How to do a satire of a then prevailing repressive regime, without actually being seen as being one? To see one that’s done well, check out this comedy film “The Twelve Chairs (1971)“. It is an adaptation of Ilf and Petrov’s 1928 Russian novel The Twelve Chairs. With a running time of 2h 39 min, it was long, and you need a lot of patience to get through the film whose story was evident from the beginning. What makes you sit through is the brilliant direction by Director Leonid Gaidai who gives you the satisfaction of watching an epic with a variety of scenes, places, supporting characters and subplots, all sculpted individually in detail. The film is made available for free by the Russian Centre of Science & Culture, New Delhi on YouTube.

The story is now a familiar one. An elderly lady on her deathbed in the Soviet Union, tells his son-in-law named Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov, an aristocrat of Imperial Russia, about their heirloom jewellery worth a fortune hidden inside one of the chairs in their palace that was seized by the Bolsheviks. Vorobyaninov sets out in search of the chairs, and, he partners with a con artist named Ostap Bender. The two travel across the country in the pursuit of acquiring the chairs and they get into one trouble or another. Did they get the riches in the end?

The role of a con artist done well is always a treat to watch on screen and Archil Gomiashvili as Ostap Bender has delivered a master performance, with a bounce on his step, a carefree appearance, a can-do style his acting was perfect and I can’t imagine anyone else doing it. Similar was the casting of the aristocrat Vorobianinov by Sergey Filippov and Mikhail Pugovkin as Father Fyodor.

12 stulev (1971) - The Twelve Chairs (1971) by Leonid Gaidai

12 stulev (1971) – The Twelve Chairs (1971) by Leonid Gaidai

Note: This film is different from the one by the same name (The Twelve Chairs 1970) that was directed by Mel Brooks that was also based on the same story.

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