Mosfilm: Courier (1986) - Reviewed

Russian writer-director Karen Shakhnazarov’s 1986 Soviet dramedy Courier (aka Messenger Boy) is one of the great undiscovered coming-of-age films you’ve never heard of.  Still unreleased in the United States to this day until the legendary Mosfilm studio uploaded a remastered widescreen print of the film to their official YouTube account, the film is an invigorating dose of confused transitional youth on the cusp of mandatory military service in the Gorbachev era.  For domestic viewers and film historians however, the film is probably best known for being among the very first Russian pictures to prominently feature teenage breakdancing set to Herbie Hancock’s still iconic electronic hit Rockit.
Ivan Mirosnikov (Fyodor Dunayevsky) is a restless, disobedient teenager at crossroads after failing his college entrance exams and his parents finalize their divorce.  Hastily taking up a humdrum job as a delivery boy for a Russian newspaper, Ivan happens upon Professor Kuznetzov and his beautiful young daughter Katya (Anastasiya Nemolyaeva) and the two begin dating.  Out of snarky rebelliousness, Ivan proceeds to tell the Professor he impregnated his daughter, a rude awakening which Katya startlingly corroborates, setting the stage for implosion as Katya discovers she isn’t quite ready to completely leave her parental care just yet.

Boasting an original score by legendary Andrei Tarkovsky composer Eduard Artemev (Solaris; Stalker), luscious 2.35:1 panoramic cinematography by Nikolay Nemolyaev (Zerograd), Courier in the pantheon of coming-of-age films foreign and domestic is one of the more piercing and quietly haunting entries in the subgenre.  Much of the heavy lifting is done by Dunayevsky who makes Ivan into a believable teenager uncertain of his future as the prospect of military service looms in the back of his mind.  Equally strong is Nemolyaeya who makes Katya radiant before turning cold towards Ivan’s advances. 
For those unfamiliar with Russian cinema, Courier proves to be a terrific introductory chapter for many with it’s pulsating soundtrack and sharp vistas of teenagers engaged in robotic breakdancing.  Though initially delayed from the intended summer release, the film won the yearly popularity contest in the film magazine Soviet Screen.  Seen now, Courier remains an engrossing and transformative journey through the eyes of a Russian youth trapped between his own maturation and forces ultimately beyond his control. 

Though it remains unseen by many in the United States, the film functions as both a time capsule capturing Russian youth as the electronic breakdance scene began to creep into the adolescent social consciousness and a poignant tale of a lost boy on the edge of losing his way of life.  For anyone interested in 1980s world cinema chronicling youth culture at a time when many were uncertain how long it would last for them, this is essential viewing!

--Andrew Kotwicki