Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future is an utterly bizarre Soviet comedy that makes for one of the strangest, yet entertaining cinematic experiences.
Based on a play of the same name the film follows Shurik (Aleksandr Demyanenko); an inventor who creates a time machine. Whilst experimenting with the machine he accidentally sends his neighbour Ivan Bunsha (Yuriy Yakoviev) and a petty burglar George Miloslavsky (Leonid Kuravlyov) back to the 16th Century whilst simultaneous trapping Tsar Ivan the Terrible (also played by Yakoviev) in 1973.
We then follow both sets of characters as Bunsha and Miloslavsky try to survive (with the former impersonating Ivan the Terrible) whilst Shurik attempts to fix the time machine – whilst keeping Ivan the Terrible in check. This results in a frenzy of scenes that’s probably best described as Scooby Doo meets Bill and Ted meets Weird Science meets a Noel Coward play. It is utterly insane, in a good way.
The film has so much fantastic physical and situational comedy throughout that it’d be easy to think it’s just a farce with no substance but that is not the case as the witty dialogue also gives an insight in soviet Russia of the 1970’s and according to other reviews is apparently even funnier for native Russian speakers as many jokes are lost in translation.
The film is directed and performed in a pantomimic way that makes it almost feel like a modern-day parody (think Danger 5) of 70’s B-movies, but obviously this isn’t the case and its over-the-top and wacky performances where done for actual comic reasons rather than mockery; and it works wonderfully. The entire film has a sense of Monty Python about it as it flicks between situations at will every scene offering ‘something completely different’ – there are food fights, sword fights, explosions, musical numbers and lots of running up and down stairs.
Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future is a comic gem that took my complete surprise upon watching… a must see.