The movie Dreams
The Mosfilm channel on YouTube is a wonderful thing. Recently I stumbled on the 1993 movie Dreams (Сны), directed by Karen Shakhnazarov, which I had missed at the time. The conceit is that a Russian countess in 1893 is troubled by nightly dreams in which she is a dishwasher at a cafeteria in the year 1993. Everything about the early El’tsin years is portrayed as mind-bogglingly vulgar; the tone is at the grotesque end of funny. And this makes the nineteenth century into a lost golden age. The countess’s husband, who hears about and even manages to see her dreams, gives a report to the emperor (anachronistically Nicholas II instead of Alexander III) urging reforms — reforms to avert revolution, not to spare Russia the purges of the 1930s, of which the count knows nothing, but to spare Russia the humiliating chaos of the 1990s.
The movie is much more about 1993 than 1893 — much of the humor comes from the count and countess repeating 1990s expressions and attitudes (“Рубли? Да кому они нужны, деревянные!” is a favorite) against a generic aristocratic nineteenth-century backdrop. But it’s fun to see what “typical” elements of the nineteenth century are chosen to draw the contrast.