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The film debut of Yuri Mamin’s “Neptune’s Holiday” (1986), from a screenplay by Vladimir Vardunas, had the breakthrough effect of a fountain of fresh spring water spilling out onto marshy soil. This was the first film made in the era of "Perestroika". The Congress of Cinematographers, The Writers' Congress, and the Congress of Journalists, all of the supposed fundamental cultural events in Russia, happened under the banner of the film. Filmmakers, journalists and writers embraced “Neptune’s Holiday” as the face of new Russian cinema after 70 years of a stagnant regime.

The story, offered by Vardunas, is funny and unusual. The club’s leader in the village of “Small Heels”, in an annual report to regional authorities, reported the progress of a traditional event, the celebration of Neptune’s winter holiday.  This involved 150 “Polar Bears”, that is to say, fans of winter swimming. In fact the village did not contain even a single “Polar Bear”.  It turns out that it was a few years before when five geologists plunged into an ice-hole. At once, the head of the amateur initiative enrolled himself into the Polar Bear’s club, stating a membership of 5 people.  In a few years he decided to increase this figure and wrote a one in front of five, which made it 15. And then, on a drunken binge, added a zero to the end. As a result, it turned out that in Small Heels, there lived 150 polar bears (half of the village) and each year they participated in the celebration of Neptune’s winter holiday, swimming in a hole at the local lake. And, considering that the celebration took place on New Year's Eve from December 31st to January 1st, when everyone was celebrating New Year’s, no one had ever verified the story. And then, something unexpected and unpleasant happened: a delegation of Swedish “Polar Bears” arrived in the regional center wishing to learn about the extraordinary success of the Russian village and they decided to attend the next celebration of Neptune’s winter holiday.

And thus, the heroes of the film find themselves in this ridiculous, funny and dramatic situation.

No less dramatic, is the story of the idea’s creation.

Vardunas’ script was rejected by the "Debut" union as unfunny, stupid and pointless. And only the intervention of Eldar Ryazanov allowed the film to be sent to production. However, even after this the director had problems with financing the project. Due to a lack of petrol for transportation, Mamin was forced to stop shooting and prematurely end the expedition. Yet, in editing he was satisfied with the unfinished material.

However, it is harder to even imagine what happened during the first screening of the picture at “Lenfilm”. The hall was filled with roars of laughter, which grew from the beginning of the film to its end. It was a complete and utter success! This was followed by similar success in Moscow when the picture was shown at “Mosfilm”. Next, the film was sent to the International Film Festival in Mannheim (Germany). This was followed by screenings during many Russian cultural and art events.

The film was shown for free show in all the theaters of Leningrad to celebrate New Year's Eve 1987. It was not just a success, but caused unprecedented excitement!

As a result, Mamin became one of the leading filmmakers of the country overnight. His name immediately became enormously popular in the country. Mamin was invited to showings of the film in all the cities and regions of the enormous country. And everywhere people fell out of their seats from laughter during the showings, and the sight of the auditoriums was incredible.

It was obvious to everyone: there was a bright new face in Russian comedy.

And everyone was eagerly waiting for what he would make next.


Interesting facts


When Yuri Mamin was at a showing of this film in the U.S. in the late 80s, the translator was unable to translate the film “Neptune’s Holiday” for the American audience because of laughter. She literally choked on her stifled convulsions. Upon hearing her moans and yelps, the audience began to laugh wildly with her. Neither the director nor the witnesses of this audience could ever forget this tremendous sight.

“Neptune's Holiday” won several professional film awards, including the prize of “The Golden Duke” in Mannheim (1986) and the main prize at the Gabrovo Festival (Bulgaria), the bronze statuette of Charlie Chaplin (1987)

Yuri Mamin’s classmate and friend from the State Institute of Theater, Music and Cinematography (LGITMIK), the wonderful actor Viktor Mikhailov (“The Fountain”, “Sidewhiskers”, “Window to Paris”) starred in the main role of the Polar Bear Club’s director, Khokhlov. He was responsible for the fateful meeting of the director with the screenwriter.

It was winter of 1984. Mihailov lived in a residential area of Leningrad, and had no telephone in his apartment. Every evening he was forced to call from a public phone to find out his work schedule.   One evening, there were a particularly large number of people waiting to use the phone.  The girl in the phone booth was in no hurry to end her conversation.

Then, he decided to lose no time waiting and to walk along to the next phone booth, which was located near the next tram stop.  Arriving there, he saw the very same girl from before standing there, chatting on the telephone. Mikhailov rubbed his eyes. Then, he tapped on the glass and asked if she was the same girl from the previous booth.

“Yes, it was me,” she answered “But I felt uncomfortable in front of the gathering line, so I got on the passing tram to get to this booth. And here I am.”

After that, they started talking and Mikhailov told her that he was working at “Lenfilm” and she told him that her brother-in-law was an aspiring screenwriter, who was looking for a director.

“It just so happens that my friend is a filmmaker, looking for a writer!”,  Mikhailov said and gave her Mamin’s number.

The very next day Vardunas called Mamin and they met to organize their first film “Neptune’s Holiday”.

Eldar Ryazanov watched the debut of his pupil’s film, “Neptune's Holiday” alone in an almost empty hall. Apart from him, there were only Mamin and two of his Moscow friends.  Later on, they told him that they were not even looking at the screen, but at Ryazanov, as they were so shocked by his reaction to the film. He behaved like a boy, laughing until he cried, became exhausted, and literally fell out of his chair. This happened all alone, in a dark room. Only a spontaneous and talented person could make this happen.  After the showing, Ryazanov said to Yuri Mamin: “I have never seen in a film such heroism, which fades into idiocy! I'm proud that you are my student! I must say that you have a brilliant screenwriter! "

Undoubtedly, we can now say that the Mamin-Vardunas tandem gave the world brilliant and original tragicomedy, which has its own face, unlike any other.

© Katerina Ksenyeva 2011