Russian sequel rides wave of nostalgia

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The potent one-two punch of nostalgia and a strong holiday-oriented marketing campaign are driving ticket sales for the biggest film of Russia's New Year's movie season, "The Irony of Fate 2."

The $5 million production is a sequel to the beloved 1975 Soviet telefilm "The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!"

The day before its Dec. 20 premiere, "Irony of Fate 2" sold a record 144,000 advance tickets for just under $1 million. The film, distributed by 20th Century Fox CIS, was released on a record number of 1,050 prints, with 850 in Russia, 115 in Ukraine and the rest in other CIS countries.

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov, helmer of the hit fantasy-action "Night Watch" films, the sequel reunites him with that series' star, Konstantin Khabensky, who plays the son of one of the original characters.

The new film's events take place 30 years later and detail the lives of the children of the protagonists of the original film, who experience ironic encounters similar to their parents.

The original "Irony" was directed by comedy director Eldar Ryazanov and details the misadventures of a hapless rube played by Andrei Miagkov. He gets drunk at the baths with some friends on New Year's Eve, and instead of boarding a plane for Moscow, somehow boards one for Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). This leads to comedy of errors and a love triangle.

The film has won the hearts of Russians and is now a must-see at many New Year's Eve celebrations, with several TV channels broadcasting the film on that date every year.

The film's producer, Konstantin Ernst of Channel One Russia, the main state television channel, is spearheading an aggressive, nostalgia- and holiday-oriented marketing campaign around the sequel.

Ernst said that in the past five years, only 6 million Russians went to see films in theaters out of a potential audience of 28 million that can afford to do so. To increase the size of the audience for the new "Irony," Ernst is counting on a surge of older moviegoers who don't normally frequent cinemas but have a strong sense of nostalgia for the original film.

The New Year's movie season in Russia is somewhat akin to the start of the spring-summer movie season in the U.S. By Russian law, students and office workers typically get the first eight to 10 calendar days of the year off, which include New Year's Day and the Russian Christmas, celebrated on Jan. 8. This translates into at least four boxoffice weekends in a row.

In large part due to atheist Soviet practices, New Year's Eve is the biggest holiday of the year, while the Russian Christmas, which has seen a recent resurgence, remains something of an afterthought. Summer is not considered a time for watching movies but rather a time for active outdoor recreation or visiting one's summer home.
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