Following their annual tradition, a group of friends meet at a banya (a traditional public bath/sauna) in Moscow to celebrate New Year’s Eve. The friends all get very drunk toasting the upcoming marriage of Zhenya Lukashin (Andrei Myagkov) to Galya (Olga Naumenko). After the bath, one of the friends, Pavlik (Aleksandr Shirvindt), has to catch a plane to Leningrad; Zhenya, on the other hand, is supposed to go home to celebrate New Year’s Eve with his fiancée. Both Zhenya and Pavlik pass out. The others cannot remember which of their unconscious friends is supposed to be catching the plane; eventually they mistakenly decide that it is Zhenya and put him on a plane instead of Pavlik. The seatmate helps Zhenya get off the plane in Leningrad. He wakes up in the Leningrad airport, believing he is still in Moscow. He stumbles into a taxi and, still quite drunk, gives the driver his address. It turns out that in Leningrad there is a street with the same nam and with a building at his address which looks exactly like Zhenya’s. The key fits in the door of the apartment with the same number. Inside, even the furniture is nearly identical to that of Zhenya’s apartment. Zhenya is too drunk to notice the differences, and goes to sleep. Later, the real tenant, Nadya Shevelyova (Barbara Brylska), arrives home to find a strange man sleeping in her bed. To make matters worse, Nadya’s fiancé, Ippolit (Yuri Yakovlev), arrives before Nadya can convince Zhenya to get up and leave. Ippolit becomes furious, refuses to believe Zhenya and Nadya’s explanations, and storms out. Zhenya leaves to get back to Moscow but circumstances make him return repeatedly. Nadya wants to get rid of him as soon as possible, but there are no flights to Moscow until the next morning. Thus the two are compelled to spend New Year’s Eve together. At first they continue to treat each other with animosity, but gradually their behavior softens and the two fall in love. In the morning, they feel that everything that has happened to them was a delusion, and they make the difficult decision to part. With a heavy heart, Zhenya returns to Moscow. Meanwhile Nadya reconsiders everything and, deciding that she might have let her chance at happiness slip away, takes a plane to Moscow following Zhenya, easily finding him in Moscow, since their addresses are the same…

“The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!” (Russian: “Ironiya sudby, ili S lyogkim parom!”, literally: The Irony of Fate, or With Good Steam) is a 1976 Soviet romantic comedy television film directed by Eldar Ryazanov. The screenplay was written by Emil Braginsky and Ryazanov, loosely based on the director’s 1971 play “Once on New Year’s Eve”. The film was filmed in 1975 at the Mosfilm Studios. Simultaneously a screwball comedy and a love story tinged with sadness, it is one of the most successful Soviet television productions ever and remains highly popular in modern Russia. The key subplot to this story is the drab uniformity of Brezhnev era russian public architecture. This results in the entire planet being polluted with identical, unimaginative multistory apartment buildings of the sort that can, in fact, be found in every city, town, and suburb across the former Soviet Union. These buildings are uniform right down to the door key of each apartment. The two consecutive episodes of “The Irony of Fate” were originally broadcast by the Soviet central television channel, Programme One, on 1 January 1976, at 18:00. The film was a resounding success with audiences: author Fedor Razzakov recalled that “virtually the entire country watched the show”; the number of viewers was estimated to have been about 100 million. In response to popular demand, the feature had a first re-run on 7 February. By 1978, after several further broadcasts of the picture, the accumulated number of viewers for all of the showings including the first was estimated at some 250 million. A shortened 155 minutes version was released to cinemas on 16 August 1976; it sold some 7 million tickets. The readers of Sovetskii Ekran, the official publication of the State Committee for Cinematography, voted The Irony of Fate as the best film of 1976, and chose Andrey Myagkov as the best actor of the year. In 1977, Ryazanov, Braginsky, cinematographer Vladimir Nakhabtsev, composer Mikael Tariverdiev and actors Barbara Brylska and Myagkov were all awarded the USSR State Prize in recognition of their participation in making the film. George Faraday commented that while it was basically a happy end romantic comedy, The Irony of Fate had a “socially critical undertone”: it could be interpreted as an “explicit commentary… On the soulless uniformity of the Soviet urban landscape”. Simultaneously, however, critics accused the director of creating an escapist film which allowed the Soviet audience to turn away from the “unattractive features” of their country’s reality. Ryazanov responded that “to reassure, to encourage the viewer – it is not such a sin.” He rejected the claims his pictures were meant to please state authorities, stating their optimistic nature was “spontaneous” rather than “forced”. The film is traditionally broadcast in Russia and the former Soviet republics every New Year’s Eve, and is widely regarded as a classic piece of Russian popular culture: Andrew Horton and Michael Brashinsky likened its status to that held by Frank Capra’s 1946 “It’s a Wonderful Life” in the United States as a holiday staple. A sequel, “The Irony of Fate 2”, was released in December 2007, becoming a box office hit and grossing over $55 million to a production budget of $5 million. I was introduced to this wonderful russian film when I was living in Riga/Latvia, and at that time I had no knowledge of this film or the fact that this movie (as well in Latvia) was loved and watched by millions every New Years eve. Yes, it´s truly a classic sort of 70´s screwball comedy, but there´s so much more to it. Love, family, friendship, disappointment, sadness, deception etc and I really like that there´s also a poke at the communistic conformity, but made in a respectful way. Russia is a country that fascinates me and I have had the opportunity to study russian as well during my years in Riga, a quite beautiful language. There´s also several nice songs performed in the movie, but it has as well a great intro song and ending song. And how can you not fall in love with Nadya played by the beautiful polish actress Barbara Brylska. All in all I truly recommend you to see “Ironiya sudby, ili S lyogkim parom!”. (4 out of 5)

The Irony of Fate