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In 1993, Yuri Mamin released his most famous film “Window to Paris”. It was a joint Russian-French film shot in Paris and St. Petersburg with Russian and French actors. The film portrayed the post-Perestroika situation, when Russian citizens did not want to live at home, but could not adjust to living abroad.

Nikolai Chizhov, a music teacher at school, discovers a strange window behind the wardrobe in his new dwelling place: this mystical window is a dimensional portal between Petersburg and Paris. This discovery is the beginning of amazing adventures  of Chizhov and his Parisian neighbors...
  The film is a prediction about the future of Europe, about the bestial invasion of Russian demoralized businessmen and about the humiliation of the intelligentsia in Russia.

At the end of the film, the main character, Nikolai Chizhov, a school music teacher and a member of the Russian intelligentsia, gives a persuasive speech to the children, who have decided to remain in Paris. In his words: "You were born in a terrible time in a poor, devastated country. But it is your country, after all! Don't you want to make it better?" At that time, this was a rather rare demonstration of patriotism; the authors of the film and all its actors were quite sincere.

The comedy “Window to Paris” (in French “Salades Russes”) attained such success in France and at the Berlin Film Festival that Michael Barker, the co-president of the American distribution company Sony Pictures Classics arranged for the film to be released in the United States, and twice requested Goskino, the State Committee of Russian Federation for Cinematography, to submit the film “Window to Paris” for the 1994 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.    

Barker wrote: "The response to the film at screenings in Los Angeles and New York has been terrific with both the critics and the audiences. It seems to communicate the message of bringing two cultures together in a warm and enlightening manner... should 'Salade Russe' be the Official Russian Entry to the Academy for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award, we feel confident the picture will not only be nominated for the Award, but has a very good chance to ultimately win the Award itself."

However, at that time Nikita Mikhalkov, with his freshly finished film "Burnt by the Sun", greatly wished to be considered for the Oscar. After the chairman of the Russian Oscar Committee, Elem Klimov, did not agree to submit Mikhalkov’s film to the competition, Mikhalkov demonstrated his outstanding skills in behind-the-scenes intrigues. Elem Klimov was immediately replaced by Mikhalkov's brother, Andrey Konchalovsky, who agreed to send the film "Burnt by the Sun" to the United States. Thus, Mamin was deprived of the opportunity to win the Oscar; what a shame, for if he would have had this opportunity, it would have been fair and just.

The members of the Russian Oscar Committee remain under the control of Nikita Mikhalkov, who shapes the politics of Russian cinematography. Therefore, neither the best nor the most talented films are being submitted to the American Film Academy, but rather the ones created by Mikhalkov's favorite artists. Nikita Mikhalkov is currently Vladimir Putin's cinematography adviser.

The idea of a mystical window, a dimensional portal between Russia and Paris, came to the mind of the Moscow screenwriter Felix Mironer long before Gorbachev's Perestroika. He told this idea to the filmmaker Aleksey German, who sold it 20 years later to Arkady Tigai, Yuri Mamin' co-author, for a bottle of cognac. If Mamin would have undertaken the filming of this story twenty years earlier, he would have been sent to Siberia and nicknamed "Mamin-Sibiryak" like his historical relative. "Mamin-Sibiryak" means "Mamin the Siberian".

  "Window to Paris" may be truly called a people's film. It is the most famous of all Yuri Mamin’s works, and is loved by millions of viewers around the world. Many quotations from the film have become folk proverbs.

"You used to raise builders of communism, now you are raising builders of capitalism, but the product remains the same: a brute, a know-nothing and a thief," says Nikolai Chizhov, the teacher of music and literature, angrily to the business managers of the lyceum.

"You were born in a terrible time in a poor, devastated country. But it is your country, after all! Don't you want to make it better?" says the same teacher, Chizhov, to his students on the steps of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris.

Patriotic films may be understood in different ways. It is possible to make colorful trash with a multi-million dollar budget drawn on government funds acquired through an acquaintance with the prime minister. But it is also possible to make something like all Mamin's films: coming from the soul, touching the heart and forcing you to think, without flattery and hypocrisy, sometimes hurtful, somewhat ugly and unpleasant, but always truthful and honest, scathing and passionate, in the spirit of such great artists as Nikolai Gogol and Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, Alexander Pushkin and Vladimir Korolenko, Leo Tolstoi and Maxim Gorky. For this one needs to have a pure soul and to be a deeply decent person, citizen and humanist. This is how Yuri Mamin will be remembered in the history of cinematography. 


© Katerina Ksenyeva 2011