On paper, the premise of Russian romantic comedy "+1" sounds excruciatingly twee: An uptight femme translator from Moscow learns to lighten up when she gets a job interpreting for a kooky foreign puppetmaster.

On paper, the premise of Russian romantic comedy “+1″ sounds excruciatingly twee: An uptight femme translator from Moscow learns to lighten up when she gets a job interpreting for a kooky foreign puppetmaster. However, helmer Oksana Bychkova’s follow-up to her domestic hit “Piter FM” turns out tarter than one would expect, making for palatable light entertainment. Offshore, the pic won’t travel far beyond fest circuit, but its amiability should rep a plus domestically when it opens in fall 2008.

Single Muscovite Masha (well-known legit thesp Madeleine Dzhabrailova) usually sticks to translating serious literature, such as Paul Auster’s “The Brooklyn Follies,” into Russian. However, she can’t resist the big money she’s being offered to interpret for famous English puppeteer Tom (Jethro Skinner, a relative unknown) while he teaches some aspiring puppeteers in Moscow for a few weeks. At first, Tom irritates Masha by clowning around in public and attempting to shock her by answering the door naked. He flirts with her, but also criticizes her emotionless interpreting.

Inevitably, they click and end up in the sack. Pic threatens at this point to become yet another mushy romance in which a nerdy character gets a love-of-life makeover by meeting someone wacky but sincere. Instead, Tom turns out to be a bit of a cad, who cheerfully accepts Masha’s suggestion the morning after that they keep their relationship strictly professional.

Nevertheless, the ending gently backtracks into more upbeat territory, going for a bittersweet, open-ended conclusion with a “Lost in Translation”-style vibe.

Polished if slightly schematic script strikes a judicious balance between humor and drama, tactically employing running gags that move things along. Physical-theater-averse Westerners, especially in Anglophone territories, may find Tom and his students’ cutesy clowning antics with puppets and mime skills unbearably irritating, but Russian and Euro auds are likely to be more tolerant.

Lead thesps have good onscreen chemistry and charm consistently — some feat for Skinner, particularly given how potentially dislikable his character could have been. Thesp took home the actor prize at the Sochi fest.

Tech credits are fine, with a cheerfully bright color palette and restrained use of music.

+1

Russia

Production

A Telesto Film Co. production. (International sales: Intercinema, Moscow.) Produced by Elena Glikman, Yaroslav Zhivov. Directed by Oksana Bychkova. Screenplay, Nana Grinstein, Bychkova.

Crew

Camera (color), Ivan Gudkov; editor, Daria Danilova; production designer, Olga Khlebnikova; costume designer, Olga Bychkova; sound (Dolby Digital), Saulius Urbanavicius. Reviewed at Sochi Open Russian Film Festival, June 12, 2008. (Also in Shanghai Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Madeleine Dzhabrailova, Jethro Skinner, Vladimir Ilyin, Miroslava Karpovich, Evgeni Tsyganov, Yuri Kolokolnikov, Pavel Dervianko, Miriam Sekhon. Russian, English dialogue.
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