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A collection of 18 episodes of investigative journalism, each 40 ½ min. , 2003.

Vladimir Vardunas and Yuri Mamin offer viewers an overview of various Russian anomalies in the series.

Two journalists from the newspaper “Grim Tales from Russia”, Leo Venediktov and Masha Palkina, are sent to investigate the stories.  The general plot is organized similarly to the American TV series “The X-Files”, with two main differences:  the two main characters are not FBI agents, but journalists and the series is a comedy.

In order to come up with their stories, the show’s writers relied on facts taken from press reports, eyewitness accounts and their own observations.  Upon transformation in the writers’ imaginations, these facts are turned into fantastic tales dedicated to real problems associated with our barbaric attitude towards nature, ecological crimes, mismanagement, irresponsibility and impunity.
However, all of the authors’ dramatic stories are presented through the lens of comedy.  This enables the viewers not only to reflect upon the realities of Russian life, but also laugh at them, since there are sufficient reasons to do so.

Here are just a few of the stories:

“The Nail in the Program”
In order to take over an old woman’s room, her cruel neighbors decide to knock her off, making a “clean” kill. With this goal in mind, they hammer a nail into the sleeping woman’s head and leave for vacation. A surprise awaits them upon return…

“Yeti from the Dump”
Satellite photos are received of the Abominable Snowman living in a forgotten region of Siberia. Is this just another hoax or the discovery of the century?...

Souls resurrected from the grave come at night to a parking lot near the cemetery and steal three new foreign cars.  Why are they deceased?...

A werewolf with a pig’s head turns up in the city. He is terrible and elusive. His habitat is the private firm “Goliath”...

“Wonders beyond the Fence"
This episode begins a series of 6 stories dedicated to the extraordinary adventures of the journalists in a closed Exclusion Zone. It all begins when, in the area around Ugryumovska, a huge mushroom weighing 8 kg is found...


About the actors

The show featured a wonderful cast.

Yuri Galtsev – a famous stage comedian, appearing for practically the first time in serious roles. That is to say, his performance is devoid of the familiar eccentricities and stage humor of the actor. He appears here in the role of a dramatic actor, attempting to convey the feelings of credibility offered by the writers’ situations. At the same time, his character is comical, touching, and sometimes, just absurd. His role does contain emotional moments. For example, he delivers a fiery monologue about ungrateful people, in the episode “Radiant Bones”. Yuri Galtsev’s Lev Venediktov “is a romantic, a man fascinated by and fascinating to others. He is likeable, charming, and kind-hearted.”

His eternal companion and photographer Masha Palkina is played by Katerina Ksenyeva (Gorko! (1997), Sniper (2004), Don’t Think About White Monkeys (2009). This was the actresses’ first big role in film. Prior to this, after graduating from the Saint Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy, Katerina managed to brilliantly perform in the main role in the play “Santa Cruz” by M. Frisch (in the “Priyut Komedianta” theater). Her role there was tragic. In “Grim Tales” her role is comparatively comic.

Masha Palkina a very amusing creature. All she does, she does with passion. If she is afraid of something, then she is horrified to the verge of fainting, if she is happy, she is madly enthusiastic, if she falls in love, then it is with all her heart. Sensitive and timid as a doe, she is very ashamed of her slight cross-eye, which gives her a certain extra charm.

The selfless Ksenyeva especially crossed one eye, to the point of hernia, in order to more authentically carry out the role of Masha Palkina, who is full of complexes and touching. Because of this injury, the cross-eyed storyline was written out of subsequent episodes. The doctor who treated the actress said: “One more cross-eyed episode and you’ll lose your eye.”

It is worth noting that Katerina Ksenyeva has an excellent singing voice (before the Saint Petersburg State Theater Arts Academy, she studied vocals in the Conservatory) and was the winner of a contest of stage singers for the North-West region (1990).

In the episode “Return from the Zone” she and Yuri Galtsev, accompanied by the “Digest” ensemble, sing a song about colorful snow, filmed as a music video. In another episode the heroes escape from their pursuers dressed in Russian folk costumes (with Venediktov dressed as a woman and Masha as a man). Posing as members of a stage contest, they sing a song about a crow, which they invented on the spot, during their performance. (This number was filmed in plain view, right at a Yuri Galtsev concert in a crowded theater hall.)

Masha Palkina’s character is considered one of the biggest acting successes of the series.

Viktor Sukhorukov, the actor discovered by Yuri Mamin in the film “Sidewhiskers”, displayed new acting talents in the role of the newspaper’s manager, Semyon Shverubovich. His character is a crafty, restless, enterprising, pencil-pusher, resembling the character of Funes, with his choleric temperament. The red hair sticking out around his shiny bald head underlines the eccentricity of his image.

