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‘Irony’ sequel gets record release

Bekmambetov adds to classic tale

MOSCOW — Russia’s holiday film season starts early this year with Friday’s record breaking 1,018 copy release of “Irony of Fate — Continuation,” a hi-tech sequel to a much loved 1975 Soviet classic.

The release of the film 10 days before the big New Year holiday — Russia’s key festive holiday date — breaks with tradition and gives the film’s producer, the First Channel, a virtually open run.

Only two other major domestic releases are planned before Dec. 31: historic coming of age costume drama “1814,” about famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin and his friends, produced by CTC Media on a 300-plus print release, and Nashe Kino’s children’s historic cartoon adventure “Ilya Muromets I Solovei-Razboinik,” both of which open Dec. 28 for the holiday weekend.

The First Channel, which industry observers say is gunning for a $50 million box office with “Irony” — $15 million more than its record breaking New Year release of 2007, which took more than $35 million, fantasy thriller “Day Watch,” concedes that the early and massive release is a pure business move.

Producer, Anatoly Maksimov, said: “Both the film and its marketing break new ground in Russia. It’s the first time a holiday release has been brought forward in this way and it’s the first time in Russian film distribution history that a music video clip is being used to promote a film instead of a trailer.”

The music clip, by popular Russian chanson Alla Pugachevo and her daughter Kristina Orbakaite, was specially made for the new film, which is a sequel to Eldar Ryazanov’s classic 1975 picture.

The original film, which screens every New Year’s eve on channels across Russia and is held in the same kind of tear-jerking nostalgic regard as Frank Capra’s 1946 “It’s A Wonderful Life” is in America, is a gentle love story set in wintertime Leningrad.

The new film, directed by Timur Bekmambetov — who made “Night Watch” and “Day Watch” and has recently shot English language thriller “Wanted” in Prague, starring Morgan Freeman, James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie — employs the same three actors who played the star-struck lovers in the original: Polish actress Barbara Brylska, and Russians Andrei Myagkov and Yuri Yakovlev.

Sophisticated CGI is used on some 830 occasions in the new movie that answers the question all viewers of the original had: what happened next?

“Computer imaging helps us take the story forward using the original characters who age over time to bring us to the present day,” Maksimov told Variety.

“We are very fortunate that the key actors are still alive and were able to use them as the parents of a new generation of characters to tell our continuation,” he added.

Maksimov dismissed fears the film would not work as a sequel 32 years after the original.

“Doing a remake or sequel of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ in America would not make sense — the States has evolved. Russia has gone through a revolution since 1975; the world we lived in then compared with today is like comparing the modern world with Jurassic Park.”

The new film opens simultaneously across Russia Friday with one exception: by way of a birthday present to the direct of the original, Eldar Ryazanov, who turned 80 on Nov. 18, “Irony of Fate — Continuation” will premiere to a specially invited audience on Thursday at one screen only: the veteran director’s own cinema, Eldar, in Moscow’s Southern suburbs.

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