic twist was no invention, however. Screenplay writer Vladimir Yeryomin says he based the plot on a newspaper clip.


Lyamkin, played by Vladimir Ilyin, is the shy father of four with a multicolored knitted hat and a childish perception of the world. Initially, he finds it hard to offend the Dutch authorities. He orders a load of dishes at a luxury restaurant and readily offers to surrender for refusing to pay the bill f but a group of diners at the next table, disarmed by this curious Russian, insists on covering the expenses. He draws some horns on the queen's portrait and smashes a shop window, but policemen merely tap the stubborn foreigner on the shoulder and tell him politely to go home.


After days of bothering the police as much as his peaceful personality lets him, Lyamkin eventually reaches his goal. Along the way, he meets a girl named Marie who falls in love with the ingenuous Russian Winnie the Pooh look-alike. Alla Klyuka as Marie and Mikhail Petrovsky, who plays Lyamkin's prison chum Chris, brilliantly imitate foreigners speaking Russian, making numerous hilarious mistakes.


Among other actors, old-time movie star Natalya Gundareva plays Lyamkin's naive and touching wife, while Moscow City Duma Deputy Oleg Bocharov is oddly convincing as a mafia boss.


An important role is performed by the hero's run-down yellow Zaporozhets. In Lyamkin's masterful hands, the cheapest and most disrespected Soviet car turns into a work of art, running faster than a Jeep, moving with the agility of a motor boat and seemingly ready to take flight. The image of this car is borrowed from popular jokes, say the film's creators, and is supposed to remind viewers that, however impoverished and deprived, smart people always have a chance.


"It warms our souls, which secretly hope that a Zaporozhets can go round a Mercedes, that not only the guy who sits in the Mercedes can be the master of the situation, but the Zaporozhets driver too," says writer Yeryomin. "Lyamkin at the wheel of his 'technical miracle' is a symbol."


"Khochu v Tyurmu!" is showing at the Khudozhestvenny Movie Theater through Feb. 11 at 10:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The theater is located at 14 Arbatskaya Ploshchad. Tel: 291-9624. Nearest metro: Arbatskaya.