A hard-bitten music producer takes an ambitious, wannabe hick from the sticks under her wing in bittersweet Russian comedy "Pop." Despite distinct air of deja vu about the plot, first-feature helmer Elena Nikolaeva and scribe Yuri Korotkov gussy up material nicely with local color, while main leads have harmonious onscreen chemistry.

A hard-bitten music producer (veteran Tatiana Vasilyeva) takes an ambitious, wannabe hick from the sticks (newcomer Elena Velikanova) under her wing in bittersweet Russian comedy “Pop.” Despite distinct air of deja vu about the plot, first-feature helmer Elena Nikolaeva and scribe Yuri Korotkov gussy up material nicely with local color, while main leads have harmonious onscreen chemistry. Boosted by cameos from well-known Russian recording stars, “Pop” should sing cheerful B.O. tune at home and could strike chords with auds in neighboring countries. Producers may wish to eye it for potential remake.

Armed with her guitar, a business card and plenty of chutzpah, 18-year-old Slavka (fresh-featured Velikanova) gets off the bus and makes her way to the spacious Moscow home of Larisa (Vasilyeva from “Coffee With Lemon,” sporting a Gena Rowlands look). The latter is a music industry producer-cum-agent-cum-Svengala who’s just kicked her younger b.f. out on the street. Despite having seen more wide-eyed girls desperate to break into the biz than she’s had hot borsht, Larisa takes a shine to the spunky newcomer, especially when she holds her own in the banter stakes and helpfully fixes Larisa’s car.

So Slavka gets to spend 24 hours as Larissa’s shadow as the older woman goes about her typical daily errands. These include managing the ego and skirt-chasing tendencies of songwriter Lev (Vsevolod Shilovsky), placating a tantrum-prone and jealous diva (Lolita Milyavskaya), and visiting now-gaga former star Alice (Olga Drozdova, affecting) in a mental hospital.

Middle-aged Larisa, who’s weary of the whole circus, constantly reminds her new protege of the high cost of fame, but nevertheless sees potential in the ingenue once she hears her sing. (Her folksy tunes come written by Alexei Kosmarov.) Even though flit-through cameos by real Russian pop stars will be lost on non-Russian auds, the portrait of the sex-drugs-and-ego-ridden biz painted will ring familiar bells.

On the distaff side, last reel descends a bit too far into cheap sentiment with a crueler than necessary portrait of Larisa’s loneliness that feels fashioned to give the thesp more chance to emote grandly. But despite nearly two-hour length, pic bounces merrily along. Interplay between two main leads convinces throughout, their characters sometimes a quasi mother and child pair, sometimes rivals, and sometimes hunter and prey.

Well-observed production design by Tatiana Devirts and costumes by Valery Kungurov consistently impress, while rest of tech package is workmanlike and unobtrusive.

Pop

Russia

Production

A Saturn production, with the support of the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography. (International sales: Gelvars Cinema, Moscow.) Produced by Mikhail Babakhanov. Directed by Elena Nikolaeva. Screenplay, Yuri Korotkov.

Crew

Camera (color), Andrey Zhegalov; editor, Igor Litonisky; music, Yuri Poteenko; production designer, Tatiana Devirts; costumes, Valery Kungurov; sound (Dolby Digital), Alexander Abramov. Reviewed at Sochi Open Russian Film Festival (Chance), June 6, 2005. Running time: 111 MIN.

With

Elena Velikanova, Tatiana Vasilyeva, Lolita Milyavskaya, Valery Garkalin, Vsevolod Shilovsky, Ivan Rudakov, Olga Drozdova, Dmitry Pevtsov, Ilya Bledny, Alexei Rudakov.
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