life in Russia/USSR

Was/is life really this grim in USSR/Russia?


I spent my childhood living in USSR in the 80s. What's truly fascinating to me is how well this movie captures life in USSR around mid-80s. Very few films do this well. Yes, it was grim. Of course, some places were more grim than others. For example, if you lived in a big cosmopolitan city such as Moscow, Leningrad, as well as in some republican capitals such as Baku, Tbilisi, Kiev, etc, then there would have been plenty to see and experience, but the movie has captured small peripheral city life quite well. I think the situation may be similar today as well. Go outside of Moscow a few tens of kilometers to see how people live in towns and villages, and it's probably going to be pretty grim.

There were a lot of interesting details that got captured real well.

1. Generally low living standard of people. For example, Artemy, the professor from a university from Leningrad drives a Zaporozhets, not even Lada, the most famous target of automotive ridicule from people in the West. Those westerners who ridiculed Lada did not know that USSR had far worse car brands than Lada. (Lada was actually decent enough to be exported to Europe in the 70s and 80s). And basically, unless you had a quasi-illegal side business, accepted bribes, worked in Siberia, or were part of the ruling elite, you wouldn't be able to afford a Lada, unless it was already a rusted beater. Valera was driving a Lada (a pretty beat up one from the sounds of it), but he had traveled to work in Siberia/North to afford it, and he also admitted that he sold vodka or moonshine to the native population there as a side business.

2. Drab clothing. The only way to dress well in USSR, was to buy a travel tour to an Eastern European country, like Finland or Hungary, and stock up with clothing there, or buy the clothes from those who traveled abroad at a very high price. Someone wearing jeans and fake raybans would be considered fairly fashionably dressed in the 80s. Note how Angelika was holding her shoes in hands, (after having already been raped!), as if they were the most valuable thing she had in her life.

3. Drab furniture and buildings, even the official buildings.

4. The importance of having connections if you want to succeed in life. Mikhail told Artemy that he arranged so that Valera, his girl's boyfriend, is not drafted into the military because of war in Afghanistan. Avoiding the military service by the means of bribes or connections was very common back then and now. Also, Zhukov thanked Leonid for arranging his daughter's admission into the Leningrad university. This type of corruption in the academia was pretty common in USSR. Unless you want to study in some kind of provincial "Railroad Workers University", and specially if you want to study in Moscow or Leningrad or any big city, you could bribe someone or find some connections within the school.

One thing that always fascinated me about watching the Soviet and Russian movies about the 80s and 90s, is how people drunk vodka or moonshine out of table-glasses. This is something I have not observed in my childhood at any celebrations because I was in the South Russia as well as Caucasus, where the drinking culture was centered more around drinking wine or brandy, but when men drunk vodka, they drunk it by shots. However, in all Russian movies I watch about people drinking in central, north or east Russia, there are always people drinking vodka from table-glasses, so it gotta be true.

Many things must have changed in Russia of course. The living standards have gone up. A typical Russian often can afford a travel trip abroad and there are plenty of better cars or consumer electronics now, both domestic and foreign. Plenty of places for entertainment, clubs and such, unlike what we see in the movie.