Film Review: Office Romance by Eldar Ryazanov
Office Romance (Russian: , romanized: Sluzhebnyj roman) is a Soviet comedy film directed by Eldar Ryazanov. It was filmed at Mosfilm and released in 1977. The film’s plot is based on the stageplay “Co-workers” (Russian: , romanized: Sosluzhivtsy) written by Eldar Ryazanov and Emil Braginsky, and tells the story of Ludmila Kalugina, head of a statistical bureau, and her subordinate, economist Anatoly Novoseltsev, who come from mutual aversion to love. Office Romance was a box office success, the leader of Soviet film distribution in 1978 and still enjoys wide popularity in the former Soviet republics. Both romantic drama and screwball comedy, the film is noted for its scenes of Moscow in the late 1970s, and for its comical depiction of the everyday life and customs of Soviet society during the Era of Stagnation.
The action takes place in Moscow in 1976. Anatoly Yefremovich Novoseltsev, a clumsy single father of two sons, works at a statistical bureau. His boss is a strict single woman in her late 30s, Ludmila Prokofievna Kalugina, nicknamed “our frump” by her subordinates. He dreams about a promotion and a raise, but he is too timid to talk to his boss about it. His former classmate and old friend, Yuri Grigorievich Samokhvalov suggests appointing his old friend as a head of the light industry department, but Kalugina rejects the advice. Then, following Samokhvalov’s advice, Novoseltsev unwillingly tries to flirt with “the Frump” at a party in Samokhvalov’s apartment, but Kalugina gets very annoyed at his attempts to impress her. Eventually Novoseltsev becomes frustrated and tells Kalugina that he considers her “dry, inhuman and heartless”.
I wanted to share my love for this movie with you for the longest tine, but was scared that a) I never wrote a movie review before and b) as you can see at most this is a gushing review, but basically it is a love letter to the movie and its director Eldar Ryazanov. His movies had been favorite ones to watch over and over again for generations of people who grew up in the Soviet Union, and I am certainly part of such generation, not sure if younger people still enjoy his movies, but at least those of my age range definitely do no matter in which countries they ended up living .
I like his other movies a lot and watched all of them several times , but I lost count how many times I watched this one over the course of several decades. If I say hundreds I will not be exaggerating much, because last year alone I clocked in ten – fifteen times . If I feel sad/ tired , need pick me up, this movie is one of the best comfort rewatch medicines for me , always had been. I have no idea how English speaking viewers would react to it. You can find the movie with English subtitles on youtube and it is free, so while I of course think that it is best to experience it in Russian, I still think you would enjoy the wonderful actors doing amazing job playing their respective characters and you will pick up the main story and hear lovely music.
At its heart the movie is a Romance with the capital R. I debated as to what to put in as a blurb and ended up putting in two paragraphs from Wikipedia article about the movie, thinking it probably does give a decent set up. Please note that the Wikipedia article contains very detailed plot spoilers if you end up wanting to read it before or after watching the movie.
Also, as blurb tells you the movie has romance between the Boss and the Employee. It was not annoying /upsetting for me how it was done, but if you just don’t like that set up at all ( remember the movie was filmed in the mid seventies), you may want to skip it and of course I have a huge sentimental attachment to this movie, so I am not looking at it with the objective eyes, not really.
What I liked the most about this movie? I liked that the movie placed your typical romance in the very realistic settings of the soviet reality. Of course it has the happy ending and all that romance requires but one can easily recognize the settings the director tells the story against if they were living in those times. I was very little when the movie first appeared, so I would not know about how real the portrayal of the work place in the Statistic Bureau in the movie was, but my mom told me that for example one scene that depicts women of the bureau putting make up on before starting working reflected exactly what was happening in my mom’s office . You have to see that to understand, but I liked that director inserted these scenes in the movies which people could recognize as happening in their work places too.
I of course loved the romance, of course the way story was told was due to the director’s writing talent ( he initially was one of the two people writing the play which movie was based on), but also due to the people who played two leads – Andrey Myagkov who plays Anatoly Novoseltsev and Alisa Freindlix who plays Lyudmila Kalugina. I loved that the main male character is so far from being an alpha male it is not even funny. He is clumsy, he is scared of his Boss to death, but he also dreams of the promotion and because of that agrees to initially attempt flirting with his Boss at the party and think that maybe because of that he would get the promotion. Of course flirting at the party goes very wrong, hilariously wrong in fact, but very soon events turn to our couple getting to know each other better and falling in love.
As I wrote above Novoseltsev is a flawed character, and the movie went out of the way to make a handsome guy to look quite ordinary and a beautiful woman even less so, but he is also a single father devoted to raising his two boys, and at heart very kind and gentle person. Lyudmila Kalugina is a extremely competent and strict leader who is also single. Of course I don’t subscribe to the idea that the single woman is not fulfilled if she is not married, but I have no problem enjoying the movie where one specific woman who very much loves her work and is very good at her work may also feel lonely when she comes back home. One of the things I appreciate about this movie that there is absolutely no indication that when our couple is together at the end that Kalugina is going to quit her job. She is still extremely good at what she does and now she is just going to have something else in her life besides her career.
I appreciate humor in the story and I also appreciate subtle or not so subtle digs about Soviet system that Ryazanov managed to put in his stories without overwhelming the narrative and more importantly often enough censors either ignored it or just did not realize it was there because it was subtle enough but also visible enough.
Grade : A+
Office Romance is on youtube in two parts. Type in “Office Romance film 1” and “Office Romance film 2”