The talented actor Mark Makarenkov plays the role of the newspaper’s chief editor Pyotr Nikitich Smelov. He portrays the recognizable image of a hardened old ideological bureaucrat, a stubborn functionary. Smelov has absolutely no sense of humor. He does not believe in any miracles, and nostalgically remembers the long-gone pre-Perestroika times. Simultaneously, he is an experienced manager who knows how to “cultivate” subordinates and “push their work in the right direction”. Physically resembling Jack Nicholson, Makarenkov has an expressive voice and the gift of transformation, which have repeatedly been successful in convincing audiences of Yuri Mamin’s works “From Piano to Forte” and “Chameleon”. (He also appeared in Y. Mamin’s film “Gorko!” in the role of the groom’s father).

The poet Maisky(Anatoly Slivnikov) is constantly busy composing new horror stories for the newspaper. He is an undoubtedly comical figure. Each of his scenes should cause the viewer, if not to laugh, then at least to smile. Slivnikov has long-been familiar to viewers. He starred in the Aleksei German film “My Friend Ivan Lapshin”, “Cops”, “The Blonde Around the Corner”, “Window to Paris” (as the police major who detained the Frenchwoman) and dozens of other films. And although his roles have been secondary, they were invariably vivid and memorable. Slivnikov had never played artistic characters before, especially poets. In the series, he had to depict moments of creativity, something he does hilariously and convincingly. Noteworthy is the fact that every episode is foretold with Maisky’s poems, which he has composed in the nighttime silence in his attic, above the rooftops of the sleeping city. In this way the poet Maisky, played by Anatoly Slivnikov, is synonymous with the series.

The young newspaper employees, journalists Rumin and Prudkin, resemble a tap-dancing pair. They work in tandem, supporting and complementing each other. They most clearly manifest their bond during the pre-election campaign of Smelov for a City Council position (in the “Domovoi” (House Spirit) episode). In this scene they have to give passionate speeches by taking cues from each other and completing a rap duet while giving a campaign speech in a huge stadium. The roles are played by the St. Petersburg actors Pavel Ivanovsky and Roman Nechaev, gifted young people who are experienced actors and have starred in the main roles of theater productions. They acted in their roles with talent and ingenuity.

Besides the two main characters and their newspaper staff colleagues, each episode contains subjects under investigation, who are the main characters in the stories.

In the episode “The Nail in the Program” it is an elderly woman, the former actress Granovskaya, with a nail in her head. Her role was perfectly played by Victoria Shlyadinskaya, a seventy year-old woman whose profession is a sports trainer. In her distant youth she was a member of an amateur theater group and since that time had no connection to either the theater or film. However, her successful debut at such an advanced age once again confirms the view of some specialists that finding the right person to fill a film role is half the battle. And if, in addition, this individual has acting talent, the film will be successful.

It is worth mentioning the work of Vladimir Leletko in the “Domovoi” episode, in the role of the landlord of the apartment inhabited by the house goblin (“domovoi”) spirits. He is an original artist, convincing in the role of a low-life character. He conveys, in detail, the subtleties in behavior of a closeted alcoholic, including the mood swings and ingenuity required to attain the necessary buzz. It is vivid, easily recognizable, and therefore hilarious.

In the episodes about the “Zone”, a whole group of talented artists took part: Irina Rakshina, Kira Kraylis-Petrova, Georgi Shtil, Anatoly Azo, Mikhail Guro and others.

Central to this company is the centaur Yura Gorbunov, played by Mikhail Guro and his assistant Victor Kravets, who plays the back half of the centaur. This is the most fantastical character in the whole series. He is the son of an astronaut and a pony, who has ended up in the “zone” by the fate of the circumstances. He is an accordion player, dancer, and the village favorite in Zagibalovo, who works here as a shop assistant. In love with Tolstoy, he quotes, from memory, whole passages of the novel “War and Peace,” which he has read 8 times “and will read just as many more”. When he meets the journalist from St. Petersburg, Masha Palkina, his life, as well as hers, are turned inside out. The young people fall in love and this unusual love becomes the driving force behind another episode called “Clone”.

In addition to the above actors, the “Clone” episode also stars the popular hosts of the St. Petersburg night-time TV show “Blue Pages”, Aleksey Lushnikov and Dr. Shcheglov. They play two scientists from secret scientific research institutes who are working on cloning the centaur Gorbunov, for his subsequent separation into man and horse.

The episode “City of Happiness” features very interesting work from Aleksey Devotchenko. He plays a man who became a victim of an experiment secretly carried out on young people, who were building the so-called “City of Happiness”. This experiment was done on the instructions of the country’s party leadership. Made a zombie, he has almost completely lost his memory, he only remembers the “City of Happiness”, where he really felt happy. Venediktov and Palkina play a role in his fate and together they find themselves in this mysterious city. There, they meet its unusual inhabitants and their “chief engineer” Pozhidaev, one of the authors of the experiment. He is played by the interesting theater actor Vladimir Shagin, who rarely acts in films.

In the episode “Baba Yaga”, Vyacheslav Zakharov acts in the role of a self-taught inventor. He plays the craftsman Bilibin, a provincial genius, possessing a folksy personality: under a shell of crudeness and mistrust, hides a kind-hearted man suffering from the fate of his homeland.

© Katerina Ksenyeva 2011