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"Hipsters": A Jazz Musical for the Young Communist Set 

Wednesday, Jan 11 2012
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"Every hipster is a potential criminal," warns a student communist in Valeriy Todorovskiy's musical period piece. These "hipsters" are, in style and substance, the polar opposite of today's artfully disheveled gentrifiers: In a post-war Moscow where consuming Western products is considered a form of treason, their insouciant fetishization — and charming lost-in-translation misinterpretation — of American jazz culture is a legitimate form of political rebellion. This punch-drunk, decadently designed slice of eye candy loosely traces a year in the life of sexually repressed, socially oppressed baby-faced Mels (Anton Shagin), a gray-suited Young Communist League deputy who shifts allegiance when he falls in love with "real cool chick" Polly (Oksana Akinshina). Although a few of the film's musical numbers are framed around Mels' budding career as a jazzman and the gang's nightly rendezvous at underground club The Pompadour (where they live out the fantasy of, as one lyric tells it, "strolling down Broadway, leaving all those miserable squares behind"), many explode in full choreographed splendor out of ordinary spaces (a classroom, the shared hallway of a communal tenement), splitting the difference between sexually charged fantasy and historically haunted reality and boldly defying narrative convention. The closing number, in which Mels and Polly finally get to stroll down a Broadway that only exists in their dreams, is both hilariously absurd and rousing, an unironic swoon at the notion of any subculture — regardless of the fashion, music, and sex that separate kids across decades and continents — as a form of inclusive resistance.

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Karina Longworth

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