International co-productions never looked so natural as in “Window to Paris,” the joyously funny story of a group of Russian bozos who find they can jump direct to the City of Light from a window in their appalling St. Petersburg apartment. Inventive, bighearted, off-the-wall pic may be difficult to market to the English-language arthouse crowd but should be sought out by minority webs. Reception at its Berlin fest screenings was enthusiastic.
St. Petersburg-based director Yuri Mamin sprang to attention with the 1988 comedy-fantasy “The Fountain,” and there’s some of the same lunatic feel (plus a typical St. Petersburg lightness of touch) to his third feature.
Lead-up to the central idea is well paced, first introing Nikolay (Sergei Dontsov), an unconventional teacher who leads his pupils into class like the Pied Piper, and then Nikolay’s uncouth neighbors, led by the tubby Gorokhov (Viktor Mikhailov).
Climbing onto the roof one night through a concealed window, the duo get drunk in a local bar, trash the studio apartment of artist Nicole (Agnes Soral) on the way home, and realize only the next day they were actually in Paris.
Gorokhov and family use the window for increasingly ambitious looting sessions of Western goods, even managing to hoist a car into their living room. Meanwhile, Nicole, driven nuts by crazed Ruskies using her apartment as a throughway, climbs through the window and finds herself in modern-day St. Petersburg, a city of derelicts, street violence and political chaos. Nikolay manages to save her from the local cops by bluffing she’s Edith Piaf on a Russian tour.
Upbeat (and strangely moving) finale has Nikolay arranging a trip through the window for his pupils in exchange for their calling off a strike at school. Twist is that they don’t want to go back to dreary old St. Pete, and the “window” is about to close for the next 20 years.
Mamin’s pic sets itself apart from other recent high-octane Russian comedies with its unflagging invention and performances that don’t rely on caricature. Extra-tight cutting and frequent disposal of linking scenes keep the ideas coming thick and fast. Set pieces, like Gorokhov’s family hawking Russo baubles in the Paris streets, are minor gems in themselves.
Occasional eruptions into music making and dance seem such a natural part of the picture that Mamin is able to keep pushing the envelope without going over the top. Above all, these are characters you’d love to share a vodka or two with.
Tech credits and performances are fine without being overly smooth. Pic’s French title is”Salades Russes.”